TERROR CLOUDS IN THE EAST

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SYED BASHIR

The Pathankot terror strike in Punjab has understandably raised the heckles in Delhi. Indian intelligence officials have been pointing to the Jaish e-Muhammed (JEM)’s involvement. The JeM and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) are different from other Islamist radical groups in the Af-Pak region. Unlike other Islamist radical groups in Pakistan, which have been used but never fully controlled by the Pakistan military-ISI combine, the JeM and LeT is a part of it.  Its actions are authorized by the military top brass, surely by those who run the ISI. That is not quite the case with the likes of Tehreek-e-Taliban, who have attacked the Pakistan army and even schools run by them. So what the LeT or JeM does should be seen as part of the Pakistan military design because it is their most important spearhead in the covert war campaign to bleed India by a thousand cuts. That the military-ISI establishment was uncomfortable with what happened at Ufa became clear when they mounted pressure on Nawaz Sharif over missing out on the Kashmir issue and Satraj Aziz was compelled to come out with a hard hitting statement emphasizing the centrality of the Kashmir issue in any India-Pakistan dialogue.

Pakistan’s military has not taken kindly to agreements like the BBIN Motor Vehicles Pact involving India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, because they feel the Modi administration is trying to isolate Pakistan in the SAARC

In recent months, Indian and Western intelligence has come upon a “substantial LeT footprint” in eastern South Asia as well. The reports suggests that the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and two of its front groups are active on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, recruiting young Rohingya Muslims from refugee camps in both countries. These recruits have been taken to Pakistan for training in use of weapons, sabotage and fedayeen operations like the one at Gurdaspur. The LeT penetrated the troubled Rakhine state, where Rohingyas have suffered heavily in riots with Buddhist Rakhines since 2012, through its two fronts, Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) and Fala-I-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), which carry out relief and rehabilitation.

Fala-I-Insaniyat Foundation relief camp for Rohingya refugees in Pakistan

Fala-I-Insaniyat Foundation relief camp for Rohingya refugees in Pakistan

Myanmar authorities, which permitted these fronts to operate because of lobbying by the Pakistani diplomatic missions, are now waking up to the dangers of allowing them into a sensitive region. Along with Myanmar, Bangladesh is also alarmed because their intelligence has reports that the LeT is out to fulfil the ISI’s agenda to derail India-Bangladesh cooperation. Pakistan’s military has not taken kindly to agreements like the BBIN Motor Vehicles Pact involving India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, because they feel the Modi administration is trying to isolate Pakistan in the SAARC through such initiatives. Bangladesh intelligence has warned Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed over possible terrorist attacks on ‘specific targets’ like railways.

The R&AW has recently warned the Modi government of a ‘heightened terrorist threat” in eastern Indian states bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar, after reports that it has managed to re-infiltrate a good number of Pakistan-trained Rohingyas back in Bangladesh’s Chittagong – Cox’s Bazar region and Myanmar’s Rakhine province. The R&AW suspects that a huge terror strike in Rakhine may whip up religious passions and lead to fresh 2012 style riots that will force tens of thousands of Rohingyas into Bangladesh and eastern India. Not only will the exodus pose a huge humanitarian problem for both countries, but also that the LeT will get a chance to fish in troubled waters and recruit more distraught Rohingya youths into its terror net.

a snapshot from Jamaat-ud-Dawah website

a snapshot from Jamaat-ud-Dawah website

With the ISI fast losing its local cards in Bangladesh after the Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamist radicals stand marginalized and even their prize assets like Salauddin Quader Chowdhury hanged, the Rohingya muddle seems to be their only grease left for operating their jihadi machine. The LeT in Pakistan operates through the Jamaat ud Dawah (JuD) which in turn set up the Fala-I-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) as a charitable organization.

FIF functionaries like its vice-chairman Shahid Mehmood and Sindh spokesperson Nadeem Awan have been regularly visiting the Bangladesh-Myanmar border region for apparent relief work amongst the Rohingyas but actually to recruit disgruntled Rohingya youths for terror training in Pakistan. A western intelligence official has been quoted as telling Myanmar’s Mizzima News that the LeT, of all South Asian Islamist terror groups, have the “widest possible network” in both South and Southeast Asian countries and the best possible finance” despite being branded a terror group.

Hafiz Mohammed Syed (LeT, Pakistan) sharing the dais with Abdul Qudus Burmi (HuJI, Arakan) and other Rohingya leaders

Hafiz Mohammed Syed (LeT, Pakistan) sharing the dais with Abdul Qudus Burmi (HuJI, Arakan) and other Rohingya leaders

LeT chief Hafiz Muhammed Sayyid has been making frequent references to the ‘atrocities on Rohingya Muslims’ during his speeches before Pakistani audiences and calling for revenge. He has blamed the UN and spoken out against the ‘hypocrisy of the West’ on the Rohingya issue. In July 2012, during the Rakhine state riots in Myanmar, the LeT front JuD organised a ‘Difa-e-Mussalman Arakan Conference’ in Karachi and exhorted its cadres to recruit Rohingyas to avenge the riots. Sayyid shared the dais during this conference with Maulana Abdus Quddus Burmi, the Harkat-ul-Jihad of Arakans (HUJA), Noor Hussain Arakani of Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) and Noor al Bashar Arakani, a close associate of Al Qaeda. FIF chairman Hafiz Abdur Rauf joined Sayyid on the dias to call for ‘revenge in the Arakans.’

during the Rakhine state riots in Myanmar, the LeT front JuD organised a ‘Difa-e-Mussalman Arakan Conference’ in Karachi and exhorted its cadres to recruit Rohingyas to avenge the riots

Indian intelligence has found a LeT hand in provoking a Muslim backlash against people from the Northeastern region in south Indian cities in 2012 that led to a major exodus of Assamese, Nagas, Manipuris and Mizos from cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad. The LeT is also said to have used its Indian Mujahideen associates after the 2012 Rakhine riots to bomb a Buddhist monastery in Bodh Gaya which is visited by tens of thousands of Myanmar pilgrims every year.

The LeT clout is evident in Pakistan, which is why some of their commanders like Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, said to be the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, have walked free. But what is not so well known is that the LeT’s effective lobbying with the Pakistan government led to Islamabad sponsoring a resolution in the 29th session of UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 3rd July this year, expressing ‘serious concern’ over the plight of the Rohingyas in Myanmar.

The Pakistan-sponsored resolution condemned the systematic gross violations of human rights and abuses committed in Rakhine State, in particular against Rohingya Muslims, called upon the Government of Myanmar to ensure the protection of human rights of the Rohingya Muslims, and requested  “the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its thirtieth session and a report at its thirty-second session, on the human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, particularly the recent incidents of trafficking and forced displacement of Rohingya Muslims”.

Myanmar has been stung by this Pakistan-sponsored resolution because this comes at a time Islamabad was trying to improve military-to-military ties with the Pagoda Nation. It is slowly discovering, as India or Bangladesh has done before, the double game of the Pakistan military. It may seek better military ties with Myanmar to checkmate Indian influence but it will also use its deniable non-state actors to pressurize Myanmar on the Rohingya issue by the UN resolution that seeks to build up support for them in the Islamic world. Not the least because the Rohingyas are seen as the most recruits for the LeT’s jihadi machine in the East. So while the arrest of the ISI agents in Calcutta port area have created flutter in the East, there is no reason to believe it is off the ISI’s terror radar.

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