Washington: Five years after the horrific Mumbai terror attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is stronger than ever and remains the 'favoured instrument' of Pakistani military and the ISI against India, US experts have said.
"Lashkar-e-Tayyiba is stronger today than ever. It has a secure stronghold in Pakistan, networks in the Gulf for fundraising and cells in the Pakistani diaspora in the UK, UK and elsewhere. It is a major threat to India, America and others," Bruce Riedel, the former CIA analyst and a top American expert on South Asian counter-terrorism issues told PTI.
Experts and ex-administration officials reiterated the ISI of Pakistan continues to support LeT, which they warned now poses an equal threat to the US and India.
Anish Goel, who served as senior director for South Asia in National Security Council (NSC) of the White House in President Barack Obama's first term, said, "To my knowledge, LeT has not been significantly weakened in recent years, so it undoubtedly still poses a significant threat to India," he said.
"The group has historically focused on India so the direct threat to the United States is likely not as great. At the same time, many of the militant organisations in Pakistan work with one another so the United States cannot ignore LeT, or any militant group in the region," he said.
Describing LeT as an armed wing of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) Arif Jamal, a Pakistan scholar and author of forthcoming book 'Call for Transitional Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba 1985-2014' said that JuD has grown tremendously stronger in the last five years.
"The JuD/LeT is literally the biggest threat to the world peace. It is one of the biggest terrorist groups in the history with more than half a million armed and trained members. Roughly half of them are within the fighting age range," Jamal told PTI.
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And instead of taking any effective acting against LeT and its leaders, the Pakistani establishment, in particular the ISI continues to provide its support to the terrorist outfit.
"The LeT remains the favoured instrument of the ISI. The Sharif government is even less inclined than the Zardari government to take on the LeT given its strength in the Punjab in general and Lahore in particular," said Riedel, who is now at the Brookings Institute, when asked about the links between the ISI and the LeT.
"LeT is the most favourite and favoured jihadist group of the Pakistani military. The reason is it is ready to do Pakistani military's jihad in India. The military is deeply involved in the LeT. They have learnt the hard lesson to not let the militant groups work unwatched. The ISI has infiltrated a large number of agents in the LeT," Jamal said in response to a question.
It is probably for this reason that Pakistan is unwilling to take action against 26/11 perpetrators, which is reflective from the fact that the new Pak Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not give any assurance to Obama, when the latter asked him to take action against Hafeez Saeed and why no action has been taken against those involved in the Mumbai terrorist attacks.
"The government of Pakistan has yet to take a single serous step to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack in the LeT and the ISI," Riedel said responding to a question if he is satisfied with the steps being taken by the Pak Government to bring justice to the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attack.
"Pakistan's record on holding accountable those responsible for the Mumbai attacks is unfortunately pretty dismal. While there have been some sporadic arrests, there is evidence that many of those widely believed to have been involved in the attacks remain at large," noted Goel.
"Hafiz Saeed's freedom makes it clear that Pakistan has not stopped using jihad as an instrument of its defence policy. Pakistan is not ready to go after all terrorists with full force of the state," Jamal said.
"Pakistani security forces want to fight the 'bad' Islamist radicals because they have turned their guns to the Pakistani state but they are not ready to fight those who go and wage jihad outside Pakistan, particularly India and Afghanistan. In fact, this is exactly why Pakistani security forces are supporting the groups such as JuD/LeT," he said.