A US bounty in Pakistan
A jihadist in plain sight in Lahore makes the most-wanted list

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  • A jihadist in plain sight in Lahore makes the most-wanted list

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  • 3 years after 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed 166 people, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has something to worry about

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  • US announces a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed

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More than three years after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed 166 people, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has something to worry about. On Monday, the United States announced a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction.

The 62-year-old Islamic studies professor allegedly orchestrated the attacks carried out by 10 gunmen from Lashkar-e-Taiba, or LeT, the banned terrorist group he founded in the early 1990s. Only three other wanted terrorists—including the Taliban's Mullah Omar and key al Qaeda operatives in Iran and Iraq—carry as high a price on their heads. Only al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri, worth a $25 million bounty, is deemed more valuable.

Washington's decision is overdue but nonetheless welcome. Like the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last May, it signals U.S. resolve to punish those responsible for the death of its citizens. Six Americans were among those killed in Mumbai, and LeT has also mounted attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

In South Asia, the U.S. decision marks a milestone in Washington's growing impatience with Pakistan's failure to act against terrorist groups that destabilize its neighbors and threaten the world. Pakistan's so-called deep state—the army and its spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence—has traditionally maintained even deeper links with the LeT than with the Afghan Taliban or the Haqqani Network.

Bluntly put, Mr. Saeed is the Pakistani army's favorite jihadist. Like most members of the army, the vast majority of LeT cadres are Punjabis, members of Pakistan's dominant ethnic group. Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution has written about retired officers of elite army units such as the Special Services Group training LeT cadres. Both the army and the LeT recruit extensively from the same villages, and LeT training camps are often conveniently located beside army bases.

Though Pakistan ostensibly banned LeT under U.S. pressure in 2002, in reality it operates openly through its charity wing, Jamaat-ut-Dawa. Mr. Saeed has been placed under house arrest numerous times but is widely viewed as too well-connected and powerful to ever face a serious trial in Pakistan.

The reward, announced while Wendy Sherman, the third ranking State Department official, was in New Delhi, also affirms the U.S.-India relationship as the cornerstone of U.S. policy in South Asia.

Since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, U.S. experts and policy makers have developed a more sophisticated picture of LeT. Once mostly seen as a Kashmiri militant group fighting the Indian army, LeT has since morphed into a global threat. Over the years, the LeT's fingerprints have shown up as far afield as Chechnya and Virginia.

It also displays a special animus toward Jews: During the Mumbai attacks, LeT militants targeted an Israeli rabbi and his pregnant wife. But it was the 2009 arrest of Pakistani-American David Headley (also known as Daood Gilani), a key Mumbai plotter, that made the LeT's global reach, radical pan-Islamist ideology and close links to Pakistan's military and intelligence services more widely known.

At the same time, U.S. relations with Pakistan have been in a freefall. Among the causes: last year's imprisonment in Lahore of CIA contractor Raymond Davis for shooting two Pakistanis in what he claimed was self-defense, the angry Pakistani response to the bin Laden raid, an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul traced to Pakistan, and a border skirmish in which the U.S. mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

In recent months, as a leading light of an Islamist coalition known as the Defence of Pakistan Council, Mr. Saeed has given rabble-rousing speeches across the country attacking America and promising to ensure that Pakistan does not reopen supply routes to Afghanistan shut after the border incident in November.

The public announcement of the reward effectively puts American prestige on the line. Addressing a crowded press conference in the garrison town of Rawalpindi Wednesday, Mr. Saeed mocked the U.S. "This is a laughable, absurd announcement," he said. "Here I am in front of everyone, not hiding in a cave."

This defiance creates an immediate goal: to ensure that Mr. Saeed, like the other terrorists on the U.S. list, cannot make light of his predicament. Ideally, the Pakistani government and courts will summon the will to arrest him and press charges, and the army and ISI won't stand in the way. If not, the time may eventually come to remind the good professor of the fate that befell bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and scores of others who shared his ideology and methods. Either way, sooner or later Mr. Saeed and his patrons will have come to terms with South Asia's new realities.

Mr. Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, and a columnist for WSJ.com. Follow him on Twitter @dhume01

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About the Author

 

Sadanand
Dhume
  • Sadanand Dhume writes about South Asian political economy, foreign policy, business, and society, with a focus on India and Pakistan. He is also a South Asia columnist for the Wall Street Journal. He has worked as a foreign correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review in India and Indonesia and was a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the Asia Society in Washington, D.C. His political travelogue about the rise of radical Islam in Indonesia, My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with a Radical Islamist, has been published in four countries.

    Follow Sadanand Dhume on Twitter.


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