Sunday, August 21, 2011

Storming the world stage

Storming the World Stage:
The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba
Stephen Tankel
Hachette India
Rs 550 pp 385

A few months after the 9/11 attacks, a French convert to Islam named Willie Brigitte attended a terrorist training camp in the mountains of Pakistan. His fellow recruits were Pakistanis and Afghans, as well as men from Somalia, Britain and the Gulf states. The camp was run by the terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), but some of the instructors were Pakistani soldiers on detachment, and military material was dropped from army helicopters.

Several times, officials came to the camp to check that no foreign jihadis were present. When this happened, Brigitte and the other itinerant foreigners would be tipped off in advance and hide out in the woods surrounding the camp.

When LeT was finally banned in 2002 under American pressure, it had already shifted its financial assets into a charitable trust at the instigation of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence. Its military wing would only be used for operations against India in Kashmir — which was permitted. Yet before long they were organising other terror attacks, including the 2008 massacre in Mumbai that killed 166 people.

In Storming the World Stage, Stephen Tankel provides the most detailed and impressive account yet of the development of this organisation, created initially under Pakistan’s aegis but now increasingly a thorn in its side. It began as an outfit in the anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan in the early 1980s and, after many splits, became a significant force in Pakistan. Because it followed the Ahl-e-Hadith (a comparatively small school or sect which wants a pristine version of Islam) the ISI thought it would be a more pliant proxy than some other more mainstream militant groups. As part of this arrangement, LeT had to swear never to turn its guns on the Pakistani state.

Full review here Hindustan Times

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