A recent alleged terrorist plot that was cracked here in the U.S. shows that the Pakistan-based terrorist group the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) is closely connected to al-Qaeda and is part of a global terrorist syndicate that threatens not only India, but also Western democracies in general. In October, U.S. authorities in Chicago arrested David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American businessman, for conspiring with LeT in Pakistan to conduct attacks in India and for plotting an attack on the Danish newspaper that first published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed that led to rioting throughout the Muslim world in 2005.
Headley had apparently traveled frequently to Pakistan, where he received terrorist training from the LeT. He is also accused of conducting surveillance on targets in Mumbai before the terrorist attacks there in November 2008 that killed nearly 170 people, including six Americans.
Despite proof of LeT involvement in the Mumbai attacks, the U.S. has up to now failed to prioritize the goal of pressing Pakistan to take serious action against the group. As recently as six months ago, some senior U.S. officials refused to recognize that the LeT also posed a threat to U.S. interests. These officials viewed the LeT solely through the Indo-Pakistani lens and asserted that it was more important for the U.S. to use its leverage with Pakistan to go after al-Qaeda rather than a group whose primary focus was attacking India.
With the breaking of the Headley case, this is all likely to change. Given LeT’s targeting of the Danish newspaper and Headley’s international connections and pan-Islamist outlook, it is now clear that the LeT could easily have turned its guns on a U.S. target and will likely do so unless the Pakistan government shuts down the group now.
Pakistan has long been ambivalent about shutting down terrorist groups whose primary focus is destabilizing India. This has not only put Indian citizens at risk. It is now clear that Pakistani negligence in dealing appropriately with groups like the LeT has also put U.S. and other Western citizens at risk.
In light of the exposed Headley terrorist plots, the U.S. and its allies must insist Pakistan shut down the LeT once and for all or risk international condemnation. In this vein, the Pakistani authorities’ reluctance to prosecute LeT leader Hafez Mohammed Sayeed should be a major concern for Washington. In June, Sayeed was released from a Pakistani jail by the Lahore High Court on grounds of insufficient evidence. Although Pakistani authorities have recently placed him under house arrest, his ability to escape prosecution signals other terrorists inside Pakistan that they will remain above the law, especially if their activities include targeting archrival India.
Some Pakistani officials argue that Pakistan’s security forces are incapable of taking on the LeT at its base in the Punjab at the same time they are battling militants in the tribal border areas. It’s time to test that assumption. Pakistan must tackle the terrorist menace in a comprehensive and consistent manner and prove to the international community that it is serious about dealing with this issue. Continued complaints about India and the threat it poses to Pakistan will soon start to fall on deaf ears and be seen as a weak excuse not to take on dangerous groups like the LeT.
Given that this is at least the fifth terrorist plot that has been uncovered in the U.S. this year, it is vital that the U.S. stays vigilant. The U.S. needs to continue its efforts to increase information sharing between its local, state and federal law enforcement. Simultaneously, the U.S. should continue to support counterterrorism authorities like the PATRIOT Act that help to stop terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
Co-authored by Jena Baker McNeill.