Target: Delhi Lashkar-e-Taiba and an Improvised Nuclear Device


Since the independence of the British subcontinent, India and Pakistan have been at odds.  Religious and political differences have led to warfare, border clashes, nuclear missile testing, and terrorist attacks.  The biggest concern, however, is the Province of Jammu and Kashmir, who should control it, and the lack of follow through with Indian promises of development.  Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is a purported Pakistani-supported terrorist organization that wants to free the province of Indian control.  Provided the correct setting, I believe Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) would be capable of attacking Delhi with an improvised nuclear device (IND).  This paper outlines this scenario.

Keywords: India, Pakistan, Province of Jammu and Kashmir, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), improvised nuclear device (IND)

Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) translates to the Army of the Pure or the Army of the Righteous.  It formed in 1990 by Hafiz Mohammed Saeed in Pakistan and is also located in Jammu and Kashmir.  Members follow a similar Salafist Islamist religion as other jihadist groups in the Middle East; however, LeT is slightly different in that “da’wa (preaching) and jihad (fighting) [are] as equal and essential components of Islam” (Mapping Militant Organizations, 2016).  Connecting these two demonstrates the high priority of the latter.  In its early years, its goal was mujahedeen-focused in Afghanistan.  Once the Taliban took power, LeT moved its attention to freeing Jammu and Kashmir from Indian control.  According to the Anti-Defamation League, “LeT sees the fight against Indian control over Jammu and Kashmir as part of a global struggle against the oppression of Muslims, and ultimately seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Indian subcontinent” (2013).  One of the most concerning aspects of LeT is that they are purportedly supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) (Bajoria, 2010).


In order to comprehend this change in strategy, one must understand a brief history of Jammu and Kashmir.  The British controlled the Subcontinent for hundreds of years in various capacities, whether it was the British East India Company or the crown itself.  When the land was finally given its independence in 1947, it created a catalyst for dramatic change—politically, religiously, and militarily.  The Muslim League, India’s Muslim political party knew it would not survive in a predominantly Hindu country; therefore, “…the British created Pakistan out of the Muslim-majority areas of British undivided India, which would serve as a homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent” (Sahukar, 2015, p. 357).  Religious beliefs led them to join either India or Pakistan, and for the most part, it was a smooth transition.

The principality of Jammu and Kashmir was a different story.  “A Hindu raja, Hari Singh, ruled over the Muslim-majority state, and its borders were contiguous to both India and Pakistan” (Sahukar, 2015, p. 358).  He requested more time from both countries to decide which to become part of; Pakistan attacked and Singh looked to India for help.  In October 1947, he was forced to sign the Instrument of Accession—essentially, Jammu and Kashmir became part of India.  Pakistani troops advanced and Indian troops were sent in to protect its new state.  After working with the UN, a Line of Control (LOC) was established, Pakistan had to remove its troops (there is still a Pakistani-occupied section), and a plebiscite was set up.

The India-Pakistan Non-Attack Agreement, otherwise known as the Agreement Between India and Pakistan on the Prohibition of Attack Against Nuclear Installations and Facilities was signed on December 31, 1988.  As the name suggests, each must refrain from attacking the other’s nuclear locations.  However, “though lists of nuclear facilities have been exchanged each year, the definition of nuclear facilities to be declared is unclear. There are no compliance measures in this agreement” (Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2011).  Despite this, nuclear tensions reached its zenith in 1998 when both tested their weapons.  “Pakistan sent its army and mujahideen fighters in May 1999 to occupy the icy heights of eastern Kashmir at Kargil on the Indian side of the LOC” (Sahukar, 2015, p. 361).  Interestingly, India did not cross the LOC, nor did it further the conflict out of fear of nuclear war.  Meanwhile in Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf led a coup and the military was in charge of the government again.

LeT is dangerous for many reasons.  First, it has a documented history of attacks against Kashmir and India for almost 30 years now—both before and after the 1998 nuclear chaos.  Initially, Kashmir was the main target, with dozens killed, predominantly non-Muslims, including Hindus and Sikhs.  Attacks in India—largely in New Delhi and Mumbai—have  resulted in hundreds of casualties; the most notable was the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008.  Second is the fact that they work with other terrorist groups.

