IPCS Book Discussion

In Their Own Words: Understanding Lashkar-e-Tayyaba

31 Mar, 2019    ·   5575

Report of the discussion held at IPCS on 13 February 2019 

On 13 February 2019, IPCS hosted Dr C Christine Fair, Associate Professor with Security Studies Programme at Georgetown's University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, for a discussion on her book, In Their Own Words: Understanding Lashkar-e- Tayyaba. It was chaired by Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain, Member, IPCS Governing Council, & former GOC, 15 Corps, Srinagar. This is a summary report of the discussion.

Up until 1995-96, mercenaries hired by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) supported local militants to stoke terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Soon, the local militancy dried up, and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), which until then was not very deeply involved in the Kashmir Valley, started gaining prominence. Lashkar conducted high profile attacks against minority Kashmir Pandits in places such as Nadimarg, Wandhama, Chittisinghpura etc, to expand its operational influence in the Valley.

Given that the LeT uses its various publications as a tool for recruitment, the book also relies on the same publications as part of its research methodology. LeT books intended for recruiters–with stories from the battlefield, poetry written by the so-called shaheed (martyrs) etc.–are published keeping in mind a specific target audience. In Their Own Words effectively contains qualitative and quantitative data from over 800 biographies to explain LeT's recruitment process.

While attempting to understand why the LeT fights, it is important to not use the word ‘radicalise’. This terminology often leads to an incomplete picture of the rationale, incentives, and structures that lead recruits to arrive at the decision to fight on LeT's behalf. Education and employment emerge as important considerations, with lack of employment leading well-educated LeT recruits–who are more literate than their counterparts in other terror outfits in Pakistan–towards the path of jihad. There are also of course those recruits not actively seeking regular jobs at all, who gravitate towards LeT as a career choice. The belief that martyrdom brings salvation also emerges as a recruitment motivator, suggesting that through martyrdom and salvation, recruits can appeal to Allah to take their family members to jannat (heaven) with them.

The influence of women in LeT's recruitment process is significant as compared to any other militant outfit in South Asia. Many of LeT's publications are for, and by, women. Research shows that mothers encourage their sons to join the outfit, and expect them to martyr themselves instead of returning as veterans.  

The book explores also LeT’s links with Pakistan's military establishment. LeT publications provide context for the Pakistani deep state's preference for the group. The LeT effectively functions as “killers on command,” thus making it an outfit that does not conduct operations not cleared by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). LeT fidayeens are therefore not autonomous actors, or 'terrorists', as they are commonly called.

The "deep state" uses the outfit to deal with sectarian violence and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)-sponsored violence in the country. Success for LeT fidayeen is to kill and not be killed. This is different from dying as the ultimate goal, which is seen as a mark of success by Deobandi groups. This is a core reason for the absence of suicide bombings in LeT’s operations in India.

LeT’s motto, unlike Deobandi outfits, is to not target Hindus and Christians based in Pakistan through killings, but instead deal with them through da'wah (proselytisation), Tabligh (propagation of the message of Islam), and social services. This makes LeT look more refined than other groups, thus attracting deep state investment.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the rebranded version of the Lashkar, has played a key role in the developmentally-oriented rehabilitation programmes in the event of earthquakes, floods, and other natural calamities in Pakistan. These rehabilitation programmes are mostly supported and covered by Pakistan's military establishment, which has further helped Pakistan create popular support for the LeT.

In the initial years of LeT’s operations in J&K, there was a surge in infiltrators, consisting mainly of death row convicts and terminally ill men. As the years passed, the outfit's infiltration attempts dried up, and slowly their focus became more internal, allowing Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) to take over operations in Kashmir.

ISI’s relative lack of political depth and Imran Khan’s limited political appeal led to their alliance in the 2018  general election in Pakistan. The election also witnessed increased participation from terrorists and terrorist outfits, alongside LeT’s political party, the Milli Muslim League (MML). Instead of splitting votes, most of these groups supported the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), thus ensuring its victory. ISI’s growing involvement in Pakistan's domestic politics suggests that the Pakistan Army’s coup-making days are not over. The army does not require a coup if they can achieve what they want without directly ruling the country. Its control over the education curriculum and media leaves no scope for a public revolt.

On the international front, Pakistan has always extorted money by positioning itself as too dangerous to fail. There were similar fears before the failure of the Soviet Union, but the world was prepared to avoid the emergence of an untoward scenario. Similarly, the international community must  presume different scenarios of Pakistan’s failure, and prepare itself for any eventuality.


Rapporteured by Ashutosh nagda, Research Intern, Southeast Asia Research Programme (SEARP), IPCS.