Storming the World Stage

The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba

September 2012 9781849040464 364pp
September 2012 9781849041867 364pp
Out of print


On the night of 21 November 2008, in a series of simultaneous and well-coordinated attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba gunmen killed more than 170 people and injured over 300 in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital. The victims included not only the Indian elite, but also Jews and Westerners. The Mumbai attacks announced Lashkar-e- Taiba’s emergence on the world stage. Lashkar rose to prominence on the back of Pakistani state sponsorship for the insurgency in Kashmir, but has sent fighters to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as providing essential assistance to al-Qaeda. Were these attacks evidence that Lashkar is moving deeper into al-Qaeda’s orbit? Or were they simply the latest attempts by which the group sought to harm Pakistan’s historic rival, India? This book attempts to provide the back-story necessary to address these and other pressing questions. It charts Lashkar’s development from a small group unable to make a dent in the Afghan jihad against the Soviets to the most feared organisation in Kashmir and India as well as a powerhouse in Pakistani society. Along the way, it considers the nature of the threat Lashkar poses to Pakistan, India, and the West and how that threat has evolved since the Mumbai attacks.


Storming the World Stage is an impressive piece of detective work that provides the most comprehensive treatment so far of the ideological sources, political motivations and organizational strategies of this group. If policy makers, in India and around the world, want to understand the foe they’re up against, this book is an important read.’ — Wall Street Journal

‘Among the many arresting moments captured in this finely grained account of Pakistan’s most feared militant organization, Lashkar-e-Taiba, one in particular stands out. It displays the chutzpah of a Pakistani intelligence officer who, when quizzed by the author about the immunity enjoyed by Lashkar, retorted smartly: ‘Who benefits if we go after Lashkar? India. Who pays? Pakistan.’ This stunning response not only encapsulates the broad thrust of Tankel’s argument but serves as a disturbing reminder of Pakistan’s destructive obsession with India—an obsession that rests on the costly delusion that no policy, however ruinous for Pakistan, needs correction so long as it inflicts damage on India. This toxic world-view also explains the meteoric rise of Lashkar-e-Taiba as arguably the most powerful actor after Al-Qaeda in the firmament of global jihad. But the worldwide notoriety of Lashkar today stems no less from its role in masterminding the terrorist attacks that killed almost 170 people in Mumbai in  November 2008. Indeed, this event serves as the hook for Tankel’s story of an organization whose single-minded dedication to holy war against India has won it the lavish patronage of the Pakistani state as one of its most powerful and protected organizations. … Drawing extensively on the classified testimony of the Pakistani–American David Headley—a key Lashkar operative in charge of planning the attacks and now in US custody—Tankel sheds new light on Lashkar’s struggle for self-definition.’ — Farzana Shaikh, International Affairs

‘Storming the World Stage is the definitive account of one the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world. Tankel’s research in Pakistan is prodigious and his analytical judgements are well-calibrated. Highly recommended.’ — Peter Bergen, author of The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda

‘An important and insightful book about the world’s most dangerous terrorists, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and their complex ties to Al Qaeda and to Pakistan’s intelligence service. A must read to understand today’s global jihad.’ — Bruce Riedel, Senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of Deadly Embrace; Pakistan, America and the Future of the Global Jihad

‘Lashkar-e-Taiba is perhaps the most important terrorist group of global reach after Al Qaeda, but it is, unfortunately, less well understood. Stephen Tankel’s book now eliminates all excuses for ignorance: by vividly taking the reader into Lashkar’s milieu, describing its organisation and its activities, and exposing its worldview, he shows how continued apathy towards Lashkar-e-Taiba will prove to be dangerous not only for South Asia but the West as well. Storming the World Stage is an urgent wake-up call about a group that neither will fade away quietly nor can be ignored any longer.’ — Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

‘This is the first work of social science research on Lashkar-e-Taiba. It reveals how diverse its activities are, from jihad to social welfare, and how close to Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) the movement is. A vivid and detailed account of a major Islamist actor in today’s world.’ — Christophe Jaffrelot, Critique

‘Impressive because of its reliance on interviews conducted in Pakistan and elsewhere with officials, journalists and on occasion, with some of the participants in the jihad. All of this brings a level of freshness to this work which is often absent.’ — Professor Sumit Ganguly, University of Indiana

‘A gripping account of the development and execution of the Mumbai attacks and the concomitant indicators of level of threat for Western Europe therein reflected. [Tankel] produces a clear account of the influences at work, relating them to detailed research and well-informed comment, and showing how both the political expediencies and the economic and social influences of Pakistani society have allowed the growth of the huge threat to the security, not only of India but also of the Western world, which is inherent in the LET and the associated Islamic extremist groups.’ — Asian Affairs

‘In this readable, carefully researched and immensely useful account, Stephen Tankel focuses on what is perhaps the most problematic of the many militant groups active in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan: Lashkar-e-Taiba. […] Tankel provides a remarkably clear account of the group’s history and the way it interprets the sometimes quietist Ahl-e-Hadith philosophy. […] This is a valuable and important book.’ — Survival

Storming the World Stage is one of those rare books that come out before their time is ripe. This militant Islamic group based in Pakistan and Afghanistan is the most dangerous in the world, and you will be hearing much more of it in the years to come. Mr. Tankel is ahead of his time.’ — Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban and Descent Into Chaos

‘His study explains why, for so much of the world, Pakistan’s image is shaped by militant groups like [Lashkar-e-Taiba].’ — Dr. Marvin G. Weinbaum, Middle East Journal


Stephen Tankel is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His research focuses on insurgency, terrorism, the evolution of armed groups and militancy in South Asia. Tankel has researched conflicts on the ground in Pakistan, India, Algeria, Lebanon, and the Balkans. He lives in Washington, DC.

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