The Magazine

Pakistan's Jihad

In the war on terror, Islamabad is both with us and against us.

Dec 15, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 13 • By BILL ROGGIO and THOMAS JOSCELYN
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India has played its part in the violence in Jammu and Kashmir, but the prime mover has been the ISI and its jihadist proxies, including the LET. The ISI not only gives these groups safe haven and trains and supplies them, it also frequently coordinates their movements. Consider one telling example. In 1999, conventional Pakistani and Indian forces fought for control of Kargil, a mountainous district in northern Kashmir. During the coldest weeks of the conflict, the Indians ceded the highest ridges for warmer ground below. After the Indians left their positions, LET members moved in. The LET held this strategic battleground until their replacements--regulars in Pakistan's army--arrived. Such is the depth of cooperation between the LET and Pakistan's military establishment.

The ISI launched the full-scale jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, but it did not stop there. The LET and several sister organizations also backed by the ISI began attacking India proper long ago. Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM), another ISI creation focused on Kashmir, has often been the LET's partner in crime. So has the Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen (HM), which was founded with the ISI's help in the late 1980s. And an Indian-based organization called the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which is sponsored by the ISI and deeply connected to its Pakistani brethren, has been instrumental in launching attacks inside India. These four organizations have killed hundreds. According to the website satp.org (South Asia Terrorist Portal), these groups, along with other smaller allied jihadist organizations, are responsible for dozens of attacks inside India between September 2001 and October 2008.

Until this latest attack, the most devastating assault perpetrated by these groups in recent years occurred on July 11, 2006. On that day, terrorists detonated seven bombs on Mumbai's commuter rails. According to Indian officials, the LET and SIMI were responsible. The attack left more than 200 dead and 700 or so wounded.

It is in this context that 10 or more gunmen laid siege to hotels and other locales in Mumbai in late November. Far from being the work of "stateless actors," the attack was perfectly consistent with the ISI's longstanding policy of waging jihad against India and its interests. In fact, Indian authorities have reportedly found direct evidence of cooperation between the ISI and the LET in the latest attack. The ISI allegedly trained the LET terrorists responsible and provided other logistical support for the operation. Thus, when President Zardari went on CNN to proclaim Pakistan's innocence, he avoided any substantive discussion of the ISI's role.

Even so, Zardari's comments are not altogether meaningless. They touch upon a central fault line in this war on terror. The president of Pakistan has essentially admitted what we should all know by now: There is currently no political force inside Pakistan capable of reining in the ISI and its many jihadist allies. Zardari had hoped for improved relations with India, but he was powerless to stop the Mumbai attacks. The jihadist forces have become entrenched within Pakistani society, which is home to dozens of extremist and terrorist organizations.

Indeed, the extent of the radicalization of Pakistani society is deeply troubling. It is the direct result of decisions made by Pakistani administrations decades ago.

Itinerant preachers had made their way back and forth from the Arabian peninsula for centuries, carrying with them a form of Wahhabism, the official state religion of Saudi Arabia. In time, a Pakistani variant evolved into its own strain of radical Islam called Deobandism. While this made some inroads among Pakistanis, it was not until the late 1970s that Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq made it the official policy of the Pakistani state to support the Deobandis, and radical Islam blossomed.

As Charles Allen notes in his masterly work God's Terrorists, there were only 200 madrassas, or religious schools, on Pakistani soil at the time of the India-Pakistan partition in 1947. By 1972, this figure had grown to 893. Of these Pakistani madrassas, 354 (40 percent) openly espoused Deobandism. After President ul-Haq threw the full support of his military behind the movement and turned on the spigot of Saudi petrodollars, radical Islam really took off. In 2002, Allen notes, Pakistan's minister of religious affairs "put the total number of madrassas in Pakistan at ten thousand, of which .  .  . no fewer than seven thousand" are Deobandi. It was the proliferation of Deobandi madrassas that led directly to the birth of the Taliban, which follows the Deobandi creed and continues to find new recruits among students of Islam. The most radical madrassas instruct more than 1 million students each year and provide a comfortable abode for terrorists planning attacks.