The American government and the public had very limited understanding of Islamist extremist groups and their global jihadist ambitions before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Afterwards, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama strictly limited the war on terror to extremist groups like al-Qaeda that had openly waged a war against the United States and attempted to carry out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. The post-9/11 academic work and media research followed this trend, focusing on this particular network of terrorists while ignoring other groups with similar ambitions that worked at a slower pace or on a smaller scale.
Now, Washington has finalized its departure from Afghanistan after a decade-long war against Islamist extremist groups, and many analysts believe al-Qaeda has been incapacitated to attack the United States. But the recent dramatic rise of al-Qaeda affiliates in Iraq and Syria echoes as a reminder that the threat of Islamist extremism has not been completely defeated -- it has gained new strengths in the past decade.
Meanwhile, America's engagement with al-Qaeda provided an extraordinary opportunity to other global jihadist groups to consistently regroup and prepare for future battles. One such group that has gained remarkable strength from mainland Pakistan is the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is determined to push India and Pakistan into a nuclear war. The LeT, despite being designated by Washington as a terrorist organization, has continued to thrive in the recent years under the patronage of the Pakistani military.
Senior Pakistani journalist and former New York Times contributor Arif Jamal's latest book, Call for Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba (1985-2014), is an extraordinary account of the LeT's evolution and its expanding network of trusted allies across the world. Although the LeT had been carrying out Pakistan's proxy war in the Indian-administered Kashmir since 1980s, the group came into the limelight after it killed more than 160 people, including some American nationals, in a terrorist strike in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.
The LeT works differently from groups like al-Qaeda. Its public face is Jamatud Dawa (JuD), formerly known as Markaz Dawat wal Irshad (MDI). The JuD poses as an Islamist charity group and actively operates across Pakistan and several other countries. According to Jamal, Pakistan does not take action against the LeT because it fights Islamabad's jihad inside India, including Kashmir, and, unlike the Pakistani Taliban, does not attack the Pakistani state.
Jamal views JuD as more dangerous than al-Qaeda because of its broad reach to around 50 countries, arguing that it is probably the first jihadist outfit with a global network. In 1995, the LeT led the formation of the world's first global alliance of jihadists, called League of Islamic Jihad, that brought the jihadist groups from Kashmir, Bosnia, the Philippines, and Eritrea together. In total, these groups number 200,000 jihadists on one platform.
"JuD's jihad against the United States or any other western country is different from al-Qaeda's jihad," Jamal explains. "Instead of carrying out terrorist attacks on the United States like the al-Qaeda, the JuD seems to be planning to convert a section of society to Salafism before it launches full fledged jihadist attacks on it." He also notes, "For the JuD, the missionary work and fundraising in the western world are more important at this time."
In April 2012, the United States announced a $10-million bounty on information that would lead to the conviction of the LeT chief. On the contrary, Saeed continues to roam freely across Pakistan, where he appears on almost every news channel and speaks at public events to call for jihad against the West. Last month, he even addressed the lawyers at the Lahore High Court Bar Association. Saeed started his jihad to liberate Kahsmir from India, but now he says the jihadist mission is not going to stop even if Kashmir gains freedom. His jihadist fantasies include converting India, Israel, and the United States, among other countries, into Muslim states.
The Call for Transnational Jihad is the first book ever by a Pakistani journalist that not only reveals deep-rooted connections between the Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.), Pakistan's powerful spy agency, and the LeT but also exposes LeT's relentless use of violence against innocent civilians, including fellow Muslims, whom it punishes for allegedly spying for the Indian government or transgressing the Islamist lifestyle. Pakistani readers are generally exposed to the state-sponsored narrative about the brutalities of the Indian forces against the people of Kashmir -- rarely do they read about how the so-called freedom fighters engage in criminal activities to finance their armed movement and force local populations to support them.
Jamal's book provides invaluable information about the I.S.I.'s increasing jihadist projects and local networks in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bosnia, Tajikistan and Chechnya.
The chapters dealing with the LeT connections in the United States and the United Kingdom are alarming, as they indicate that the war on terror has not fully deterred the jihadist groups, nor have Western countries fully achieved the capability to counter the threat of radical Islam. The LeT smartly uses digital technology and social media to recruit Western-educated, Western-looking young men to enhance their terrorist projects. The case of David Headley, one of the conspirators of and spies for the Mumbai attack, reflects how beneficial terrorist groups find Western-educated recruits because of their ability to travel across the world so easily. Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Time Square bomber, who was hired by the Pakistani Taliban, not the LeT, also reflects the consistent pattern used by the jihadists to recruit Western-educated citizens for their terrorist plots.
The ability of groups to recruit new members from the United States, send them for training in Pakistan and Afghanistan, collect donations and spread jihadist literature inside American jails (as noted by Jamal in his book) provides ample reason to worry about future terrorist strikes within the United States.
The Call for Transnational Jihad foresees a pessimistic future for many countries that simply do not have the military and intelligence resources and training to guard their borders from jihadists. Pakistan's intentional inaction against the LeT and uninterrupted support for it endangers regional peace in South Asia, in addition to putting American and European cities and citizens at the risk of future terrorist attacks. The United States, as a regular supporter (especially financially) of the Pakistani military, must play a proactive role in conditioning American assistance to Islamabad with action against Islamist terrorist groups. Washington has failed to persuade Pakistan from permanently abandoning the LeT and other Islamist radical groups because punitive measures, including the suspension of foreign aid, did not follow such previous demands. With the LeT on rise, the defeat of al-Qaeda, if true, does not promise an extremism-free stable South Asia.
Jamal is a great addition to the rare club of articulate Pakistani writers, such as Hussain Haqqani, the author of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, and Ahmed Rashid, the author of Pakistan on the Brink. All these writers have taken personal risks to expose their country's connections with Islamist extremist groups and the questionable commitment to the war on terrorism.