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The following ingredients should go a long way to produce a political thriller. Mr. M, a jihadist in an Asian state, has emerged as the mastermind of a terrorist attack in a neighboring country, which killed six Americans. After sifting through a vast cache of intelligence and obtaining a legal clearance, the State Department announces a $10 million bounty for information leading to his arrest and conviction. Mr. M promptly appears at a press conference and says, “I am here. America should give that reward money to me.”
A State Department spokesperson explains lamely that the reward is meant for incriminating evidence against Mr. M that would stand up in court. The prime minister of M’s home state condemns foreign interference in his country’s internal affairs. In the midst of this imbroglio, the United States decides to release $1.18 billion in aid to the cash-strapped government of the defiant prime minister to persuade him to reopen supply lines for US and NATO forces bogged down in the hapless neighboring Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Alarmingly, this is anything but fiction or a plot for an upcoming international sitcom. It is a brief summary of the latest development in the fraught relations between the United States and Pakistan, two countries locked into an uneasy embrace since September 12, 2001.
Mr. M. is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a 62-year-old former academic with a tapering, hennaed beard, and the founder of the Lashkar-e Taiba (the Army of the Pure, or LeT), widely linked to several outrageously audacious terrorist attacks in India. The LeT was formed in 1987 as the military wing of the Jammat-ud Dawa religious organization (Society of the Islamic Call, or JuD) at the instigation of the Pakistani army’s formidable intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The JuD owes its existence to the efforts of Saeed, who founded it in 1985 following his return to his native Lahore after two years of advanced Islamic studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under the guidance of that country’s Grand Mufti, Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz.
On its formation, the LeT joined the 7-year-old anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, an armed insurgency directed and supervised by the ISI with funds and arms supplied by the CIA and the Saudis. Once the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Army of the Pure turned its attention to a recently launched anti-Indian jihad in Indian-administered Kashmir and beyond. The terrorist attacks attributed to it range from the devastating multiple assaults in Mumbai in November 2008, which resulted in 166 deaths, including those six Americans, to a foiled attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi in December 2001 and a successful January 2010 attack on the airport in Kashmir’s capital Srinagar.
In January 2002, in the wake of Washington’s launching of the Global War on Terror, Pakistan formally banned the LeT but in reality did little to curb its violent cross-border activities. Saeed remains its final authority. In a confession, offered as part of a plea bargain after his arrest in October 2009 in Chicago, David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American operative of LeT involved in planning the Mumbai carnage, said: “Hafiz Saeed had full knowledge of the Mumbai attacks and they were launched only after his approval.”