As the country prepares to pull out of Afghanistan next year, a US military report here has warned that some of the Pakistan-based militant groups like LeT, backed by "elements" in Pakistani security establishments, will "reorient to and invest more broadly in the conflict in Kashmir" post the
2014 American drawdown.
The report noted that because of the US troops' presence in Afghanistan post 2001, the conflict there has functioned as an opportunity and also potentially as a distraction for some of the Pakistan-based militant groups.
While the number of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan has generally risen since 2008 (with seasonal ebbs and flows and yearly fluctuations), the level of militant-linked violence in Jammu and Kashmir - the theatre where many Pakistan-based groups have historically been active — has declined from levels seen during the late 1990s and early 2000s, US Military Academy in West Point said in a report.
"Once the primary battleground for jihad in South Asia; over the last decade the fight in Kashmir just hasn't been as relevant for jihadist actors.
"If history and the area to which Pakistani militants (aided by the state) turned their operational attention after the Soviets departed Afghanistan is any guide, the reduction of the US footprint in Afghanistan in 2014 could help to change that," said the report titled The Fighters of Lashkar-e-Taiba: Recruitment, Training, Deployment and Death.
The comprehensive report is result of a multi-year research effort conducted by a lead team of five eminent authors, including C Christine Fair, Don Rassler and Anirban Ghosh, and is based on a study of over 900 biographies of the deceased LeT militants.
It said that it is difficult to predict the directional priorities of Pakistan-based militant groups after the US reduces its role in Afghanistan, especially in light of the internal security challenges faced by Pakistan and the state's own shifting threat priorities.
However, "historical precedent suggests that some of these militant groups will reorient to and invest more broadly in the conflict in Kashmir," the report said.
It also talked about the series of skirmishes between Pakistani and Indian forces along the Line of Control in Kashmir in January this year, which resulted in the deaths of two Indian soldiers, one of whom was beheaded.
The report said the incidents have brought "the potential for renewed conflict in Kashmir into sharp relief".
"This has left many regional observers trying to discern whether this incident was isolated or a harbinger of more violence to come between two nuclear-armed neighbours who have fought three conventional wars since 1947.
"Should elements of Pakistan's security establishment view it in their interest to spoil peace or reignite conflict in the region (potentially to serve as a release valve for domestic challenges or to redirect the actions of militants actively waging war against Islamabad), they will likely turn to trusted Pakistani militant groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), to do their bidding," the report said.
It underlined that while LeT has historically been used by Islamabad as an agent of regional foreign policy — and one that has been mostly focused on waging a low-level war of attrition in Indian Kashmir — a steady array of incidents tied to the group over the last decade "strongly suggest that LeT's interests are evolving and that its operations in the future might be less constrained".
The Mumbai terrorist attacks left "some to question whether Mumbai was an outlier or a sign of a broader strategic or ideological shift taking place within the group, with more, similar international attacks to come," the report said.
The group's active recruitment of US and European citizens and the discovery of a number of LeT operatives and cells based in both places, the report said, "have led some researchers to conclude that a threat to the US homeland by this organisation (or an associated splinter group or LeT-trained element) can no longer be ruled out."
"Even if this is not the case and the group maintains a more limited operational focus on Kashmir and India in the years to come, its attack on Mumbai raises the spectre that future attacks orchestrated by the group in that region may be more hybrid in nature or international in flavour-helping LeT to draw world media attention to its cause," the report concluded.
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