The story so far: Saijd Mir, described as the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s (LeT) “project manager” of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks of 2008, was convicted on charges of terror financing by a Pakistan anti-terrorism court earlier this month. This sentencing has largely been seen as a move by Pakistan to get itself off the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list.
The conviction of Sajid Mir, described by the U.S. as the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, is the most significant action taken by Pakistan against Mir. The U.S. State Department’s 2020 review of global terrorism, released in December 2021, specifically pointed out that Pakistan did not take steps to prosecute Mumbai “mastermind” Mir, and Masood Azhar, founder of the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). Placing Mir and Azhar in the same category is testimony to the importance of the two individuals. Mir was also responsible for recruiting terrorists for Lashkar’s international operations, which brought him under the American radar.
In November 2020, Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed was sentenced to jail time on multiple counts of terror funding; convictions that were reported in both the Pakistani and international press. However, Mir’s sentencing was an altogether different affair. “It all happened so quietly that no one came to know about such an important court verdict in such a high-profile case, except for a very brief report in one of the newspapers…” the Dawn reported on June 25. Another Pakistani newspaper, The News, reported that Mir had been “missing” since the November 2008 terror strike on Mumbai, and that “rumours of his death were spread for some time”.
Far from being missing or dead, Mir’s conviction indicates that Pakistan was aware of his whereabouts. Given the close links between Lashkar and Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, Mir’s conviction relieves some of the pressure building up on Pakistan to conform to international norms for the moment. It also shows that Pakistan protects Lashkar “assets” as its own and proceeds against them only when forced. The shadowy nature of Mir’s arrest and conviction also implies that only Pakistan’s intelligence agencies were/are aware of his location.
According to the U.S. treasury department in 2012, Mir “trained and provided guidance to the  operatives involved in the attacks and directed the execution of hostages taken during the operation”. The terror leader also “directed the pre-operation target surveillance conducted by LeT operative David Coleman Headley for the attacks”. Mir, a senior member of the Lashkar since 2001, was in charge of the LeT’s international operations. He was also personal secretary to Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, known to have been the military chief of the Lashkar, who has been in and out of Pakistani jails. Also a key figure in the Mumbai terror strikes, Lakhvi like Mir and Saeed, has never been prosecuted for his actual role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
In the same year, Mir and Headley met to plot a possible attack on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Copenhagen, Denmark. In August 2011, Mir was also charged as a co-conspirator by the U.S. for the Mumbai attacks. It remains to be seen whether the U.S. will seek Mir’s extradition. The FBI has offered up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest. An arrest warrant for Mir was issued by the U.S. in April 2011.
Since June 2018, Pakistan has been on the “grey” list of the FATF, the international counter-terror financing and anti-money laundering body. The conviction of Mir is a step forward in convincing the FATF and its affiliated bodies that Pakistan is serious about addressing concerns when it comes to senior terror functionaries involved in terror financing. Saeed, Lakhvi and now, Mir, have all been convicted for terror financing by Pakistani courts. The FATF, in its June deliberations, has said it will conduct an on-site visit to ensure Pakistani compliance. Continued presence on the grey list would have serious implications for Pakistan to do business with the rest of the world.
Unlike groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or the (JeM), the Lashkar is not known to have conducted any terror strikes inside Pakistan nor has it called for the overthrow of the elected Pakistani government.
The Lashkar has been nurtured and used by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate against India for several decades. It has been focused on India, which is in line with the ISI Directorate’s policy of using non-state actors to commit acts of terrorism in India.
Given that the Lashkar as an organisation has got away scot free for the Mumbai attacks and its relationship with the ISI remains intact, the group retains the ability to target civilians in India. The dramatic arrest of Ajmal Kasab, one of the 10 Mumbai attackers, who was captured alive during the attack by a Mumbai policeman, Tukaram Omble, gave the game away for Pakistan. Nearly 14 years after the Mumbai strikes, Pakistan is yet to cut its umbilical links with the Lashkar, a sign that the state is yet to align itself away from jihadist groups. India and Pakistan nearly came to war in 2008. Both Islamabad and Rawalpindi must be aware that the strategic cost of any major attack on India from Pakistani territory will extract a high price.