Islamabad, Mar 12: Echoing US fears of Pakistan inaction against terror groups, several eminent US scholars and experts of South Asia have categorically stated that ISI continues to maintain links with Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).
In a special Congressional hearing on Thursday on 'Lashkar-e-Taiba and the growing ambition of Islamic militancy in Pakistan', Congressmen voiced their concern over ISI nonchalant attitude in maintaining relationship with LeT, despite US best efforts.
"The LeT is a deadly serious group of fanatics. They are well financed, ambitious, and most disturbingly, both tolerated by, and connected to, the Pakistani military," said Gary L Ackerman, chairman of the House subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia of the House committee on international relations.
He added that interestingly, Obama was selling advanced arms to the same Pakistani military.
Echoing Ackerman's statement, Marvin G Weinbaum, from the Middle East Institute -- a Washington-based think tank, testified before the Congressional committee that despite the government's official ban on LeT, it is still considered as an asset by the ISI.
Weinbaum said that ISI along with sharing intelligence with LeT, provides them security as well.
"It is a measure of the impunity with which LeT is allowed to operate in Pakistan that the authorities have been unwilling to contain LeT chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed.
"His inflammatory remarks would be expected to land him among the hundreds of disappeared political activists in the country. Although he has been periodically arrested, his house detentions have been cosmetic," Weinbaum said.
Pointing at LeT leader Hafiz Saeed's unrestrained public appearances, Lisa Curtis from the Heritage Foundation expressed doubt on Pakistan commitment on tackling the activities of LeT.
Terming it a failure of the US policy, Curtis slamed the administration for its inability in convincing Pakistan to stop the LeT operations long time back.
US officials have been apprehensive in pressuring Pakistan to act against LeT so that it could gather support in tackling terror gruops which US believed to be more critical to immediate its objectives, that is al-Qaida shortly after 9/11 and the Afghan Taliban more recently.
"To degrade the overall international terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan, the US must convince Islamabad to confront those groups it has supported against India," Curtis said.
LeT involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks and its link to arrested terror suspect David Coleman Headley was prove of the group's international capabilities and ideological inclination to attack western targets, no matter where they are located, either in South Asia or elsewhere.
Testifying to the lasting relationship between the ISI and LeT, eminent Pakistani scholar Shuja Nawaz, who is the the director, South Asia Center, The Atlantic Council of the United States said that LeT poses a threat to all, particularly India.
"The LeT's emerging role as a trans regional force that has broadened its aim to include India and perhaps even Afghanistan, by linking with the Students Islamic Movement of India or SIMI and the Harkat ul Jihad al Islami or HUJI of Bangladesh poses a serious threat to regional stability," Nawaz said.
"Another Mumbai-type attack involving the LeT might bring India and Pakistan into conflict, a prospect that should keep us awake at night. In Pakistan, both the civil and the military now appear to recognise the existential threat from home grown militancy.
"The army appears to have dislocated the Tehreek-e-Taliban of Pakistan. Yet, it faces a huge and, to my mind, greater threat in the hinterland, in the form of the LeT," he said.
Pointing to LeT reliance on ISI for protection and intelligence, Ashley J Tellis, senior associate at the prestigious Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that ISI was a safe haven for the banned terror group.
Tellis said that LeT depends on ISI intelligence on selected targets and threats, campaign guidance when necessary, and infiltration assistance, particularly in regard to long distance operations involving transits through third countries.
"Although the interrogation of David Headley has now established that there were clearly some shadowy ISI connections with the Bombay attacks, the management of the LeT detainees by the Pakistani state and the tortured progress of their trial demonstrates that, whatever the outcome of this charade, the ISI has simply no intention of eviscerating LeT (or any other anti-Indian jihadi groups) because of their perceived utility to Pakistan's national strategy vis-À-vis India," Tellis said.
"So long as the Pakistani Army and the security establishment more generally conclude that their private interests (and their conception of the national interest) are undermined by a permanent reconciliation between India and Pakistan, they will not rid themselves of the terrorist groups they have begotten and which serve their purposes--irrespective of what New Delhi or Kabul or Washington may desire," he said.
"This fact ought to be understood clearly by the Obama administration. Once it is, it may push the United States to either compel Pakistan to initiate action against LeT or hold Pakistan responsible for the actions of its proxies."
"If these efforts do not bear fruit, the United States will have to contemplate unilateral actions (or cooperative actions with other allies) to neutralize the most dangerous of the terrorist groups now resident in Pakistan."
"Doing so may be increasingly necessary not simply to prevent a future Indo-Pakistani crisis, but more importantly to protect the United States, its citizens, its interests, and its allies," Tellis said.