The United States’ Obama administration has dug the last nail, before ending its tenure after three weeks, in the coffin of Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). It has added to its list Al-Muhammadia Students (AMS) as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation.
The LeT and the AMS have as their prime agenda, perpetrating terror attacks in India and Afghanistan. Its members have been involved in a large number of terror attacks, the worst being the one in Mumbai in 2008.
The announcement was taken note of across the world with many of the media placing the terror-attacked Taj Mahal Hotel’s photographs to highlight the importance of the action. Additionally, the US added LeT leaders Muhammad Sarwar and Shahid Mahmood to the list of global terrorists. The designations highlight LeT’s role in international terrorism and its adeptness in using front organizations to skirt international sanctions.
Although AMS has been around since 2009, the US has thought it appropriate to place it on the list as part of its effort, belated though, to give notice to Pakistan and doing something Islamabad has failed to do. The US has declined US$ 300 million to Pakistan in summer this year and in December again, made another aid tranche of US$ 450 million subject to a certification by US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter of the Obama administration that Pakistan has, indeed, acted to curb the activities of the Haqqani group active in Afghanistan against Indian and American interests. With no such action coming and Pakistan cocking the snook at the US so far, the issue is bound to remain one of priority for the incoming President Donald Trump.
Trump is considered “an American nationalist” and he is unlikely to countenance any lack of action against the Haqqani group by Pakistan since the group has been actively involved against the US interests. “It seems next to impossible that he will tolerate a situation in which the US gives military aid to Pakistan and does not get a clear set of concessions in return. The potential for a sharp downturn in US-Pakistan relations is clear. How would a Trump White House react to, let’s say, the US embassy in Kabul being attacked by the Haqqani network or Afghan Taliban fighters commanded from Quetta? The idea that President Trump would continue sending aid to Pakistan in those circumstances seems far-fetched. On the contrary, a much more kinetic response cannot be ruled out,” warns Owen Bennett-Jones in DAWN (December 29, 2016).
The action against AMS is significant in that it is part of the continuing US effort to curb LeT in Pakistan and oppose the Taliban in Afghanistan, even as China, Russia and Pakistan gang-up to seek to engage with the Taliban. “Founded in 2009, AMS is a subsidiary of LeT and has worked with LeT senior leaders to organize recruiting courses and other activities for youth,” the State Department designation noted. It also noted that LeT has “repeatedly changed its name and created front organizations in an effort to avoid sanctions” since the US first added it to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 2001.
LeT has mastered the art of using charitable groups to raise funds as well as promote its message and recruit. Since 2010, the US has identified the following groups as LeT fronts: Falah-i Insaniat Foundation (FIF), Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Al-Anfal Trust, Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, and Tehrik-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awwal.
AMS is also active on social media and uses Twitter handles and Facebook accounts to raise funds and promote their message. AMS also holds rallies and organises seminars throughout Pakistan. A prime message of AMS is its pathological opposition to India. The banner for AMS’ social media outreach includes images of Pakistani troops storming a city and trampling on an Indian flag. An advertisement for Al-Muhammadia Students’ “Unite and Defend Pakistan” seminar in March 2016 features Muhammad Masood, the brother of LeT emir Hafiz Saeed.
While AMS is careful not to advertise its connection to LeT on social media platforms, evidence of an association can be seen. For instance, one of the speakers at its “Unite and Defend Pakistan” rallies included Muhammad Masood, the brother of LeT leader Hafiz Saeed. Masood previously was the spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of New England’s Sharon mosque, and was deported from the US after pleading guilty of five charges of immigration fraud.
Muhammad Sarwar and Shahid Mahmood: Terror fundraisers
In addition to US State Department’s designation of AMS, the Treasury Department added LeT leaders Muhammad Sarwar and Shahid Mahmood to the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. “Sarwar has been a senior LeT official in Lahore for over ten years and has held various leadership roles in the group, including his current position as LeT’s emir for Lahore,” Treasury noted in its designation. “As the LeT emir of Lahore, Sarwar maintains relationships with LeT’s most senior leaders.”
Sarwar raises funds for LeT and “was one of two officials who headed LeT’s finance wing in Lahore,” The Long War Journal (LWJ) of the US reported. Mahmood “has been a longstanding senior LeT member based in Karachi,” according to Treasury. He “served as the vice chairman of Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation,” which the US government identified as a LeT front organization in 2010.
Additionally, Mahmood has been active in LeT’s overseas operations. Mahmood has used his job at the FIF to travel to Myanmar (Burma), Turkey, and Syria to recruit and establish FiF branches in those countries. As a member of LeT’s “overseas operations team,” which is led by Sajjid Mir. The US Treasury stated that Mahmood “was instructed to forge covert links with Islamic organizations in Bangladesh and Burma, and as of late 2011, Mahmood claimed that LeT’s primary concern should be attacking India and America.” He also operated in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh.
LeT: An established Jihadi group
LeT was founded in 1987 by its leader, Hafiz Saeed, along with Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam, the godfather of international jihad. Bin Laden helped LeT establish training camps in Afghanistan’s provinces of Kunar and Paktia, where it continues to operate to this day. LeT shares Al-Qaeda’s goal of establishing an Islamic state in South Asia and beyond.
LeT operates openly inside Pakistan and has offices throughout the country. Markaz-e-Taiba, its headquarters in Muridke near Lahore, is a sprawling complex used to indoctrinate future jihadists before they are sent off for military training. The provincial government of Punjab has financed Markaz-e-Taiba in the past.
This terrorist infrastructure has been used to conduct egregious terrorist attacks in India and Afghanistan. The most prominent attack took place in Mumbai, India, when a suicide assault team fanned out across the city and targeted multiple locations, including a theatre, a train station, hotels as well as a Jewish center and killed 164 people. The attack lasted for three days. Indian intelligence traced phone calls back to handlers in Pakistan as the assault was ongoing. The handlers directed its pawns to execute non-Muslims, often brutally, and laughed when their instructions were carried out. After the attack, Interpol issued arrest warrants for two serving senior Pakistani army officers and a retired major.
Despite LeT’s overt ties to Al-Qaeda and its campaign of terror in India and Afghanistan, the LWJ noted, the Pakistani government refuses to crack down on this group. The organization’s complexes in Muridke and throughout the country remain open and its leaders operate unfettered. Hafiz Saeed is feted by Pakistani officials, who refuse to arrest him and other LeT leaders accountable for their actions. Not a single member of LeT who has been implicated in the Mumbai attack has been prosecuted. The US sanctions, though belated, on these two terror frontal outfits, have once again exposed an established Jihadi group’s global network.