What took you so long? That’s the question to ask the US administration following the announcement last week that it has finally designated the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a front of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), as a terrorist organisation.
The stricture prohibits US entities and citizens from engaging in any transactions with the JuD, including the provision of material and financial support. The decision, which also designates two senior Lashkar figures as terrorists and identifies three other LeT fronts, is a welcome but an unconscionably delayed step. Washington had designated LeT as a terrorist outfit after 9/11 in December 2001 but had refused to acknowledge that the JuD was its front organisation.
The US was, in effect all these years, accepting Islamabad and Hafiz Saeed’s claim that the LeT has no relation with the JuD, which is depicted as a missionary organisation that undertakes charity and relief work. This assertion has never convinced India or, for that matter, any serious security expert. In fact the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) recognised the JuD as an alias of the LeT within a fortnight of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, making Washington’s delay even more objectionable.
That said, the JuD designation signals that Washington sees the LeT as a real global terrorist threat with the motivation and capacity to target Americans across the world. Analysts say that the group’s transnational network ranges across South Asia, the Gulf, Europe and North America. The JuD is adept at recruiting radicalised westerners and the group is valued in the jihadi world for the infrastructure and training support it provides to other groups. The LeT’s principal target is India but there are factions within who call for a jihad against the West.
The designation of the JuD as a terrorist outfit by both the US and the UNSC is a useful instrument for limiting its support overseas and tracking the group’s finances. These mechanisms are not known to shut down terrorist financing especially when groups like the LeT enjoy the patronage of the Pakistani army. But they can make fundraising and liaising with support networks slightly more challenging. Support from Pakistani business and political interests will be pushed underground as a result but sanctions, overall, can be a useful pressure point on the network. The move will also make it awkward for Pakistani politicians to openly associate with the JuD.
There is a real chance of an LeT blowback if the new measures begin to pinch. Hafiz Saeed reacted strongly to the announcement, saying that Washington is being influenced by Indian propaganda. The LeT attacked the Indian consulate at Herat in May. It may feel compelled to strike again to demonstrate its displeasure. New Delhi must use both diplomatic and other instruments to forestall that possibility.