This includes al-Qaeda as well as Indian Mujahideen (IM), “LeT’s primary ally in the country” (Mapping Militant Organizations, 2016).  Third, LeT has generous funding: donation boxes, publications about the donation boxes, foreign financiers, and a trade in animal furs (Mapping Militant Organizations, 2016).  Fourth, there is a hazy and potentially illegitimate relationship between LeT and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD); the former runs its charities fronted by the latter’s organization.  They run hospitals, schools, and numerous community development projects.   Fifth, LeT recruits are more educated than the average Pakistani with a secondary education or more.  “University students are likely to be increasingly coveted by militant recruiters” (Yusef, 2016, p. 5).  As a result, the US saw LeT as a threat and declared it a terrorist organization in December 2001 (Bureau of Counterterrorism, 2017).  Pakistan acknowledged them as well in 2002, and in 2008, the US forced sanctions on four LeT members; they have been a UN-recognized terrorist organization since 2005 (Mapping Militant Organizations, 2016).

Although conventional weapons have obviously been deadly, LeT’s desire of a caliphate in the subcontinent has not come to fruition.  Typical of terrorist organizations, they would now feel the need to escalate their desire to achieve their goal.  The historical relationship between India and Pakistan, as well as the contention over Jammu and Kashmir would assist in this elevation towards weapons of mass destruction (WMD).   Biological and chemical weapons need experts to create and are costly to produce and store.  Using a nuclear bomb against India would be the ultimate punishment for the government and would be the bravado to prove that Pakistan was the better, stronger country all along.

LeT would arrange to get nuclear material in one of three ways.  In 2010, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen wrote the article entitled, “Nightmare of Nuclear Terrorism,” in which he expressed concern for Pakistan losing the bomb.  This is the first way.  He argued three concerns: a growing nuclear cache, heightened extremism, and a dangerous civilian-military relationship.  According to the “Worldwide Deployment of Nuclear Weapons, 2017,” Pakistan has nine nuclear bases (Kristensen and Norris, 2017, p. 291).

The security of Pakistan’s fissile materials has been a leading security concern… While outside experts believe it would be difficult for terrorists to seize an entire nuclear warhead, they say it would be easier for insiders working at one of Pakistan’s many nuclear weapon sites to gradually smuggle out enough weapon-grade material to build a rudimentary atomic device (Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2016).

An improvised nuclear device (IND) makes a lot of sense; it  “is a crude nuclear device built from the  components of a stolen weapon or from scratch using nuclear material (plutonium or highly enriched uranium)” (US Department of Homeland Security, 2005). A second possibility could come from Indian Mujahideen.  This is the most prominent jihadist group within India and already has ties with LeT.  In 2013, its leader, Ahmad Zarar Siddibappa, was arrested for trying to acquire a bomb for Pakistan (Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2016).  India has five nuclear bases, but the locations of three of them are undisclosed, which means the whereabouts of up to 120 warheads are also unknown (Kristensen and Norris, 2017, p. 290).  Finally, the legacy of A.Q. Khan and what he was able to accomplish under the blind eyes of the Pakistani government leads one to believe it could happen again.  It is a rogue country, with a corrupt government and military.  “Analysts consider LeT to be in a period of restraint, but believe the organization will attempt to launch terrorist attacks in the future. LeT remains ideologically committed to violence and is still a well-resourced and networked organization capable of carrying out major terror attacks” (Tankel, 2011).

