Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa sheds light on the Lashkar-e-Tayiba's latest makeover and its repercussions for India
In a bid to continue with their activities against India the Lashkar-e-Tayiba has re-grouped yet again under a new chief called Muhammad Iftikar. After the heat was stepped up on the top leadership of the Lashkar, the terrorist group decided it was time to revamp and bring their Indian operations back on track. Sources told rediff.com that Iftikar's name came as a surprise as it never cropped up during the investigations.
Iftikar is believed to be very close to Jamaat-ud-Daawa chief and main accused of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and was handpicked by Saeed to head the outfit. Saeed who has been in the eye of the storm has decided to lie low following the cases against him. Saeed is aware that there is no question of getting back into business immediately since he is being watched very closely.
Information about Iftikar and his antecedents is scarce. Sources say that the investigating agencies are trying to get more information on the man. It has however confirmed that this man is a trusted aide of Saeed and this means that he had always played a very important role in the LeT, behind the scenes. It is also said that Iftikar is a fanatic by nature and his hatred for India has earned him the top slot, not to mention the blessings of Pakistan's spy agency the Inter-Services Intelligence.
Sources said that Iftikar has been with Saeed for over 15 years and was in the know of all the outfit's activities. If Saeed has handpicked him for the job, then it is very evident that Iftikar will work under his mentor's guidelines, which only means that the trouble for India will not end, despite a major crackdown on the Lashkar in recent times.
A security expert told rediff.com that the ploy of the Lashkar is a very interesting one. Iftikar's name never cropped up in the past. Not once during the investigation into the Mumbai terror attack did Iftikar's name come up. Sabahuddin and Fahim Ansari who are being tried in the Mumbai terror attack case were in the know of all the goings-on in the Lashkar. An officer said that they may have been aware of this man, but had deliberately kept it a secret from the police. The officer also adds that there is every chance of these two not knowing about this man as it could have been an intentionally guarded secret by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba top rung.
If one looks at the functioning of the Lashkar very closely then it is evident that the Lashkar plans way into the future. The decision to appoint Iftikar as boss is not some overnight decision by the Lashkar. It was on the anvil since several years and all these years this man was being groomed into taking up the mantle in case of a crisis within the Lashkar.
Intelligence agencies say that there may many such Iftikars in the Lashkar camp and each one of them has been trained to take over the Lashkar at any given time. Sources said that initially there was no intention of appointing a head, but the group realized that the cadres were getting demoralized following the arrest of the top leadership. Hence it was absolutely necessary for them to appoint someone who in turn would guide the cadres.Iftikar's speeches and the writings will be made available to the cadres to draw inspiration.
New strategy: Apart from appointing a new boss, the Lashkar-e-tayiba has also shifted it main operational base from Muzzafarabad to Jaffrabad in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. Prior to the Mumbai attack, the headquarters housed over 50 members who were actively involved in planning and execution. The Lashkar has decided to keep its operations small and the new headquarters will have just 6 members. The LeT has realized that too many people in the loop would constitute a security risk and hence they have decided to keep the group small and keep intelligence sharing to a bare minimum. This would mean that the cadres arrested in future would have very little information about the group's activities since they would be working on a need to know basis.
Over the next few months, the Lashkar will indulge in various tactics to distract security agencies so that the transition within their group passes off smoothly. India has already been witnessing several instances where fake currency has been seized. This is largely a tactic to distract security agencies who will keep their focus on cracking this menace while these groups go about their business. If one notices before every attack or major overhaul in a terror group there have been such fake currency hauls or some small member of a terror group being caught. Sources say that these tactics are intentional and the focus on the operations of the main group should never be lost in the interest of security.