'LeT a dangerous group but not greater than Qaeda'
Washington: Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) is a profound dangerous group but not greater than al Qaeda, a top US official on counter-terrorism has said.
"Obviously, LeT is a profoundly dangerous group and its support that it derives from doing social services is like Hamas, is like Hezbollah, and is of course of great concern," Daniel Benjamin, State Department Coordinator for Counter Terrorism said.
"I don't think I ever said LeT was more dangerous than al Qaeda, but it is certainly a very, very dangerous group. That is why the work that we are doing with Pakistan, aside from the law enforcement cooperation -- and we have been very supportive of Pakistan's efforts to bring Mumbai perpetrators to justice," Benjamin told reporters in response to a question.
He argued that it was critically important that Pakistan continue to develop its institutions and develop the ability to provide the services to its people so that other organisations with a radical agenda were not in there subverting the state.
The official said that Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill was important... and of course, in the aftermath of devastating floods, it was all the more important to ensure that Pakistani people have the basic resources they need to get on with their lives, and it was not being delivered to them with an extremist message.
"There's been an enormous amount of money pledged, I believe something along the lines of USD 14 billion. It's being disbursed. I think this is a good news story in the face of enormous suffering. But as your question suggests, over the long term the key is a strong state that can provide the needs for its people," he said.
The State Department official said the US was delighted that many in the region were very concerned about the LeT threat and cooperating much more effectively.
"I mentioned Bangladesh and India, which have had a real breakthrough in this area in terms of their coordination. We are working closely with all the partners," he said, adding this kind of cooperation was sensitive.
He assured that the partners were working hard to ensure that there was no future attacks.
"Obviously, we know how difficult this business is and how hard it is to achieve perfect success. This is very much on our screen right now and very much a matter of concern. We don't want to see LeT filling that hole in the global extremism as al Qaeda itself is diminished," Benjamin said.
"As the two-year anniversary of Mumbai approaches, we continue to work very closely with our interagency partners and international allies to reduce the threat from this very dangerous group. There is growing cooperation in the region to thwart LeT, especially between such critical partners as India and Bangladesh," he said.
Benjamin said that very few things worry him as much as the strength and ambition of LeT, which is a truly malign presence in South Asia.
The counterterrorism expert also noted that Pakistan needed to build up stronger governance institutions to prevent groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is linked to LeT, to fill a void during humanitarian crises like the recent floods.
Noting that Pakistan was a "frontline state”, he said, "Pakistan has helped the US put out of business in one way or the other more al Qaeda operatives than any other country on earth by a large margin."
"Pakistan has suffered grievously from militancy and I believe that Pakistan's leadership understands very well the nature of threat and the imperative to combat it and I can assure you that my view on this is the same as the President and the Secretary of State," Benjamin told reporters.
Benjamin, however, noted that probably the most worrisome threat at this time came from al Qaeda senior leadership and al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen following the episode of the two bombs mailed from the country to the US.
Al Qaeda and its affiliates, he said, had the "US and Europe squarely in their sights”.
"AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) was a very serious threat...I do not believe it is a more serious threat than al Qaeda senior leadership (AQSL) in the Pakistani-Afghani border regions," Benjamin said.
"Laskhar-e-Toiba is a group we are very concerned about although it is not at AQ affiliate," he added, citing others like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al Shabab in Somalia.