Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pakistan: Nucleus of Jihad

The Lashkar-e-Taiba is one of the jihadist groups with which I became familiar while working on my book "Who Killed Daniel Pearl." This group is, without a doubt, based in Pakistan.

It is likely that the Lashkar-e-Taiba has within India ideological or religious "correspondents" in the vast Muslim community that sees itself (not without reason) as discriminated against by the Hindu majority. Still, there is very little doubt that the initiative, strategy and money for the assault on Mumbai came from terrorist leaders inside Pakistan.

Far from concentrating only on the cause of Kashmir's independence, and most of all, far from existing only in the notorious and officially ungovernable "tribal zones" on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Taiba is an all-terrain group with great political influence. It includes militants in every city of the country: Peshawar, Muzaffarabad, Lahore and even Karachi (Pakistan's economic capital).

Since its creation 15 years ago, the Lashkar-e-Taiba has been linked to the ISI, the formidable Inter-Services Intelligence agency that operates like a state within a state in Pakistan.

Obviously, this link is not widely publicized. However, from the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl to the July 2005 attack on the Ayodhya Hindu temple in Uttar Pradesh, there is abundant evidence that the jihadist wing of the ISI has assisted the Lashkar-e-Taiba in the planning and financing of various operations.

Worse yet, the Lashkar-e-Taiba is, as I discovered while researching and reporting my book on Daniel Pearl, a group of which A.Q. Khan, the inventor of Pakistan's atomic bomb, was a longtime friend. Mr. Khan, one may recall, spent a good 15 years trafficking in nuclear secrets with Lybia, North Korea, Iran and, perhaps, al Qaeda, before confessing his guilt in early 2004. Later pardoned by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Mr. Khan remains perfectly free to travel within Pakistan, as he was just admitted this Monday, under the protection of the ISI, to the most elite hospital in Karachi.

No, this is not a dream -- it is reality. Pakistan is home to a man both father of his country's nuclear program and known sympathizer of an Islamist group whose latest demonstration has netted at least 188 dead and several hundred wounded.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba is, ultimately, one of the constitutive elements of what is conventionally called al Qaeda. For too long we've told ourselves that al Qaeda no longer exists except as a brand; that it is only a pure signifier, "franchised" by local organizations independent of one another. Yet there indeed exists in our world what Osama bin Laden called the "International Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders," which is like a constellation of atoms aggregated around a central nucleus. These atoms find themselves, for the most part, clustered in this new zone of tempests that forms the whole of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Three days after the massacre, in a moment of anger and frustration that rings true, Pakistan's President Zardari said: "Even if these activists are linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, who do you think we are fighting?"

The problem, unfortunately, is beyond him. Like his predecessor, President Zardari lacks the means to break the back of criminal elements within the ISI and Pakistani military. To an even greater extent, he lacks the backing of those who associate it with the darker side of his own administration. And therein lies the challenge -- perhaps the most frightening of our era. After the bleeding of Mumbai, it is time the entire international community -- not just those in the region -- took notice.

Mr. Levy is the author, most recently, of "Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against The New Barbarism" (Random House, 2008). This op-ed, translated from the French by Sara Phenix, appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

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