Spiritual Politics blog
Articles in this issue:
Table of Contents
From the Editor:
How to Pray
The Mormon Proposition
No Saints Need Apply
Picturing Palin's Faith
Bishops at Bay
What is Lashkar?
The Beat Goes On
in the OCA
What is Lashkar?
As of now, the Mumbai bombings
are being blamed on the militant Pakistani organization Lashkar-e Tayyiba
together with possible Indian co-conspirators, although the organization has
denied responsibility. Because much of the reporting and policy work on the
activities and networks of the Lashkar is based on hearsay and conjecture,
it remains a rather shadowy group.
As far as we can tell, it is the armed wing of Markaz al-Dawa al-Irshad, an
Islamic political organization headed by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a former
professor at the University of Engineering Technology, Lahore. Originally
formed in Kunar, Afghanistan in 1989 or 1990 to fight alongside the Taliban,
Lashkar is currently based in Muridke in Punjab, Pakistan, in a compound
said to have been largely financed by Saudi Arabia. According to the
International Crisis Group, the group operates in Indian Kashmir and has
training camps in Punjab and along the Line of Control in Pakistani Kashmir.
Lashkar produces several publications: Voice of Islam (English),
Al-Ribat (Arabic), Majallah al-Dawa (Urdu), a women’s publication
Tayyibat (Urdu), a youth publication Zarb-e-Taiba (Urdu), and
the weekly Jihad Times (Urdu and Sindhi). It also had a web-based
radio and website, which are now shut down.
After the Mumbai assault, foreign journalists were granted open access to
various parts of the Muridke compound, which houses schools and seminaries
for both men and women, farms, mosques, fish-breeding ponds, carpentry
workshops, and stables. Like many organizations of its ilk, Lashkar runs
charity, medical, and social service organizations, and was a major player
in reconstruction and relief efforts after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.
The organization’s express agenda is the liberation of Muslims in Jammu and
Kashmir from Indian army occupation, but its ideology is distinctly Wahabi.
In a pamphlet entitled “Why are we waging jihad?,” the group calls for
restoration of Muslim rule over India. Hafiz Saeed is scathing in his
criticism of Israel and the United States, and has threatened to launch
attacks on American interests. Although Lashkar has not been linked with
domestic sectarian violence, it has connections to militant anti-Shia
In 2001, the U.S. government included Lashkar on its Terrorist Exclusion
List and designated it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. That same year,
the organization was also banned in Britain. The government of Pakistani
President Musharraf banned it in 2002, upon which it morphed into a charity
organization called Jamat al-Dawa.
In 2003, the Pakistani government put this new organization on the terrorist
watch list. After the Mumbai bombings, the United Nations too has sanctioned
its four top leaders, designating them as terrorists subject to an assets
freeze, travel ban, and arms embargo.
community contends that groups like Lashkar are receiving material and moral
support from the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies. While quite
probable, the links remain obscure. The attitude of the Pakistani state is
complicated by Lashkar’s multi-purpose nature as a service, charity, and
educational organization and by the fact that most Pakistanis believe in a
legitimate Kashmiri struggle against Indian occupation.
While Lashkar has a recorded history of militancy, the group (and by
association, Pakistan and its intelligence agencies) has also tended to be
the fall guy for all terrorist operations in India. It claimed
responsibility for attacks on the Red Fort army barracks in Delhi (2000),
Srinagar airport (2001), and Indian border security forces (2002).
It denied responsibility for the 2001 Indian Parliament bombing, 2006 attack
on Mumbai’s commuter rail, and the recent bombings. However, several key
incidents in which the Lashkar was accused, including the Malegaon blasts
and the 2007 attack on the Samjhauta Express, have recently been connected
to Hindu extremist groups.