Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Militants Thrive a Year After Mumbai


ISLAMABAD -- The Islamist militant group behind the deadly attack in Mumbai one year ago remains a potent force determined to strike India and the West, and a source of acrimony between South Asia's nuclear-armed rivals, say officials and members of the militant faction.

Indian officials and experts say at least six new plots against Mumbai by the Pakistan-based group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, have been disrupted in the 12 months since 10 gunmen wrought three days of havoc on India's financial capital, killing 166 people.

Lashkar's infiltration of India's part of Kashmir is again on the upswing, the officials say; and a U.S. citizen with alleged ties to Lashkar was recently arrested in Chicago, evidence of the group's reach, U.S. officials say.

"Our aims are the same today as they were 10 years ago," said a man who identified himself as a former Lashkar militant now working with its charity arm. "We are waging war on the enemies of Islam."

U.S. officials and experts say hitting India remains the primary focus for Lashkar, which was nurtured in the 1990s by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency for use as a proxy against Indian forces in the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir. Pakistan banned the group in 2002 and officials here say they cut ties with it at the time.

But no one disputes that Lashkar continued to operate from Pakistan, repeatedly striking Indian targets in recent years. Another Mumbai-style attack, say officials from both countries, risks sparking a fourth war between the neighbors.

At the very least, Lashkar's continued existence presents a major obstacle to peace between the rivals. The tension also jeopardizes U.S. efforts in Afghanistan by keeping the bulk of Pakistan's sizable army focused on India, not the Taliban, say U.S. officials.

Yet Lashkar endures today because Pakistan's pledges to dismantle it in the wake of the Mumbai attack remain largely unfulfilled, say U.S., Indian and some Pakistani officials.

The group's long ties to Pakistan's powerful security establishment and the deep roots it has put down in towns and villages through its charity arm leave the government with a difficult challenge. Many Pakistanis still doubt Lashkar's role in the attack, and officials here privately say they fear a popular backlash if they move too forcefully against the group.


  • Nov. 26, 2008: 10 men from the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba begin a gun-and-grenade assault on targets in Mumbai, lasting nearly three days and leaving at least 174 people dead.
  • Dec. 11, 2008: Pakistan moves against Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity front of Lashkar, arresting the group's leaders and shuttering its offices a day after the U.N. sanctioned the group. Days earlier, Pakistan also began arresting suspected members of Lashkar.
  • Jan. 5, 2009: India gives Pakistan its first dossier of what it says is evidence that Lashkar orchestrated the Mumbai attack. The two countries have since repeatedly exchanged additional dossiers, although each side has complained about the information provided by the other.
  • Jan. 6, 2009: After weeks of denials, Pakistan acknowledges that the single gunmen captured by Indian police in Mumbai, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, is a Pakistani citizen.
  • Feb. 12, 2009: Pakistan publicly acknowledges for the first time that the Mumbai attack was partly planned on its soil and says it has arrested most of the key plotters, including the alleged operations chief of Lashkar, Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi.
  • June 2, 2009: A Pakistani court orders the founder of Lashkar, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, released from house arrest, finding that the government does not have enough evidence to hold him. Mr. Saeed maintains that he runs a charity, nothing more.
  • July 20, 2009: The single attacker captured by Indian police, Mohammaed Ajmal Kasab, confesses in open court that he took part in the assault. He says he was trained by Lashkar in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials also worry about taking on a potent enemy as they are trying to beat back the Taliban, which has killed hundreds of people in terrorist attacks in Pakistan since early October.

U.S. officials and analysts also say factions within Pakistan's military still see Lashkar as a potential weapon to be used in any future conflicts with India. Lashkar "has historically been Pakistan's most reliable proxy against India and elements within the military clearly wish to maintain this capability," according to a report this week by security analyst Stephen Tankel in the CTC Sentinel, published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Pakistan, following India and the U.S., concluded in the weeks after the Mumbai attack that it was carried out by Lashkar. Islamabad moved against the group, arresting dozens of people and banning its charity wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

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