LeT has proven a strong ally to the educated Pakistani youth.  Considering they are also located within Jammu and Kashmir, it makes sense they would be targeting Kashmiri universities as well.  Young adults typically struggle with identity and often want to stray from their parents’ identities, often question authority.   Kashmiri adults have learned to live with Indian control and rarely rebel; Salafist ideology provides rebellion, order, and community—three components youth desire (Neumann, 2016, p. 112).  There are several articles proving jihadist groups are seeking youth,[1] and in this targeting, they clearly know what they are doing, and LeT would be no different.  Important to note, in June, a Kashmiri student was killed—this is only increasing the tensions.  “Students have taken the lead in protests, hurling stones at soldiers tracking separatists who want Kashmir to break away from India” (AFP, 2017).  A Kashmiri university student involved in LeT will get an IND to attack India.  They will be brainwashed, easily manipulated because they have a sense of identity and belonging being part of LeT, and truly feel they are doing this for the greater good.

Once LeT has an IND, they would attack India, not Jammu and Kashmir.  The former has a much larger non-Muslim population.  In addition, it is the current goal of LeT.  Finally, when IM’s Ahmad Zarar Siddibappa’s was arrested, he was quoted as saying: “‘Riyaz told me Muslims would also die in that [nuclear bomb blast], to which I said that we would paste posters in mosques asking every Muslim to quietly evacuate their families from the city,’ he reportedly told his interrogators” (Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2016).  Two Indian states border Kashmir: Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, and the state of Haryana is not too far away.  Its capitals, Shimia, Chandigarh, and Delhi, respectively, are the state capitals, and of course Delhi is the capital of India.[2]  Shimia and Chandigarh are geographically too close to Pakistan and China,[3] despite being the closest to the LOC.  Regardless, Delhi is what LeT would attack.  It is the political and economic mainframe of the entire country with 18.6 million in 2016—nearly 80% are Hindu and almost 13% are Muslim; it is the fifth largest city in the world (World Population Review, 2017).  As with the September 11th attacks in the US, LeT’s notoriety would only increase if they attacked the capital.

LeT would select a student that was earning his degree in engineering.  He would be working as an intern at a construction site in Delhi.  It would not seem out of place for TNT or other explosive devices, as construction is a constant in the city.  Using TNT, he would explode the IND.  “In a chemical-based explosion…the heat produced reaches several thousand degrees and creates a gaseous fireball on the order of a few meters in diameter” (Executive Office of the President, 2011, p. 15).  This could reach millions of degrees and would incinerate all at ground zero.  A shockwave would ensue.  “After initial dissipation, the blast wave slows to about the speed of sound. After the first mile it travels, the wave takes approximately five seconds to traverse the next mile” (Executive Office of the President, 2011, p. 15).  With a population density of more than 29,000 per square mile, tens of thousands would be killed instantly (World Population Review, 2017).  What could be worse is that millions live in slums and are not fully counted for in these population density statistics.  “In a note filed before the Supreme Court on management of municipal solid waste, the capital’s civic bodies said, ‘about 49% of the total population of Delhi lives in slum areas, unauthorized colonies…’” (Mahapatra, 2012).  Nuclear fallout would spread with the wind. Bomb

The most dangerous fallout would occur near the explosion site within minutes of the explosion, but fallout carrying lethal radiation doses could be deposited several miles away. Fallout could potentially travel hundreds of miles, but its concentration and radiation dose decrease as it spreads and as time passes (US Department of Homeland Security, 2005).

The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki provide much of the research on what the dangers of the initial nuclear attack and resulting fallout means for humans.  Outside of the incineration zone, casualties would result from buildings collapsing, debris flying, and the blast of the shockwave on bodies.  People would have severe burns from the radiation.  Those who survived thus far would suffer from radiation.  Short term effects include,

Symptoms of  ARS [acute radiation syndrome] include  nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and reduced blood cell counts… Radiation exposure inhibits stem-cell growth; for those who die within weeks to months, death is usually caused by damage to the gastrointestinal lining and to bone marrow where stem cell growth is crucial. Fetuses are more sensitive to radiation; effects may include growth retardation, malformations, or impaired brain function (US Department of Homeland Security, 2005).  Long term effects are often cancer related, again as demonstrated in Japan, and later in Chernobyl.

