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LeT a Frankenstein's monster, an instrument of Pak army: US expert

March 12, 2010 10:37 IST

Former Bush Administration official Ashley J Tellis, considered one of US' foremost strategic experts, praised Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his forbearance in dealing with Pakistan, while the addressing the Congress on the impending threat posed by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the terror outfit responsible for the 26/11 attacks, on Thursday.

"The most immediate challenge that the LeT poses for the United States is the risk that its operations in India will provoke a crisis in India-Pakistan relations that end up with the threat of war," he said.

"If we have been lucky to escape that problem so far, it has been largely because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been forbearing in terms of his response to Pakistan," he said.

Tellis said that despite the innumerable provocations "posed by the LeT's actions, Prime Minister Singh has yet made another attempt to restart the dialogue with Pakistan."

"But by all accounts this dialogue is unlikely to be fruitful in the near-term for want of a suitable partner in Pakistan capable of conducting a dialogue that leads to an agreement that is necessary if we have to close the books on this group."

Pointing out that Pakistan's official intelligence agency was fully supporting the LeT and that Pakistan had no intention to control the terror outfit, he said the Obama Administration had only one alternative left -- to take on the LeT unilaterally because of the dire threat it posed.

Tellis, currently a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was among the several experts who appeared before the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on South Asia to discuss the unholy alliance between the LeT and the growing ambition of Islamist militancy in Pakistan.

He told the lawmakers, "All US efforts so far to encourage Pakistan to suppress the LeT have failed.

"I think we need to face up to the fact."

"Therefore, we will have to increasingly consider what is a very unpalatable possibility that we might have to target the LeT and its operatives unilaterally as part of our efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Tellis said there was no denying that "the LeT has become the spearhead of the Pakistani military's campaign against India… This campaign no longer consists of fomenting insurgencies with India as was the case in the 1990s".

Tellis pointed out that though Pakistan was now an US ally, its intelligence body continued to support and protect the LeT.

"The tight organisational linkages between the LeT and the ISI persist to this day, even though Pakistan remains officially an ally of the US on the war on terror and even though Pakistan has officially banned the LeT and its parent organisation."

He said the Pakistani army and the ISI "have certain objectives with respect to LeT -- they seek to modulate its terrorism, not end it. They seek to modulate it in order that its actions do not embarrass the Pakistani state or provoke a major Indo-Pakistani war."

"But the record since 2001 shows clearly that they have no intentions of putting LeT out of business," he added.

Tellis said the Pakistani military and the ISI's strategy had now "moved from exploiting domestic discontent to unleashing terrorism, which is aiding groups whose only purpose of existence is to engage in indiscriminate attacks against civilians throughout the length and breadth of the Indian land mass."

"The LeT has grown enormously in competence and its capabilities. Its capacity to engage in terrorist attacks worldwide has increased. But today, it does not need the constant operational support that it needed from the ISI to conduct these operations," he said.

Tellis said it's imperative "that the United States recognise Pakistan's deep investments in the LeT and cease to refer to the LeT as if it were an independent actor whose actions are intended to embarrass the Pakistani state."

"Rather, the LeT remains to this day an instrument of the Pakistani intelligence services," he added.

"The investigations that have occurred in the context of the Headley case, demonstrate clearly the ISI's links with the attacks that took place in Mumbai," echoing sentiments that were unanimous among all of those who testified and the lawmakers too. It was to President Obama's "credit", he said, that Pakistan has to target the LeT if the US-Pakistan strategic relationship is to be sustained.

But Tellis pointed out that "thus far, the Pakistani state has been unresponsive to the president's entreaties to suppress the LeT."

Tellis also said it was also important to qualify the common analysis of the LeT as a Frankenstein's monster.

While "we think of it as a Frankenstein monster, I don't think the Pakistan state thinks so", he said.

Tellis also pointed out that the LeT has been very careful not to attack the state interests of Pakistan -- to maintain its links with key institutions like the Pakistani intelligence services.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC