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Pursuing Lashkar-e-Taiba

Hafiz Saeed. File

Hafiz Saeed. File   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Today, on the 10th anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks, it is worth considering how U.S. policy towards the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has evolved over the last decade. The conventional wisdom is that the Afghanistan war has compelled Washington to give more attention to Afghanistan-focussed militants in Pakistan than to the LeT and other India-oriented jihadists. This is accurate to an extent — and especially today. Senior administration officials often emphasise that U.S. President Donald Trump’s top foreign policy priority is to protect American lives. With 15,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban is a much more clear and present danger to American lives than the LeT and its India-focussed ilk.

Still, the U.S. hasn’t exactly sidelined the LeT issue. And one wouldn’t expect it to. This is an organisation with American connections and enablers, including the infamous David Headley. And it killed six Americans in Mumbai.

The U.S. government has sought to pressure Pakistan over the LeT in ways that go beyond its formal designation of the LeT as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2001, and the $10 million bounty it put on Hafiz Saeed in 2012. Jason Blazakis, a top State Department counterterrorism official between 2008 and 2018, recently wrote of U.S. attempts to get the UN to designate individual LeT members as terrorists. Such efforts fell short, given China’s opposition. Early this year, however, the Financial Action Task Force penalised Islamabad for failing to curb the finances of the LeT-affiliated Jamaat-ud-Dawah. Additionally, China has signed on to BRICS and Heart of Asia declarations condemning the LeT. In April, the State Department designated the LeT’s newest affiliate, Milli Muslim League, as a terrorist organisation.

True, such moves have done little to address the fundamental problem: the LeT, its various front organisations, and many of its top leaders enjoy relative freedom in Pakistan, and Pakistani legal action against the Mumbai perpetrators remains limited. Nonetheless, impelled in great part by counterterrorism imperatives, the U.S.-India defence partnership continues to grow. Indeed, the Mumbai attacks are a tragic yet powerful symbol of the shared threat of terrorism that brings the two nations together. U.S.-India counterterrorism cooperation is poised to increase.

This isn’t to say Washington is about to start raining drones down on anti-India militant facilities in Pakistan. But there are other ways America can help India. Recent bilateral deals have paved the way for more intelligence sharing, arms sales, and technology transfers. Rumours persist that America may soon provide India with drone technologies. Such cooperation could go a long way towards helping strengthen India’s capacities to pre-empt and tackle terrorist threats and reducing the likelihood of another 26/11.

The writer is Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia with the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, Washington, DC

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 12:31:32 AM |

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