Poor Hafiz Saeed. His mentors are no more keen on keeping him in the protection list. The international community is now against all sort of terrorism. Saeed, a protégé of Pakistan Army and his terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) which works under various guises like Jamat-udDawa (JuD), operates freely from Lahore and other major cities in Pakistan under the patronage and protection of Pakistan Army, is now suing the Foreign Minister for defamation and seeking a compensation of 10 crores….A special report by Dr Safath Abdul Khader
Many things in Pakistan are today bizarre but when it comes to protecting terrorists, it becomes an opera of tragic proportions. This is precisely what is happening over Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks and one of world’s most wanted terrorists who happen to live freely in Pakistan.
Saeed is a protégé of Pakistan Army and his terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) which works under various guises like Jamat-udDawa (JuD), operates freely from Lahore and other major cities in Pakistan under the patronage and protection of Pakistan Army.
Now this fact is not a closely guarded secret but is widely known in Pakistan as well as outside. Saeed, who has never sent his kith and kin to any jihadi battlefield to die, runs a vast jihadi empire which includes charity, publication and educational institutions. He is one of the most powerful persons in Pakistan today and his ultimate ambition is to rule the country. He has now floated a new political party, Milli Muslim League (MML), and has positioned himself and his party leaders as the only alternative to the “corrupt“ political parties that have been ruling the country. It is obvious that he enjoys the blessings of the Generals in this new venture too.
A theatre of absurd is currently running in Pakistan which revolves around him. He is wanted in many terrorist cases but the Pakistani government has chosen to let him roam around freely, in a bullet-proof car, surrounded by his band of private armed guards. No government has had the gumption to prosecute him on any charge even after the Mumbai attack of November 2008 in which his group, LeT, was directly involved. He was merely “retired“ to a well-appointed guest house and given full freedom to visit his house often; he even managed to father a child during this period of “incarceration“.
His influence could be gauged from two facts: one, the government of Shahbaz Sharif in Punjab had magnanimously granted him over a hundred million rupees to run his schools, a year after the Mumbai attacks. Second, his annual iftar parties are graced not by religious leaders but by top politicians and Generals. But of late, Pakistan has been under pressure from the international community, especially the US, to rein in terrorist groups.
Even China, the all-weather ally, has been more quietly telling the Generals to keep terrorist leaders like Hafiz Saeed in check. With all-round pressure mounting, the new leadership in Pakistan has changed its tune and has been squarely blaming Hafiz Saeed and his group for putting the country through the grinder. Although the Pakistani leadership has blamed the US policies for creating terrorist masterminds like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Hafiz Saeed, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has, albeit hesitantly, accused Saeed and others of his ilk to be “liabilities“. Till date, the Generals have been calling them as “strategic assets“ in their proxy war against India and Afghanistan.
Asif’s statement has riled the Generals and their proxy, Hafiz Saeed to no end. Saeed has now slapped a Rs 10 crore defamation notice on the Pakistan Foreign Minister for labelling him, during a speech at New York last month, as “the darling of the United States“. Saeed himself has a bounty of $10 milliion on his head.
These barrages of accusations and counter-accusations between the government and the terrorist leader could mislead the public into imagining a `rift`. There is a small but significant possibility of the state turning against terrorist leaders like Saeed. But such notions should be laid to rest. What we are witnessing is a charade, an old ploy which the state of Pakistan has been deploying time and again to extricate itself from international pressures.
This is evident from the real story of Hafiz Saeed. One, Saeed and his party, MML, fought its first election, albeit under the guise of an “independent` candidate, and won reasonably large number of votes to affirm its position in future as a political party. The Election Commission has so far rejected its registration as a political party. But in all probability, this is merely a short-term rejection—Saeed with the backing of the Generals would soon get recognition, either from the election commission itself or with the help of the judiciary. This rejection is merely part of the charade.
Two, Saeed and his terrorist group are not forbidden from operating from Lahore, the capital city of Punjab and the stronghold of the Sharif family, and not to be forgotten, the Pakistan Army. Lahore is not only home to a majority of the retired and serving Generals but to a Corps Headquarters. Saeed’s own headquarters in Chowbhurji in Lahore is as fortified, with armed guards on and around the high walls, as a military installation. Entry to the premises are restricted and done only after thorough frisking by his private militia, all of whom are members of his terrorist group. They are all armed with Kalashnikovs and other modern arms.
Third, the simple fact that the Foreign Minister made this statement in New York and not in Islamabad or Lahore is telling. If he were to repeat what he told the American audience, he would find himself in serious trouble. The fear of Hafiz Saeed and his men are pervasive. Saeed is like a don who rules his fiefdom with an iron hand and who does not brook any opposition.
Four, the Foreign Minister’s plea of helplessness in countering Hafiz Saeed. This is a patent falsehood. Mr Asif represents the state of Pakistan as a Foreign Minister and this state has been ruthless in putting down various militant and dissident groups not considered assets, and continues to do so, paying a heavy price in terms of men and prestige. To say that the state was not capable of dealing with one man like Hafiz Saeed is a lie.
Now it is another matter that the Foreign Minister was expressing the helplessness of his government which is powerless to persuade the Generals to tame their “dogs of war“. His concerns are not entirely misplaced given how the Generals continue to patronize Saeed and his terrorist group. But to say his government was not capable to deal with Saeed is difficult to accept. The civilian government, even without the Generals, can make life difficult for Saeed through various means. It would be difficult for the Generals to oppose each and every move. But this would mean a clear commitment, and of course courage, on the part of the new leadership in Islamabad. This is where the problem is, and Hafiz Saeed knows that as long as he has the support of the Generals, there is nothing anyone can do to harm his interests.