Casualties aside, the weeks and months following the nuclear attack would be spent on clean-up.  Ground zero would still have radioactivity.  “There are temporary measures that can be taken to ‘fix’ radioactive materials in place and stop the spread of contamination.  These include  ‘fixative’  sprays  such  as  flour  and  water  mixtures,  road  oil,  or  water  that  can  be  used  to  wet ground surfaces (US Department of Homeland Security, 2005).  Experts would be able to identify quarantine locations as well as determine which food and water supplies were also contaminated.  Economically, India would be devastated.  The Bombay Stock Exchange would crumble as numerous industries would be destroyed.

The international response would be swift as a nuclear weapon has not been used in modern times.  Border nations would try as best they could to protect their citizens, whether it was through information, providing shelter and supplies, or preventing mass chaos.  They may also send troops and supplies depending upon their relationship with India.  Japan would immediately come to India’s aid, as they have already suffered twice and can understand how best to help.  The US would assist India, as both are long-time allies.  In addition, military drone operations would increase in Pakistan, as they would be blamed regardless if LeT took credit for the attack or not.  International pressure would be placed on China to work with Pakistan more.  According to a Reuter’s Report in October 2015, “Pakistan has eliminated all members of the Uighur militant group the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) from its territory…” (Reuters, 2015).  Since China is Pakistan’s strongest ally, they can definitely step up.

Despite numerous counterterrorism mitigating strategies using the development and human rights models (Crelinsten, 2014, p. 9-10),[4] tensions within Kashmir and between India and Pakistan are still high.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi should consider several factors as a preventative to LeT acquiring and using a nuclear bomb.  First, this spring, an attack in Kashmir resulted in more than 200 casualties and several deaths.  As the April 2017 elections approached, separatists’ organizations declared a boycott, as typical, but it was the worst voter turnout in decades.  The violence was just too much.  Analysts and locals alike claim that India’s counterinsurgency efforts work, but because they are so harsh, they are causing some to lose their faith in India’s strategy.

It has involved the presence of a vast military and police apparatus in the state, widespread use of curfews and detentions, and, on occasion, heavy-handed use of force. Although directed primarily at Pakistan-based terrorists, the dragnet has inevitably swept up significant numbers of young Kashmiri men over the years. Many of these men have endured routine harassment, been subjected to harsh (and degrading) interrogation, and been detained without trial for indefinite periods of time (Ganguly, 2017).  India needs to change its counterterrorism strategies immediately.

Second, sadly, Kashmir is stuck in a cyclical pattern.  “Promises of development are relegated to the sidelines as festering tensions between society and state explode into violence” (Kugelman, 2016).  Prime Minister Modi insists that development is the path to nonviolence in Kashmir.  Development is definitely important, but if these promises are not kept, why would the people continue to listen and expect Modi to deliver?  This pattern must be broken for the wounds to heal.

Next, disconcerting is the fact that there are several separatists, and in some cases, terrorist organizations, within Kashmir and there is a generation of disgruntled youth.  This combination has proven dangerous all around the world already.  Modi should listen to these men and women and see what they are looking for to make Kashmir better, as they are the future—and I am sure he does not want the future of Kashmir to fall into terrorist hands.

Finally, Modi needs to listen to the people of Kashmir in a different way.  “Since Indian and Pakistani troops turned the LOC into a militarized boundary in 1948, much of the Muslim-majority population of the Indian state has demanded either independence, union with Pakistan or a high degree of autonomy” (Dossani Blank, 2016).  The latter has yet to be discussed, and perhaps is the most important to the people.  Overall relations in the area might be best suited to Kashmiri independence.  This would obviously be a very chaotic transition for all three, but could be quite beneficial to the overall stability of the area.

In conclusion, in order for LeT to not acquire nuclear materials, India must take some severe measures to change its ways in Jammu and Kashmir.  Despite the 1988 India-Pakistan Non-Attack Agreement, Pakistan is a corrupt country, LeT is purportedly supported by Pakistani intelligence, and clearly at odds with India.  No, LeT would not be able to detonate a fully capable bomb, but its effects on both people and the infrastructure would still be devastating.  Indian Prime Minister Modi needs to break the cycle of violence in Kashmir by following through with promises of development.  Otherwise, a disgruntled and violent population of youth will follow the same path as other Salafist terrorist organizations across the Middle East.


