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Jihad for all Seasons: Review of Storming the World Stage (in PRAGATI)

Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba by Stephen Tankel

PRAGATI, India’s National Interest Review magazine has published my review of Dr. Stephen Tankel’s book on Lashkar-e-Taiba, titled Storming the World Stage. The article is not yet online (I will add the link when it is released) but the issue digest PDF version is below:


“Jihad for all seasons”

….Carnegie and RAND scholar Stephen Tankel has endeavored to demystify and deconstruct LeT in his meticulously researched book, Storming The World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba and bring into the light the complex relationships that entwine LeT with the Pakistani state and the subterranean universe of radical jihadi politics.  Conducting extensive interviews with Islamist militants, Western and Indian intelligence officials, Pakistani politicians and ISI officers and buttressing his narrative with sixty-three pages of end-notes, Tankel has produced a portrait of Lashkar-e-Taiba that is accessible to the layman while remaining a methodical work of scholarship.

…. An organisation that, like Hezbollah, is state-sponsored but not controlled, Lashkar-e-Taiba is suited for waging what military analyst Frank Hoffman terms “Hybrid War”, but how LeT would play that role in an Indo-Pakistani War is left to the reader’s inference. LeT also demonstrated in Mumbai a fluid tactical excellence in its use of off-the-shelf technology, small arms and mobility to reap an enormous return-on-investment by attacking soft targets, much along the asymmetric lines advocated by warfare theorist John Robb. Tactics that are a critical threat to any open society by forcing it to take preventive measures which are ruinously expensive and contraindicated to keeping society free and democratic….

Will update post as matters develop.

7 Responses to “Jihad for all Seasons: Review of Storming the World Stage (in PRAGATI)”

  1. Lexington Green Says:

    Congratulations on this publication.  

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks for this, Zen.  As you’d imagine, I appreciated your comment:

    The theological drivers behind LeT and the increasing radicalisation of its’ younger generation are given short shrift. For example, we understand from Tankel that there is ideological – i.e. theological – friction between LeT militants and their Deobandi counterparts, on occasion to the point of violence, but not why. Avoiding a close examination of religious motivation is a common omission in American academic analysis of Islamist terrorism, which puts Tankel in the mainstream of researchers, but represents a missing facet that would have enriched the reader’s understanding.

    I’ve looked for references to Khorasan and Ghazwa-e-Hind in the online Index, and don’t see any, but Indexes don’t always catch what the indexers aren’t interested in, so that may not prove anything.
    Onwards, as David R would say!

  3. zen Says:

    Much thanks Lex! Trying to stretch myself a little these days.
    Charles, I was thinking of you and Furnish when I wrote that – or in a different cultural context, Robert Bunker. In fairness to Dr. Tankel, he stated explicitly in the second chapter "this book employs a typology devised by Thomas Hegghammer, which focuses on political content and strategic calculus of an actor’s ideology" and he delivered on that premise. It’s just not every puzzle piece in the box.

  4. Madhu Says:

    Bravo, zen.

  5. omar Says:

    I posted this comment on SWJ in response to a reference to your review: Mishandling by the dominant post-imperial powers (?driven in part by individual official’s guilty conscience about having supported multiple evil proxies of their own? I am always curious if such psychodynamics plays any significant role in world affairs? or is it just grist for novelist’s mills and can be ignored? I am never sure..) has allowed this threat to grow. I know colonel Roberts and many others will disagree, but I think some critical skill sets and organizations nurtured by the Pakistani state COULD have been shut down or pushed into small-scale criminality if the international community had been clear about its own objectives. That chance may now be lost. 
    In short, I continue to push the theory that ruinous expensive countermeasures are not the only option. The weak spot on the terrorist side was the state apparatus, not the clandestine networks themselves. By focusing on street level criminals, the operation as a whole was allowed to get away in what may have been a limited "window of opportunity". 
    I continue to believe that the PEOPLE of Pakistan would have been much better off it the STATE of Pakistan had faced some more pressure on this account. I genuinely believe that my obsessive carping about this issue is driven by a sincere desire to see the people of Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent leave stupid zero-sum games behind and grab a chance to transform living standards for one fourth of the world. But even I can see that I probably come across as some kind of pakiphobic monomaniac. I do try to step back and re-examine my assumptions. Maybe not hard enough? 
    It seems genuinely hard to know our own motives.

  6. zen Says:

    hi omar,
    "but I think some critical skill sets and organizations nurtured by the Pakistani state COULD have been shut down or pushed into small-scale criminality if the international community had been clear about its own objectives. That chance may now be lost. "
    I think that is probable, at least to a degree. Bear in mind, our exit from these affairs was spurred partly by the diplomatic agreement that facilitated the Soviet withdrawal, we were obligated to cut off aid to the Mujahedin, which was largely routed through Pakistan. The State Department – which had been fighting a rearguard bureaucratic battle against "the Reagan Doctrine" since before the policy had that name – was almost as eager as the Soviets for the aid-cut off to begin. The aid was our major leverage both with the militias and with Pakistan’s military, which with Zia dead did not have a figure who could make both Pakistan’s civil state and military stay on the same page. The other driver was domestic politics and subsequently "peace dividend" mania that eviserated our HUMINT and sense of interest in the region – we ceased to even pay attention.

  7. zen Says:

    Much thanks Doc Madhu!

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