The news that Hafiz Saeed, mastermind of the Mumbai massacre in November 2008, has been put on the United States’ most wanted list with a $10 million bounty, will add one more challenge to the sinking U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Saeed, a very public figure in Pakistan and admired by its military, advocates a truly extreme vision: the restoration of the Mughal empire and the destruction of India.
Saeed is the head of one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations today, Lashkar-e Tayyiba (LeT), or the Army of the Pure. It was created in 1987 by three Islamic scholars: Saeed and fellow Pakistani Zafar Iqbal, then residents at the Engineering University in Lahore, and Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian, then at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. Saeed took the lead role and is rightly considered the founder and leader of LeT, although he has publicly distanced himself from it in recent years as he has taken on the leadership of Jamaat ud Dawa, a humanitarian organization that is in fact a cover for LeT’s militant activities.
Saeed is a Punjabi whose family lost many of its members in the bitter communal fighting in the Punjab that followed the partition of the British Indian Empire in 1947. Saeed traveled to Saudi Arabia for his formal Islamic education in the 1980s, and was strongly influenced by its extreme Wahhabi brand of Islam. He became a fiery speaker known for his extreme views on India and America.
Saeed and Azzam were close partners with Osama bin Laden in the 1980s. Azzam was the intellectual guru who created the modern Islamic extremist movement. One former head of the Mossad, Israel’s top intelligence service, told me that Azzam should properly be seen as the “father of the global jihad.” Saeed stayed in close contact with bin Laden until his death a year ago, according the material found in the al Qaeda leader’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Saeed openly mourned bin Laden in a bitter eulogy the Friday after the SEALs delivered justice to bin Laden.
LeT’s ideology as laid out by Saeed goes far beyond recovering the Muslim parts of Kashmir for Pakistan. He seeks the creation of a Muslim caliphate over the entire subcontinent. The LeT’s role model is the old Mughal empire of the 17th and 18th centuries that dominated most of the subcontinent with a Muslim minority ruling the Hindu majority. The vision of Saeed and his fellow leaders of LeT requires the literal destruction of India as a state. Saeed announced this goal in a speech in 1999 after the short Kargil war with India, saying, “today I announce the break-up of India, Inshallah (God willing). We will not rest until the whole of India is dissolved into Pakistan.”
One LeT newspaper captured the spirit of its ideology with this passage, “Kashmir can be liberated in six months. Within a couple of years, the rest of the territories of India could be conquered as well, and we can regain our lost glory. We can bring back the era of Mughal rule. We can once again subjugate the Hindus like our forefathers.” As the U.S. and India grow closer, the LeT increasingly sees America as its enemy.
Indeed, the Mumbai attack three and half years ago that targeted the enemies of the global jihad included Americans, Israelis, and Indians. In the last few months, Saeed has become the outspoken leader of a coalition of Pakistan’s extremists called the Defense of Pakistan Council, which demands that Islamabad break all relations with Washington and take action to stop the drone attacks. He frequently appears at mass rallies to deliver heated attacks on American policy and on India.
Saeed and the LeT have also benefited for years from the patronage of the Pakistani army and its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). He is a frequent guest at army functions and his headquarters near Lahore is guarded by nearby ISI offices. Saeed’s current campaign to stop the drones, to keep NATO supply lines to Afghanistan via Karachi closed and to sever U.S.-Pakistan relations would not be possible without the support of the ISI. By putting a bounty on his head now, the Obama administration has not only raised the ante with LeT, it has considerably raised the ante with its patrons and protectors in the Pakistani army.
I think some people are overreacting — the people who say, oh this is the end of the U.S.-China relationship as we know it. That’s not necessarily true. They could be lenient to Trump and treat Taiwan differently. We need to know a lot more and we shouldn’t pre-judge the situation but we shouldn’t trivialize it either.
I think the scratches on the oracle bone suggest that they may be more lenient with Trump than with Tsai Ing-wen. We have already seen examples of ways that Beijing is pressuring the Tsai administration because it has not complied with Beijing’s demands about the 1992 consensus.
China has a couple of options here. It could choose to be unhappy about this, but not make it a big issue. The other way they could see it is the first step in a kind of probe towards moving towards an official relationship. [Beijing] might calculate that it is better to react vigorously and strongly with the first step rather than wait for the situation to get worse.