Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-E-Taiba

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-E-Taiba

Article excerpt

By Stephen Tankel

Columbia University Press, 2011

288 pp. $35

ISBN: 978-0-231-70152-5

Pakistan simultaneously acts as one of America's most important allies and one of its most implacable foes. It is an ally when it provides critical support to U.S. efforts against al Qaeda and becomes an adversary when it provides safe haven to violent extremists such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In Storming the World Stage, Stephen Tankel--a highly regarded academic expert on Pakistan with substantial experience in-country--details LeT's evolution into a "powerful and protected" Pakistan-based organization with international reach. The book uses a variety of academic sources and original field research in Pakistan and elsewhere to produce the best account of LeT's evolution along with important insights into Pakistan's relationship with Islamic militants in general. Tankel argues LeT's growth and international reach result from its ability to reconcile two dualities: "identity as militant outfit and as a missionary organization" along with being both a tool of Pakistan and a pan-Islamist militant organization. Storming the World Stage is a must read for anyone attempting to understand the complex and opaque Pakistani logic that permits Islamic militants to survive and thrive in that country.

The book first explains how Pakistan's "jihadi milieu" influenced the development of Pakistan-based militants. The domestic and foreign problems of the nascent state drove national leaders to rely on Islam and militant proxies as important tools of state. West Pakistan's mixed ethnicities and differences from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) made Islam a rare commonality throughout the country. Even before the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan, Pakistan used pan-Islamism to undermine Pashtun separatist sentiment along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Additionally, Pakistan developed militant proxies to offset India's military superiority. Among militant proxies, LeT was one of the most loyal groups and followed a unique Islamic school of thought--Ahl-e-Hadith--that initially limited LeT's popular support and, in turn, its threat to the state.

The second section examines how and why Pakistan used militants in Kashmir, how LeT grew into a global organization, and finally how 9/11 initially impacted LeT and other Pakistani militants. LeT's loyalty and perceived limited growth prospects encouraged Pakistan to provide it with substantial training and other support. This state support enabled LeT to become the best trained outfit operating in Kashmir and gave it the freedom to build a robust domestic and international network dedicated to spreading its ideology and supporting military operations. LeT built schools and hospitals and ran other social programs in Pakistan to proselytize and support jihad. Its social works improved its financing and influence with Pakistan's patriotic military leaders and politicians, who often benefitted from LeT's political support. Internationally, LeT capitalized on perceptions of Muslim abuse in India, the Pakistani diaspora, and the spread of Salafism to increase recruitment, fundraise, and spread LeT's ideology.

The last section explores how Pakistan views militants, perceptions that caused Pakistan's government to protect LeT after 9/11, and LeT's spectacular 2008 attack in Mumbai. …

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