The US Department of State amended its Foreign Terrorist Organization designation of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to include Milli Muslim League (MML) and Tehreek-e- Azadi-e Kashmir (TAJK), which were identified as LeT fronts. Additionally, the Treasury Department added seven members of MML’s leadership council to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The designations are the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration to pressure Pakistan to tackle terrorist groups that openly operate inside the country with the approval and support of both the military and government.
The US first added Lashkar-e-Taiba to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in Dec. 2001, after LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed, an allied terrorist group, attacked the Indian Parliament. LeT has thrived inside Pakistan as it is the state’s favored terrorist outfit.
Hafiz Saeed, the founder and current leader of LeT and its various charitable fronts, is one of the most wanted terrorists in the world. He is listed by the US as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and has a $10 million bounty for information leading to his capture and conviction. Only al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi have a higher bounty, at $25 million each. Despite this, he operates openly in Pakistan with the support of the state.
“Today’s amendments show that the US government is not fooled by Lashkar-e-Taiba’s efforts to circumvent sanctions and deceive the public about its true character,” Ambassador Nathan A. Sales, the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State, said in the statement released by Foggy Bottom. “Make no mistake: whatever LeT chooses to call itself, it remains a violent terrorist group. The United States supports all efforts to ensure that LeT does not have a political voice until it gives up violence as a tool of influence.”
Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir (TJAK) was formed by LeT founder and leader Hafiz Saeed in Jan. 2017 after the Pakistan government banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the last iteration of LeT. “LeT has engaged in terrorist activities under this name, including inciting terrorism, as well as recruiting and fundraising,” according to State.
The MML was created by Saeed in Aug. 2017 in “to serve as a political front for the group,” State noted in the designation. “LeT members make up MML’s leadership and the so-called party openly displays Saeed’s likeness in its election banners and literature.”
The Pakistani government blocked the MML efforts to contest elections, however the political party has not been banned and it continues to fundraise to this day.
In addition to listing TJAK and MML, Treasury added “seven members of the MML central leadership body for acting for on behalf of LeT” to the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The seven members were identified as “Saifullah Khalid, Muzammil Iqbal Hashimi, Muhammad Harris Dar, Tabish Qayyuum, Fayyaz Ahmad, Faisal Nadeem, and Muhammad Ehsan.”
Background on Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and al Qaeda
Al Qaeda founder and former emir Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam encouraged Saeed to form Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the late 1980s, and helped fund the establishment of the terror outfit. LeT, like al Qaeda, calls for the establishment of a global caliphate and receives funding from wealthy individuals throughout the Middle East.
LeT is an ally of al Qaeda; the two groups provide support for each other, and their operatives train in each other’s camps. In the past, LeT has established training camps in Kunar province in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and the tribal areas, and in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Northern Areas. Many of these facilities are thought to still be in operation to this day.
Fighters from LeT battled alongside al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in the assault on the US combat outpost in Wanat in Nuristan province, Afghanistan in July of 2008. Nine US troops were killed, and 15 US soldiers and four Afghan troops were wounded in the heavy fight that nearly culminated in the outpost being completely overrun. US forces ultimately beat back the attack, but abandoned the outpost days later.
LeT has an extensive network in Southern and Southeast Asia, where it seeks to establish a Muslim caliphate. The group essentially runs a state within a state in Pakistan; they have established an organization that is as effective as Lebanese Hezbollah. Its sprawling Muridke complex, just northwest of Lahore in Punjab province, is a town of its own. Throughout Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, LeT runs numerous hospitals, clinics, schools, mosques, and other services. In support of its activities, LeT is active in fundraising across the Middle East and South Asia, and the group has recruited scores of Westerners to train in its camps.
In 2005, the group succeeded in providing aid to earthquake-ravaged regions in Kashmir while the Pakistani government was slow to act. LeT also provided relief to tens of thousands of internally displaced persons who have fled the fighting between the military and the Taliban in the Malakand Division as well as those impacted by the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010.
The US government designated LeT as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in December 2001. The Pakistani government banned the group in January 2002, but this did little to shut down its operations. The group renamed itself Jamaat-ud-Dawa and conducted business as usual. After Mumbai, Jamaat-ud-Dawa used the name Falah-i Insaniat Foundation (FIF), and continued fundraising and other activities. The US designated the FIF as a terrorist group in November 2010.
LeT has mastered the art of using charitable groups to fundraise as well as promote its message and recruit. Since 2010, the US has also identified the following groups as LeT fronts: Al-Muhammadia Students, Al-Anfal Trust, Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, and Tehrik-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awwal.
In reality, Saeed and his leaders rebranded the group as a Muslim charity to mask the operations of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa. After Mumbai, Pakistan claimed to shut down Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa offices and camps, and detained followers, but the efforts were largely cosmetic.
Saeed and his followers have strong ties with elements within Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISID. LeT is one of the primary terror groups used by Pakistan’s ISID to direct military and terror operations inside India and Indian-held Kashmir. During the 1999 Kargil War, when Pakistan invaded Indian-held Kashmir, the Lashkar-e-Taiba fought as the vanguard for Pakistani forces in the mountainous region. To this day, LeT military and terror units continue to infiltrate into the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, with the help of Pakistan’s military.