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memri
August 31, 2017 No.
1338

The New Long-Term Nuclear Threat To India – The Security Implications Of A Political Party Formed By Pakistani Jihadi Hafiz Muhammad Saeed

By: Tufail Ahmad*


A Jamaatud Dawa poster announcing the establishment of the Milli Muslim League.

This paper examines the new, emerging long-term nuclear security threat to India from Pakistan. On August 3, 2017, the Pakistani jihadi organization Jamaatud Dawa announced its intention to establish a political party.[1] Jamaatud Dawa, which operates as a charity, is headed by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the jihadi commander who founded the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In 2012, the U.S. announced a reward of $10 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Hafiz Saeed and a reward of $2 million for information leading to the location of LeT's second-in-command Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki.[2]

According to the Urdu daily Roznama Ummat, the decision to establish a political party was taken following consultations with the leaders of various religious parties and organizations, including: Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haider, the deputy chairman of the Senate and leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F); Sirajul Haq, the emir of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan; Maulana Samiul Haq, the chairman of Difa-e-Pakistan Council who has always supported the idea of a religious political party; and many other religious leaders.[3] The Difa-e-Pakistan Council, or the Defense of Pakistan Council, is a platform that includes 40 religious parties and organizations across Pakistan.

On August 7, the Jamaatud Dawa leaders announced the formal launch of the political party under the name Milli Muslim League (MML). At a press conference, they also declared that documents have been filed with the Election Commission of Pakistan for the registration of MML.[4] Saifullah Khalid, who was named as the president of the Milli Muslim League, told the press that the party will work in coordination with all parties and religious groups that believe in the ideology of Pakistan, according to which Pakistan views itself as the frontline state of the Muslim ummah. According to the report, Khalid also declared that "the fight will continue until the completion of Pakistan (by inclusion of) Kashmir, and the Milli Muslim League will play its full role in foiling conspiracies (in Pakistan) against the freedom of Kashmir."[5]

This new development in India's neighborhood creates a long-term nuclear security threat to world peace, not only to India. Pakistan is the only Islamic country that possesses nuclear weapons. Pakistani leaders have, however, also stated that the country's nuclear weapons are safe and cannot fall into the hands of jihadi commanders such as Hafiz Saeed.

In December 2016, Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, chairman of the Underground Gasification Project in Sindh province of Pakistan, said at a conference: "Pakistan’s civilian nuclear program is not being used for military purposes. No theft of nuclear material has ever taken place in Pakistan."[6] Earlier in 2011, following the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid in the Pakistani military city of Abbottabad, an officer of the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), told the Americans: "Of all the things in the world to worry about, the issue you should worry about the least is the safety of our nuclear program."[7]

This view assumes that jihadi organizations will enter from the backdoor in the dead of night to steal Pakistan's nuclear weapons. This hide-and-grab view fails if one considers the fact that jihadi organizations are already birthed, nurtured, sheltered, and shepherded by the ISI. At present, Hafiz Saeed and Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan have a large number of organizational units spread across Pakistan. These units operate as students' wings, charities, preaching groups, international aid groups, and the like. Also, other jihadi groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad and the Taliban have a robust network of officers in the Pakistani armed forces. Elsewhere, this writer has argued previously that Al-Qaeda is a branch of the Inter-Services Intelligence.[8]

So, the relevant question to ask is: What if jihadi organizations come through the front door in broad daylight to seize Pakistan's nuclear weapons? It is here that the entry of Hafiz Saeed into Pakistani politics gives birth to a long-term nuclear security threat to India. Hafiz Saeed founded Lashkar-e-Taiba and later started operating it as a charity called Jamaatud Dawa. When international pressure mounted, he floated Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation just in case Jamaatud Dawa was banned. Active officials from all these groups are friends of Hafiz Saeed. Members of Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation have worked recently in the camps of Rohingya refugees in Indonesia and Myanmar. This jihadi group also has a presence in Syria and Gaza.

On March 12, 2013, in a testimony before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, then-director of U.S. national intelligence James R. Clapper expressed the view that Pakistani jihadi groups will acquire a permanent presence Pakistan. He said: "Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) will continue to be the most multifaceted and problematic of the Pakistani militant groups... The group has the long-term potential to evolve into a permanent and even Hamas/Hizbullah-like presence in Pakistan."[9] Now that Lashkar-e-Taiba has given birth to the Milli Muslim League, it is set to run for election in Pakistan. If it succeeds electorally, it will not be the first time that a jihadi group will have captured power.

There already exists considerable social, religious, military, intelligence, and political support in Pakistan for the Milli Muslim League. In his column in the Urdu daily Roznama Express, noted Pakistani columnist Abdul Qadir Hasan warned recently: "The armed forces of Pakistan have sworn to defend this country founded in the name of Islam. And our Islamic military, with the Islamic bomb, is always ready to fight against the enemy."[10] So now Pakistan is moving in the direction where at the slightest hint from the ISI, which coordinates jihadi groups in Pakistan, Hafiz Saeed can catapult religious parties into power, possibly through a bloodless coup, thereby taking control of Pakistani nuclear weapons.

The nuclear threat from the Milli Muslim League party cannot be dismissed as unreal. It is already on the minds of observers in South Asia. On August 8, a day after the formation of the MML, a group of 1,000 Islamic clerics gathered at the Madrassa Darul Uloom Ali Hasan Ahle Sunnat in Mumbai and adopted a resolution urging the United Nations to act against Hafiz Saeed. Dr. Abdur Rahman Anjaria, the chief of the Mumbai-based NGO Islamic Defence Cyber Cell, said: "Hafiz Saeed and the terror outfits he heads are threats to global peace. He calls India enemy number one but he is the enemy of Islam and humanity."[11] At the gathering, Abdul Manzar Khan Ashrafi, the head of Mumbai's Saki Naka madrassa, warned: "Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country and if people like Saeed are voted to power, he will be a bigger threat to not just India, but the world. He will try to influence Muslim opinion globally and radicalize more youths."[12]

Jihadi and Islamic religious organizations have taken control of or shared political power in many regions of the Islamic world, notably the Khomeinites in Iran, Hamas in Gaza, Erdoganists in Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Hizbullah in Lebanon. For India's security purposes, the closest historical parallel is the experience of Iran where the Khomeinites seized power in the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and have continued to threaten the existence of the state of Israel ever since. In both the case of the Khomeinites in Iran and that of Hafiz Saeed's Milli Muslim League in Pakistan, the single idea driving them is the idea of a global caliphate whose existence they think will come about through Islamism – the peaceful religious methodology – and jihadism, the weaponized version of Islamism. So, the nature of the new, long-term threat to India is existential and similar to the one faced by Israel in the recent decades from Iran.

*Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for the MEMRI Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative

 

Endnotes:

[1] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 4, 2017.

[2] Ndtv.com (India), April 4, 2012.

[3] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 4, 2017.

[4] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 8, 2017.

[5] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 8, 2017.

[6] Dawn.com (Pakistan), December 28, 2016.

[7] The Atlantic (U.S.), December 2011.

[8] Firstpost.com (India), September 26, 2016.

[9] Economictimes.indiatimes.com (India), March 13, 2013.

[10] Roznama Express (Pakistan), July 27, 2017.

[11] TimesofIndia.indiatimes.com (India), August 9, 2017.

[12] TimesofIndia.indiatimes.com (India), August 9, 2017.