Originally Published 2006-03-26 12:27:48 Published on Mar 26, 2006
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has given enough reasons for President Pervez Musharraf to feel at ease. His unambiguous expression of not letting the peace process between the two countries flag should lay to rest speculations and allegations in Pakistan about India's commitment to peace in the region.
Dismantle the jihadi network
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has given enough reasons for President Pervez Musharraf to feel at ease. His unambiguous expression of not letting the peace process between the two countries flag should lay to rest speculations and allegations in Pakistan about India's commitment to peace in the region. 

Mr Singh has made it quite clear that he is willing to work towards a solution in Kashmir and find mutually acceptable resolutions to the problems of Siachen, Sir Creek and Baglihar. This is not to forget the deliberate silence on cross-border terrorism and terrorist groups operating in Pakistan. Gen Musharraf could not have bargained for more.

The ball is now in Gen Musharraf's court. He cannot now sidestep some of the critical issues that he has been studiously ignoring in the past two years, particularly the 2004 January promise he made to India about not letting his country to be used by any terrorist group to attack Indian targets. He has consistently failed to keep his word. This is where the General has to show courage and sagacity, and take the bull by the horns. In response to Mr Singh's unilateral expression of accommodation, he should set in motion the process of neutralising terrorist elements operating in Pakistan, particularly those targeting India.

One such group that needs to be rooted out is Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which goes under the camouflaged identity of a questionable charity, Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) headed by a religious extremist, Hafiz Saeed, who propagates the return of the Mughal empire in the subcontinent through jihad. In fact, Saeed has been arrogantly declaring jihad as imperative until "the way of life prescribed by Allah dominates and overwhelms the whole of the world... Fighting is also obligatory until the disbelieving powers and states are subdued and they pay jazia (capitulation tax) with willing submission".

Neither Saeed nor his terrorist group comprises ordinary run-of-the-mill group of mercenaries, which Pakistan has been successfully banding together from the days of Afghan jihad, mainly for inflicting "a thousand cuts" on India, notably in Kashmir. For the past six months, Saeed's Jamat-ud Dawa (JuD), the parent organisation of LeT, bolstered by the public support after the quake relief operations and the tacit support from the Army, has been openly making moves to position itself as a viable political alternative to some of the components in the religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which forms part of the present Government. 

This could mean that the General, faced with an election in a few months and potential desertions from the King's party, will in all probability turn to Saeed and give him the political support he might need to hold on to Islamabad for a couple of more years.

It is not really difficult to figure out some of the moves of the larger game. Saeed, for instance, has been negotiating with Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Samiul Haq for creating a new alignment of religious political parties under the umbrella of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the religious alliance currently sharing power in the ruling coalition with the King's party, the PML(QA). There are also indications of JuD being wooed by a staunch rival of Samul Haq, Jamat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed, one of the top leaders of the MMA. After the earthquake, JeI chief visited JuD camps and mobile dispensaries in Muzaffarabad and praised Saeed for the relief activities.

No less significance was the presence of some members of Gen Musharraf's Cabinet in JuD camps to bless Saeed's rescue and relief operations. Federal Minister Zubaida Jalal accompanied UNICEF officials to the JuD hospital on October 17, 2005, where she held meetings with Hafiz Saeed and was informed that the Pakistan Government should provide the group with helicopters to ferry relief materials and the injured. A week later, the JuD hospital was visited by Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat on October 24. Mr Hayat, too, praised JuD and its leader Hafiz Saeed profusely.

Other indications of Saeed's growing clout is the freedom with which he holds Friday prayers at a Lahore mosque where he exhorts his followers to take up the path of jihad against India and the US with renewed vigour. He appears regularly in the columns of the Urdu press with statements condemning Gen Musharraf's "pro-US" and "pro-India" policies. He hosts parties for political leaders. His group has been allowed to distribute jihadi literature freely even in government offices where they have a sizeable readership among senior officials. He was even paid severance fee by the ISI to lie low when the peace process with India began taking shape.

Saeed and his group should be stopped in their march to Islamabad. He poses not only a threat to India, but also an equally grave threat to peace and stability in the region. By all indications, Saeed and his group are determined to launch a fresh wave of terror in India this summer. His group is patching up with various terrorist groups, particularly the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI) and Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

The investigations into the recent bomb blasts and terrorist attacks in India have revealed the presence of a loose coalition of terror groups including LeT and HuJI. Both HuJI and LeT are linked to Al Qaeda and have been involved in jihad from Chechnya to Afghanistan. There are intelligence reports, mainly emanating from India's Northeast, about the formation of a new terror front called the United Jihad Council based in Bangladesh, much like the Jihad Council that Syed Salahuddin used to head before the earthquake in Pakistan.

There are evidences of Saeed hatching the conspiracy to link up with Indian extremist groups like SIMI and various fundamentalist organisations in UP, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Assam to create a support-base for anti-India terrorist activities.

There are enough reasons for Gen Musharraf to take action against terrorist groups like Saeed's. He is on the list of 20 most wanted terrorists which India handed over to Gen Musharraf a couple of years ago. Maybe it would be difficult for the General to hand Saeed over to India, but he can certainly prosecute him under Pakistan's anti-terrorism laws - similar laws that he enforced on Omar Sheikh in the Daniel Pearl Murder case. Saeed's crime is far more heinous.

Gen Musharraf is perhaps not willing to acknowledge the threat Saeed's group poses to Pakistan's future and himself. Two points should clear his doubts. Unlike Hizb-ul Mujahideen, Saeed's group is not dependent upon state's munificence to carry out its activities, nor does it follow the orders from Islamabad to the last word.

Saeed should be arrested immediately. So should be his senior cadre. His organisation should be blacklisted and disbanded. His group's bank accounts should be frozen. His group's Muridke headquarters and the new complex in Lahore should be sealed and taken over. Gen Musharraf should order an investigation into the group's assets in Sindh, Punjab, Pak Occupied Kashmir and North-West Frontier Province. He should help New Delhi in dismantling LeT network in India by sharing the intelligence gathered from interrogation of the LeT leadership. 

This is the kind of bold step that the General should take to keep the momentum of the peace process going. Such decisiveness will confer on him the stature of a statesman, which has eluded him so far.

The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, March 29, 2006.

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