- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2010

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | The Pakistani-based militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba is being viewed increasingly by U.S. political and military leaders as a global terrorist threat. But most Pakistanis remain unaware of the group’s activities and agenda and continue to give it significant support.

According to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Lashkar-e-Taiba is a Kashmiri-focused Islamist group with ties to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda. Since 1993, the group has carried out numerous attacks on Indian troops and civilians in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir province, as well as attacks inside India. It is thought to have several thousand members.

LeT enjoys the backing of a powerful patron, the ISI, while it has adopted the global agenda of al Qaeda, making it a major threat to America and our allies,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA counterterrorism specialist now with the Brookings Institution. ISI is Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence service.

Pakistanis’ lack of understanding and popular support of Lashkar-e-Taiba, including in some official circles, have prevented Islamabad from taking concrete action against the militant organization.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, speaking to reporters in Islamabad on July 25, said, “The United States sees the Lashkar-e-Taiba becoming more lethal by the day and thinks its gradual growth now clearly shows that it has global inspirations to spread terror.

“I have watched since 2008 the LeT move to the west, getting more active in the region and engaging more with other terrorist groups. It heightens our concern as it is not only confined to the region but has global inspirations,” the four-star admiral said.

Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on July 22 that “Lashkar-e-Taiba is as dangerous as Taliban and al Qaeda, with which it was working in close coordination, and that Pakistan has been asked to deny it a foothold in that country.”

“The LeT’s goal is to create maximum problems between India and Pakistan besides working against the interests of Western countries. Tackling [Lashkar-e-Taiba] is equal to any other priority in the region,” Mr. Holbrooke said.

The official U.S. statements were received with surprise in Pakistan because the group has been linked only to militant activities in the region, specifically Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir, and was not regarded as having established a global network of terrorists.

Pakistani analyst Ali Ashraf said in an interview that the U.S. officials’ assessment of Lashkar-e-Taiba was out of place.

“I don’t think LeT has become so big an organization that it could be a global threat,” Mr. Ashraf said. “The problem with the Americans is that they first label an organization extremely dangerous, without it being so, and then they try to prove it.”

Mr. Ashraf heads the FATA Research Center in Islamabad.

A senior Pakistani Interior Ministry official who is knowledgeable about militant groups said the ministry does not have any indication or proof that Lashkar-e-Taiba is linked to terrorism outside the region or inside the country.

However, India officially accused the militant organization of carrying out the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and claimed that it has provided enough proof to Pakistan.

Pakistan, however, has regarded New Delhi’s information as insufficient and unsubstantiated.

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