In Pakistan's tribal district of Khyber Agency, there is ongoing fighting for the control of the region – with occasional phases of truce – between the militant Islamic tribal group Lashkar-e-Islam and rival fighters from the Kukikhel tribe.
Lashkar-e-Islam came into prominence in April 2008, when it tried to extend its control from the Bara area, where it is based, to the Jamrud region of Khyber Agency. The organization was formed three years previously, in response to the increase in crime such as gambling, drug trafficking, and kidnappings for ransom in the tribal district of Khyber Agency.
With the capture of the Jamrud region, Lashkar-e-Islam chief Mangal Bagh sought to extend his control to the entire tribal district. But after dozens of deaths in the fighting, a tenuous ceasefire has been temporarily reached between Mangal Bagh and the fighters from the Kukikhel tribe.
Not much is known about the ideology of Lashkar-e-Islam. Mangal Bagh reportedly had experience as a young teen alongside the Taliban in the 1980s in their fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He currently runs an FM radio station that issues orders and codes of conduct to be followed by the local people.
Mangal Bagh has denied links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. However, in an interview published by the Urdu-language regional newspaper Roznama Khabrain, he articulated for the first time views that reflect goals typically sought by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In it, he said that his organization's activities are not limited to Pakistan, and that it aims to spread Islam across the world.
Following are excerpts from the interview with Mangal Bagh, as published by Roznama Khabrain, as well as from other reports.
"We Are Out to Spread Islam Throughout the Entire World; We Have 180,000 Mujahideen."
In the interview, the Lashkar-e-Islam chief said that his organization was formed to fight criminals in the area. However, he noted: "Before the formation of this organization, [I] used to sit in the company of the ulema; [then I] started serving madrassas and religious people... Along with my usual work, I also work for the religion [Islam]."
About the objectives of Lashkar-e-Islam, Mangal Bagh said: "Allah revealed the Koran, which was not sent for any one particular region of the world. It was revealed for all of humanity. We are out to spread Islam throughout the world."
According to the paper, he said: "Our objective is to impart the teachings of the Koran. There are 180,000 mujahideen in our organization, and all these people work fi sabilillah [for the sake of Allah]. They receive no pay. They manage on their own."
Mangal Bagh said that the Qaed-e-Azam (Great Leader) Muhammad Ali Jinnah liberated Pakistan from the British [under the banner of] "La ilaha illalah" [There is no god but Allah] – i.e. in the name of Islam. He added: "If Islamic laws were followed in Pakistan, we would have to accept it. [But] if the laws of the Jews were followed, we would not accept it."
According to the paper, the group does not force the local people to accept its beliefs and commands. Mangal Bagh said: "If you ask the Muslims and the followers of Sikhism in this region, they are all happy with the organization [Lashkar-e-Islam]. The reports that we force people to raise our flag [on their houses] are incorrect. The people raise the flag on their own."
He added, however, that people in the region are not permitted to sing and dance: "According to the local tradition, singing and dancing are not permitted. People are fined for listening to music because this is a habit of the English [Westerners]. Pakistan can progress only when the government and the people together work for the religion of Islam.''
Also in the interview, Mangal Bagh denied any links with Al–Qaeda, but said that the U.S. presence in Pakistan is the "big reason for the lawlessness'' in the country. He added: "People of the entire world should expel the Americans from their countries."
Lashkar-e-Islam's 26-Point Agenda for Khyber Agency
Other reports have been published on the details of the Lashkar-e-Islam agenda for the tribal district of Khyber Agency, where the organization acquired near-total control following its successful fight in recent years against another group, Ansar-ul-Islam, which has since disappeared from the scene.
According to a report in Roznama Khabrain published the same day as the interview, Lashkar-e-Islam's 26-point agenda for implementation in the Khyber Agency is as follows:
1. Eradicating all shirk [polytheism/idolatry], bid'at [innovation in Islam] and all un-Islamic practices from Khyber Agency
2. Permitting only Islamic-style graves
3. Enforcing a total ban on the activities of local and foreign terrorists in Khyber Agency
4. Providing [only] justified assistance to the security forces [of Pakistan] deployed in the area
5. Banning any kind of bribe to and from the mujahideen of Lashkar-e-Islam
6. Punishing any activity disturbing the peace without Lashkar-e-Islam permission; punishment will be as per tribal norms
7. Committing to defend the geographical and ideological frontiers of Pakistan
8. Committing to prevent crime and punish criminals
9. Enforcing a total ban on the sale of wine, on gambling, on counterfeit currency, on heroin factories, etc.
10. Enforcing a total ban on paid killers and kidnappers in the region
11. Enforcing a ban on thieves, theft, and stolen cars
12. Abolishing interest/usury in business transactions
13. Forcing fugitives who reside in Khyber Agency to behave properly and to be accountable to the local residents
14. Rehabilitating all mosques in Khyber Agency
15. Committing to protect teachers, male and female students, doctors, and ulema
16. Committing to resolve land disputes and ensure no land goes uncultivated
17. Enforcing a total ban on non-shari'a practices such as magic, charms, etc.
18. Committing to ensure absolute peace
19. Committing to ensure that women are modestly dressed according to Islamic norms when attending school, and to spread education among the people
20. Committing to ensure collective prayers are offered after the azaan [call for prayer] is sounded
21. Protecting of women's rights and resolution of marriage-related matters as per shari'a or tribal practices
22. Committing to total eradication of un-Islamic practices during marriage ceremonies, such as music and celebratory firing into air
23. Banning women from going to mountains to collect wood for fuel; violators will be fined 10,000 rupees
24. Banning women from going to doctors or hospitals unaccompanied by a male relation
25. Enforcing the compulsory wearing of caps, according to tribal traditions
26. Banning the sheltering of rapists, and totally banning homosexuals, in Khyber Agency.
Lashkar-e-Islam Leader Asks Local School Pupils to Join Organization
Mangal Bagh's group began as a response to increasing crime, but its objectives appear to have changed, in accordance with the meaning of its name Lashkar-e-Islam – the Army of Islam.
Upon its recent move into the Jamrud region, the group said that its aim was to eradicate crime. Now, in order to make Khyber Agency crime-free, Mangal Bagh is aiming to create a volunteer force and strengthen its ranks.
According to a report in the Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Jasarat, Mangal Bagh has asked "pupils in the [local] schools to participate in his war, which has started to eradicate crimes and establish law and order [in Khyber Agency where all schools are closed due to the fighting]."
The expansion of Lashkar-e-Islam's activities is causing alarm in the region. The federally administered Khyber Agency is adjacent to the city of Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. The Peshawar business community is concerned that the group's activities will cause law and order problems in the region. During the group's incursion into Jamrud area, a number of factories and businesses had to shut down.
Roznama Jasarat also said that North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti had agreed, during a meeting with local traders and the leaders of the NWFP Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to build a fence so that the conflict in Khyber Agency does not spill over into Peshawar and the rest of the province.
 Roznama Khabrain (Pakistan), April 18, 2008.
 Roznama Khabrain (Pakistan), April 18, 2008.
 Roznama Jasarat (Pakistan), April 18, 2008.