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David Miliband is not Right

Dr. Thomas Mathew was Deputy Director General at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi from 2007-10. Click here for detailed profile
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  • January 22, 2009

    British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, arrived in India on his two-day visit on 13 January, barely a month and a half after the carnage in Mumbai. His visit was controversial for what he said during the visit and it was made worse by his article that appeared in The Guardian on the last day of his visit. It even provoked the normally restrained Ministry of External Affairs to comment that it could do without Miliband’s “unsolicited advice” and that his views were only “evolving”.

    As if designed to provide a peek into his knowledge on terrorism, the article outlined Miliband’s prescription for its resolution. But the British Foreign Secretary did not win praise for his knowledge on the subject, for, he was not right. On the contrary, India was obviously angry as were many in the West.

    Miliband argued that the raison d'être for the existence of terror or of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) is the unresolved Kashmir issue. His narrative is that the “resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.”

    But his observation that the resolution of the Kashmir issue would serve the twin objectives of jihadis abandoning their armed struggle and release an eager Pakistan to fully combat terror in its western border is too simplistic. At best, it is a vacuous comment that ignores the genesis of terrorism in the sub-continent and the history of the Kashmir issue. More alarming is the former.

    It may not ever be known if the assertions in the article can be attributed to some calculated briefing by the British foreign office or whether they were his interpretation of the sub-continental realities. It may also portend a collective effort by the Obama Administration and Washington’s closest trans-Atlantic ally to bring to bear their combined weight on New Delhi to find a solution to the Kashmir issue in the pious hope of securing Pakistan’s undivided attention in the West’s ‘war on terror’.

    Miliband may know best why he penned the article in The Guardian. But his thesis that the Kashmir issue is the root cause of terror in India, and finding a solution to it would transform Pakistan into a state with a resolute will to wipe out terror elements in its western border, needs to be tested against the realities in the sub-continent.

    Let us examine if LeT has its origins in Kashmir to test if the resolution of the problem would deprive the jihadis of the raison d'être for their existence. The LeT has its origins in the Markaz Dawa Wa’al Irshad, or the “Centre for Invitation and Instructions”, established to organise the mujahids in Pakistan in 1986 by Hafiz Muhammad Sa’eed and Zafar Iqbal who were professors in that country. This was done under the spiritual guidance of a Palestine academic called Abdullah Azzam, who had taught Osama bin Laden Islamic Studies at the King Abdul-Aziz University in his native Saudi Arabia. It is also no secret that the mujahids were enlisted, financed, trained and armed by the US-led alliance for the ‘jihad’ against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

    Lashker-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Toiba, or its other aliases meaning “the Army of the Pure” or “the Army of the Righteous” is the military wing of the Markaz Dawa Wa’al Irshad. It traces its origins to 1993 when Sa’eed, the co-founder of the parent Markaz, established the outfit to conduct jihad or holy war. And where is this so-called holy war to be waged? Is it limited to Kashmir or is it only one of the areas of the militant outfit’s targets?

    LeT has itself declared that the jihadis are trained to engage in a “righteous” war in diverse areas and have many nations in its cross hairs. They have boasted that they have trained and sent jihadis to play a significant role in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, the Philippines and Jammu & Kashmir. The Congressional Research Service which serves as a knowledge bank of the US legislators has also echoed that LeT has close links with both al Qaeda and the Taliban giving it a “global jihadi perspective”. Abu Zubaydah, one of the key al Qaeda operatives to be captured from Pakistan, was also reported to have been arrested from an LeT safe house. Evidently, LeT’s objective is the destruction of India among other nations and the creation of an Islamic Caliphate.

    The LeT-organised transnational mujahideen conference in Pakistan in 1999 provides yet another evidence of its larger goal. The banner on the LeT’s website highlighting the conference had daggers penetrating the national flags of the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, India and Israel. This is incontrovertible evidence that the outfit is engaged in a global jihad and that Kashmir falls in one of the nations targeted by the LeT. What better evidence of the transnational goals of the LeT do we need than the words of Pakistan’s current Ambassador to the United States, Hussain Haqqani, that the group sees “United States, Israel and India as existential enemies of Islam”?

    Again, the goal of LeT goes beyond Kashmir and is aimed at bringing the whole of India under Islamic rule. The statement of LeT founder, Mohammed Sa’eed, leaves little doubt on this issue. Addressing the international mujahideen meeting in 1999, he said: “About 15 years ago, people might have found it ridiculous if someone had told them about disintegration of the USSR. Today, I announce the break-up of India, insha-Allah. We will not rest until the whole India is dissolved into Pakistan … May Allah bestow martyrdom on us and enter us into the higher ranks of Paradise by His mercy”.

    Given the declared objective of LeT, would the resolution of the Kashmir issue “deny extremists” one of their main “calls to arms”? Obviously, the resolution of the Kashmir issue would not metamorphose the jihadis into saints when LeT itself has not confined its objectives to any geographical area and the establishment of a world Islamic Caliphate is its larger goal. There is grave danger in ignoring this reality. The resolution of the Kashmir issue to the satisfaction of Pakistan would give militant groups like the LeT greater confidence that they could achieve through their terror campaign what diplomacy or conventional military capability has failed to achieve. Their victory in Kashmir would embolden them to undertake larger campaigns just as they did after the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. So not only is it not in the interest of India, but also of the Western world, to ensure that the Kashmir issue is not seen as a link in finding an answer to the scourge of terror.