AFP. (2017, June 8). “India unnerved by student anger in occupied Kashmir.” The Express Tribune. Retrieved from

Bajoria, Jayshree. (2010).  Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure) (aka Lashkar e-Tayyiba, Lashkar e-Toiba; Lashkar-i-Taiba). Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from

Bureau of Counterterrorism. (2017). Individuals and Entities Designated by the State Department Under E.O. US Department of State. Retrieved from

Crelinsten, Ronald. (2014, February). Perspectives on Counterterrorism: From Stovepipes to a Comprehensive Approach. Perspectives on Terrorism, 8 (1) 2-15. Retrieved from

Dossani, Rafiq and Blank, Jonah. (2016, October). Could the Kashmir Standoff Trigger Nuclear War? Rand Corporation. Retrieved from

Executive Office of the President. (2011, June). “Planning Guidance for a Response for a Nuclear Detonation.” National Security Staff and Office of Science and Technology Policy. Retrieved from

Ganguly, Sumit. (2017, April 21). A New Season of Turmoil in Kashmir Harsh Counterinsurgency Tactics Have Led to Mass Frustration. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from

India-Pakistan Non Attack Agreement (2011, October 26). Nuclear Threat Initiative. Retrieved from

Indian Terror Group Leader Reportedly Sought Nuclear Bomb. (2016, January 2). Nuclear Threat Initiative. Retrieved from

Kristensen, Hans M, and Norris, Robert S. (2017). Worldwide Deployments of Nuclear Weapons, 2017. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 73(5), 289-297. Retrieved from

Kugelman, Michael. (2016, July 26). Modi’s Kashmir Conundrum: Promising Development as Violence Intensifies.  World Politics Review. Retrieved from

Langewische, William. (2005, November). The Wrath of Khan. The Atlantic.  Retrieved from

Lashkar-e-Taiba. (2013). ADL. Retrieved from

Liepman, Andrew, Mudd, Philip. (2016, October 25). Lessons from the Fifteen-Year Counterterrorism Campaign. CTC Sentinel (9)10. Retrieved from

Mahapatra, Dhananjay. (2012, October 4). “Half of Delhi’s Population Lives in Slums.” The Times of India. Retrieved from

Mowatt-Larssen, Rolf. (2010, March/April). Nightmares of Nuclear Terrorism. Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences. Retrieved from

Neumann, Peter R (2016). Radicalized New Jihadists and the Threat to the West. New York: I. B. Tauris.

Political Map of the Kasmir Region. (2017). Nations Online. Retrieved from

Reuter’s Staff. (2015, October 8). “Pakistan Says Has Eliminated Uighur Militants from Territory.” Reuters. Retrieved from

Sahukar, Behram A. (2015). India’s Response to Terrorism in Kashmir. In James J.F. Forest (Ed.). Essentials of Counterterrorism. (pp. 357-382). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Tankel, Stephen. (2011, May 20). Lashkar-e-Taiba, Mumbai, and the ISI. Foreign Policy. Retrieved from

US Department of Homeland Security. (2005). “Nuclear Attack.” Retrieved from files/publications/prep_nuclear_fact_sheet.pdf.

Wellerstein, Alex. (2017). New Delhi, India. Nukemap. Retrieved from

World Population Review. (2017). New Delhi Population. World Population Review. Retrieved from

Yusef, Huma. (2016, February 19). University Radicalization: Pakistan’s Next Counterterrorism Challenge. CTC Sentinel 9(2) 4-8. Retrieved from

[1], world/middle-east/isis-documents-leak-reveals-profile-of-average-militant-as-young-well-educated-but-with-only-basic-a6995111.html,,, etc.

[2] Delhi is considered the National Capital Territory, as it contains New Delhi, South Delhi, North Delhi, etc.

[3] China is Pakistan’s most lucrative ally.

[4] Examples include rarely using heavy weapons, being mindful of the local populations’ needs, having strict rules of soldier etiquette, etc. (Sahukar, 2015, p. 366-370).

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