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Pakistan's surprise raid on Lashkar

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Karachi

Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel patrol along the banks of Dal-Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir on December 2, 2008
Lashkar-e-Taiba admits carrying out hundreds of attacks against military and other targets in Indian-administered Kashmir

Pakistan's decision to move against Lashkar-e-Taiba has come as a surprise to analysts in the country.

It also suggests a possible shift in policy by Islamabad towards the militant organisation.

Pressure has come from India, which blames the militant group for the Mumbai (Bombay) attacks last month.

Pakistan's neighbour and long-time bitter rival has demanded that action be taken against Lashkar.

Attacks

The Kashmir-based militant group has long been a thorn in the side of the Indian government.


It is still too early to say whether the crackdown in Shawai will have repercussions for Dawa and Lashkar activities all over Pakistan
Kashmir journalist

Lashkar has admitted carrying out hundreds of attacks against government and military targets in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Delhi has also accused it of being responsible for dozens of attacks on civilian targets elsewhere in India.

The most famous of these was the raid on the Indian parliament in December 2001, which brought the two nuclear-armed nations to the brink of war.

Soon after the attacks, Pakistan banned a number of militant organisations, including Lashkar-e-Taiba.

To offset the ban, the organisation divided itself into the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Dawa is headed by the founder of the original movement, Hafiz Saeed, and works as an Islamic charity all over Pakistan.

Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed
Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed

It says it has no links with Lashkar, which has confined its activities to Kashmir since the ban was put in place.

These activities have continued to decline since 2002, when then Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf implemented a plan to curtail the country's support for Kashmir militancy.

But is also true that the authorities dealt with Lashkar militants with a soft hand within Pakistan.

This differed from the treatment meted out to other militant organisations like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Hundreds of their activists were locked up or killed in shootouts with police.

Jihad

The Lashkar militants were spared these measures and while Pakistani authorities no longer helped them in their cherished goal of liberating Kashmir, they provided no hindrance either.

Map

"Without state support our activities have declined considerably," a militant commander admitted to me at the time of the Kashmir earthquake in 2006.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa emerged as the main private aid organisation during the disaster.

During a conversation in a camp outside Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the commander spoke frankly about Lashkar's role.

He said the relief activities were something they were caught up in due to their presence and expertise in Kashmir.

"Jihad [holy war] remains our main goal and endeavour," he said.

"Things have never been worse for us - we have to hide our identities and the state no longer helps out.

"But at least it does not trouble us - we do our work and they do theirs."

The main reason for this has been the Lashkar's non-involvement in any sort of militant attacks in Pakistan.

"We have never broken the law of the land," is a line often used by Lashkar or Dawa spokesmen as to why they have been treated so mildly.

'Significant'

Another - but less well-publicised - reason is that Pakistan's security establishment does not want to close the door on one of its most feared proxy armies.

It is an open secret that Pakistan's security apparatus has employed militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir to further their regional agenda.

Although 9/11 severely curtailed that policy, it is persistently argued that Islamabad continues to keep its options in this regard open.

For that reason its operations against the Taleban have been viewed with scepticism.

With this in mind, as a seasoned Kashmiri journalist puts it, Pakistan's move against Lashkar holds portents rather than promises.

"The closure of the Shawai camp is definitely significant and may go some way to appease wounded Indian feelings," the journalist says.

The Shawai camp, raided by Pakistani security forces on Sunday, was the main Lashkar-e-Taiba facility in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

It was headed by the group's main commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who has been named in India as being linked to the Mumbai attacks.

"It is still too early to say whether the crackdown in Shawai will have repercussions for Dawa and Lashkar activities all over Pakistan," the journalist says.

"There are likely to be more arrests and possibly a few convictions as well.

"But it remains unlikely that Pakistan will completely abandon its proxy armies at the insistence of what much of its security leadership considers its mortal enemy."

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