CHENNAI: Just ahead of the Mumbai 26/11 anniversary, Pakistan is back to its game of brinkmanship. It set free Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of that attack, and the terror handler lost no time to turn up the heat on Kashmir. Here's how his release would impact the situation in Kashmir?
Who is Hafiz Saeed? Why is he a threat to India?
Hafiz Saeed is an Islamic preacher who is also one of the commanders of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a radical Islamic terrorist organisation with networks spanning across South Asia. Since its founding in 1990, the liberation of Kashmir has been one of the core aims of LeT.
As its founder, Hafiz Saeed has exhorted his followers to lay down their lives for Kashmir’s freedom. New Delhi accuses him of masterminding the 2001 attack on India's Parliament, and the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.
“It was Hafiz Saeed who selected and trained the terrorists who carried out the Mumbai attacks and gave them new names,” said a dossier on 26/11 prepared by the Ministry of External Affairs in 2009.
In August of that year, acting on India’s request, Interpol issued a red corner notice against him. Three years later, in 2012, the United States announced a $10 million reward for his capture. However, Pakistan showed little interest in arresting Saeed until January 2017 when it bowed to US pressure and put him under house arrest.
What is Jamaat-ud-Dawa?
Jamaat-ud-Dawa is registered as an Islamic charitable organisation. However, many organisations, including the UN Security Council, have recognised JuD as a front organisation of the LeT. The JuD has patrons in many Islamic countries, especially in Saudi Arabia. New Delhi has time and again accused JuD of collecting funds to fuel militancy in Kashmir. Yes, JuD does charity work. In October 2015, when an earthquake struck Pakistan, it was JuD operatives who were at the forefront of rescue and relief operations. It has established religious schools and hospitals across the Islamic world, particularly in Pakistan. Saeed and JuD command wide popular support in Pakistan.
Why did the Pakistan court release Saeed?
On Friday, judges of the Lahore High Court rejected Islamabad’s request to extend Saeed's house arrest, which expired on Thursday. According to the New York Times, the Pakistan government argued for an extension on grounds that his release would jeopardize public safety in Pakistan and perhaps invite international sanctions on the country. However, the government was reportedly unable to provide evidence to substantiate its claim.
Why is Saeed's freedom a concern for India?
Right after his release, Saeed lost no time to target India with his vitriolic rhetoric. He said he would travel across Pakistan to mobilise support for his fight to liberate Kashmir from Indian control. “This is the victory of Pakistan’s independence and, God willing, Kashmir too will become independent because I’m fighting the case of Kashmir,” he said.
Why did Saeed launch a political party?
In August 2017, Saeed announced the launch of a political party, Milli Muslim League (MML), composed of former militants. Many experts say it is a part of his efforts to take JuD mainstream. However, the Pakistan government opposed the registration of MML as a political party, citing international pressure and security concerns. The party toes an anti-India line and has accused former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of being soft on India.
Is Pak government scared of Saeed?
In September, the Pakistan foreign ministry admitted that groups like JuD and its leader Hafiz Saeed have become a “headache” for the country. Their activities have damaged domestic security and provoked international sanctions. But from Islamabad's vantage point, Saeed is a threat because he has the support of the country's military. Analysts say the military is in a bid to “mainstream” new and small political outfits. According to Khaled Ahmed, a political analyst, it props up parties like Saeed’s MML as a way to challenge the political grip of mainstream parties.
What's Saeed’s connection with Al-Qaeda?
The exact nature of the relationship between Osama bin Laden and Saeed is not known. However, many including the CIA suspected that bin Laden helped finance the activities of LeT in its early days. On his part, Saeed has denied having close links to bin Laden and al-Qaeda, stating that he had only one meeting with him.
“Sometime in the 1980s, I saw him during Haj (at Mecca in Saudi Arabia). I saw him only once. I was close to him during the prayers. We greeted each other. It was very simple. It was very brief. There was not much talk," he told a western journalist about that meeting.
Later, when contacted by the newspaper Dawn, he said, “Yes, once I met Osama bin Laden but that is an old story I met him probably in 1982 in Saudi Arabia and in that meeting we just waved at each other.” However, many Western analysts say, following the 1998 US bombing of al-Qaeda’s jihadist training facilities in Afghanistan, LeT began collaborating with Bin Laden and his men. “ Since then, the group intensified its collaboration with al-Qaeda, supporting bin Laden’s efforts as a junior partner wherever necessary while operating independently wherever possible,” a report by the Carnegie Endowment said.