Although he had banned Saeed’s group during his tenure, General Musharraf said he would not have done so if he had known what the LeT was doing….writes Rifan Ahmed Khan
To those who are stranger to Pakistan, Hafiz Saeed and Pervez Musharraf are poles apart in their position and calling in the life of Pakistan. One is a terrorist mastermind, with a $10 million bounty on his head and another is a former President and Army chief of Pakistan. But for those who know Pakistan, even a bit, know very well that both Hafiz Saeed and General Pervez Musharraf represent two poles of the same world—a world gone astray, a world where terrorists are part of the mainstream life and people have been pushed to the margins.
This is not a hearsay. Read what the General told a television interview only recently. He has been saying this for quite some time though but his latest statement, coming as it does during another flux in the life of Pakistan, merits serious examination.
Talking to a Pakistani channel, Musharraf said he was the biggest supporter of LeT, the notorious terrorist group run by Saeed under the garb of charity, “and they also like me.” The former President, who hoodwinked the world by projecting him as a strong anti-terror campaigner, said Saeed and his group were important for Pakistan to put pressure on India on the Kashmir issue. He said he was “always in favour of action in Kashmir and of suppressing the Indian Army in Kashmir and they (LeT) are the biggest force. India got them declared as terrorists by partnering with US.”
Although he had banned Saeed’s group during his tenure, the former General, now a fugitive himself in the eyes of Pakistani courts for his involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, said he would not have done so if he had known what the LeT was doing. “Frankly I had very less knowledge about him,” said Musharraf.
Musharraf in fact represents the establishment in Pakistan. The Generals, past and present, have always believed that terrorist groups like that of Saeed provide useful service to the army, and therefore the country, in suppressing the minorities within the country, rake up the Kashmir issue and create an atmosphere of violence and instability in the region. In fact, Saeed’s group was created by the army long back, during the Afghan Jihad days, to have a finger in the pie. Saeed played his role faithfully, by being the ear and eyes of the army in the fast changing environment in Afghanistan.
As a reward, the army supported and sustained Saeed’s group within Pakistan by first offering a vast piece of land near Lahore (at Muridke) to set up its first campus and subsequently such favours were extended in different parts of the country. Today Saeed sits on a vast real estate empire besides other businesses which make him and his group one of the self-financed terrorist groups in the world. The Generals also ensured, along the way, despite international outcry and sanctions, to protect Saeed and his group from any serious harm. So every time he was detained, he was merely charged for disturbing peace and therefore confined to a make-shift prison in well-appointed guest houses in Lahore. During his `incarceration`, he enjoyed good food from home and conjugal visits from his newly married, young wife (a widow of one of the cadres who was killed in Kashmir).
The Generals also ensured that the courts dutifully threw every single case which any one brought against Saeed and his group. Almost all cases were thrown out and the terrorist leader honourably acquitted to expand his terrorist empire.
But it would not be fair to blame the Generals alone in keeping Saeed operational. The civilian leadership too is equally to be blamed. For instance, Saeed lives and operates in Punjab, more specifically in and around Lahore which is the family stronghold of the Sharifs. The elder of the Sharifs was the Prime Minister till recently and had in the past too held the highest civilian position twice but not once he made any attempt to rein in Saeed and his group.
In fact, it has been the other way around. Saeed and his empire flourished under the benign watch of the Sharif brothers. His younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, has been the Chief Minister of Punjab, he still is, and Saeed is one of his patrons. In fact, they both patronise each other—Saeed helps the Sharifs to consolidate their political power, the Sharifs in return allow him the freedom to run his terrorist empire and even fund his `charities`. Other political parties have not been so overt in their support to the terrorist perhaps but have nevertheless been indulgent towards him and his group.
In Pakistan, terrorists-Generals-political leaders are part of a charmed circle which rules the country. So when Musharraf says he supports LeT and they in turn support him, he is merely reflecting the character of his country. On his part, Musharraf may also have a not-so-hidden agenda in doing so. The former General is politically ambitious and has been trying now and then to enter the political arena but with no success. He sees Hafiz Saeed as a potential partner in politics in the upcoming elections.
Saeed is very much interested in contesting the elections. Although his party—Milli Muslim League–has not yet been recognised, he is planning full steam to contest the elections. His gamble is likely to be paid off since he has the backing of the Generals. He might not win the elections decisively but he can position himself as a `king maker` if his party, either contesting independently or as `independents`, manages to seize enough electorates in Punjab. Musharraf believes that he could ride this Saeed wagon to achieve his political dreams, and of course free himself of the innumerable court cases against him.
Thus, Hafiz Saeed and Pervez Musharraf present the story of a country which, once dreamt of being a democracy, has become a gambling plaza of terrorists and Generals.