One group absent from the concoction of Punjabi groups joining the Pashtun Taliban rebellion is Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Although it recruits from the same general area, the other groups are Deobandi (Pakistan’s homegrown Islamic extremists) whereas LeT is Dar Ahl Hadith, which is basically the Pakistani-offshoot of the Saudi Wahabis. The theological divisions are not enormous and there are links. But LeT appears to be more careful and disciplined in its strategic thinking. It has not been involved in significant violence within Pakistan and has not taken on the Pakistani government. It also appears to have independent funding sources (initial stake money was apparently from Saudi Arabia, but it has since developed its own fund-raising networks.) While there are far fewer Ahl Hadith adherents in Pakistan then Deobandis (or Barelvis or Shia), LeT itself is one of the larger groups – the ISI reports they have 150,000 members. LeT runs schools, hospitals, and other social services along with an extensive print media empire. In short, it is a Hezbollah-like organization with multiple facets, the ability to innovate tactically, and choose its operations strategically (like the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai.)
Saeed Stands Alone
This is important background to the recent Pakistani court decision to dismiss incitement charges against LeT leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. B. Raman has a fine analysis here. A few additional points are in order. Westerners love the independent Pakistani judiciary when it is “democratic” but not when it is actually doing its job under the law. The real issue is the way in which Saeed was prosecuted. The charges were incitement – these are loser charges that only make Saeed more popular. Incitement against India is in theory illegal – but is also admired by many in Pakistan.
Saeed is officially head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which officially has nothing to do with LeT (see previous post.) One imagines evidence could be produced to prove this lack of connection false – but the Pakistani government does not seem interested in producing it. At this point, Pakistan cannot afford to open up a second front against the LeT – not with serious shooting in Wazirstan and the likelihood that operations in the Punjabi heartland will be necessary. The Pakistani army faces several challenges, first every unit deployed is a unit not facing India (the military’s core obsession), second the military is not designed for counter-insurgency operations, third much of the Pakistani army is Punjabi so operations there are fraught with potential morale problems.
It is unknown if the Pakistani high command views LeT as an asset or a problem, but given all of their immediate problems and the LeT’s scrupulous avoidance of taking on the Pakistani government it is easy to see why Pakistani leaders would avoid this particular fight.
They will not be able to avoid it forever.