Originally Published 2009-12-01 00:00:00 Published on Dec 01, 2009
Lashkar, with its vast network of trained jihadis, commanders and training infrastructure, is Pakistan Army's key strategic instrument in keeping terrorism active in Kashmir and other parts of India
General' Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed is portly, middle-aged, sports a heavily-hennaed beard and quite ordinary to look at. Just another Punjabi cleric, given to good life and influence. So why is Pakistan Army so interested in protecting him despite global pressure after 26/11? There is enough evidence to show that Pakistan Army today protects Saeed and his empire with such diligence that Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) has transformed into a major international terrorist training centre since the Mumbai attack. Saeed has been so useful to the Army in the past that he enjoys the privilege equivalent to a retired General with the Army ensuring that he is provided with a fully armoured Land Cruiser imported from Dubai. It was therefore not surprising that he was among the special guests at an iftar hosted by Rawalpindi Corps Commander Lt. General Tahir Mahmood in September this year. In fact, he was advised by the Lahore police not to address the Friday prayers as there were threats to his life from the Indian agencies after the May suicide bombing of ISI office in Lahore. Perhaps the first clear sign of the Army-LeT alliance was in the simple fact that as late as mid-January 2009, more than 40 days after the attack, and in the midst of the international hue and cry, LeT headquarters at Muridke, Lahore, remained open, guarded by armed men. It was only after the Pakistan government was finally forced to file a charge-sheet against Zaki-ur Rahman Lakhvi and others in February 2009 that the headquarters was deserted by the LeT leadership. But, instead, of going underground, the terrorist group simply moved about 50kms, right into the heart of Lahore and renewed its activities from  a double-storied mosque complex called Masjid Jamia Qadisiya on Lake Road. Masjid Qadsiya is open and Saeed’s son, Mohammad Talha Saeed and LeT leader’s close associate, Maulana Saifullah Khalid, lead the Friday prayers, by turn. There has been no let up in the venom of jihad despite Saeed’s absence. On January 23, 2009, Maulana Khalid told the gathering at the mosque that: “Muslims under the leadership of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat ud Dawa will conquer South Asia. Nobody can stop us fighting India. The forces trying to suppress the Jamaat ul Dawa and Lashkar-e-Taiba themselves will be crushed.” Of the hundred and more leaders and members of LeT arrested in Punjab, as claimed by Rahman Malik, Pakistan’s de facto Interior Minister, only 12 remained under house arrest for a period of one month. Hafiz Saeed was among them. Three days after his detention, he was allowed to leave his Johar Town home in Lahore and travel to a nearby mosque for offering prayers.  His son, Talha Saeed, remained free and leads the Friday prayers in his father’s absence.  There was no restriction on Saeed’s family members either from visiting him frequently. On January 9, the government extended the detention of six, Saeed included, for another 60 days, allowing the rest to go free. Besides Saeed, many of the detained leaders of LeT have remained relatively free; they even organised a public rally on the Mall in Lahore in January. The rally was led by Yahya Mujahid, the Central Information Secretary of LeT, one of the dozen supposed to be under detention. Hundreds of LeT activists in 50 ambulances took out a rally in the heart of Lahore, accompanied by large contingents of Punjab Police. The rally, the government claimed, was taken out without its permission! Another LeT leader who has remained quite active during the period is Abdullah Muntazir, the official Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) spokesman, who, on January 6, told an interviewer that the government would regret banning his group. In a press statement subsequently, he said the Saeed-led organisation had always worked within the framework of law and if any of its schools has been found involved in promoting extremism among students, it should be the act of an individual’. What further exposes the Pakistan state’s complicity with terrorist groups like LeT is the fact that government officials had warned the JuD leaders of the crackdown in advance.  In Punjab, the police called up JuD leaders and told them to escape with documents and records before their offices were sealed. So when the police teams reached the site, the offices were either shut or deserted. In Islamabad, for instance, only two JuD activists could be arrested a fortnight after the Mumbai attack although the capital had considerable presence of the group in its main office in Masjid-e-Qaba and Khidmat-e-Khalaq Foundation in Kuri Shahar. In Rawalpindi, only one activist was arrested during the period whereas at least 39 known leaders went free. Another telling indication of the complicity was the publication of JuD’s venomous weekly, Ghazwa. The December edition of the weekly termed the Mumbai attack as ‘historic’ victory for the Muslim warriors. On the back page, the magazine carried an appeal from the group to donate hides. The message read: ``Donate the hides for the war against infidels in Kashmir and to teach a lesson to the mean Hindus who have blocked Pakistan’s waters… if you give Rs 25 as charity to a roadside beggar, it is not as rewarding as the charity which is used to buy the bullet that will hit the chest and forehead of a Hindu soldier who raped a Kashmiri Muslim woman.” Similarly, the Pakistani crackdown also left untouched many of the terrorist group’s allied organisations, the most prominent being Idara Khidmat-e-Khalaq (IKK, loosely translated as Humanities Services Institution), a charity organisation which became the main conduit for the group’s fund collections after the October 2005 earthquake in Pak occupied Kashmir (PoK). IKK’s relief and rehabilitation work after the quake firmly established LeT’s presence in the area and its popularity as a charity organisation across the country. IKK also became a hub of fund collection from abroad, especially the UK and the US. The British authorities had discovered that the terrorist group had collected money from areas in London, Birmingham and Manchester inhabited by British Pakistanis. A part of the collection, the authorities suspected, was diverted to help fund the terrorist plan to blow up as many as 10 commercial airliners taking off from Britain in 2006. Though the US State Department designated the charity as a terrorist supporter in 2006, it has continued to operate quite freely in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world, including the US. IKK routed funds through the Bank of New York to its bank accounts in the Lahore branch of the Bank Alfalah Ltd, an Abu Dhabi owned banking network. A fortnight after the Mumbai attack, the terror group’s Alfalah account was still open to accept donations. A Pakistan finance ministry official was quoted in a newspaper report that the group had moved `hundreds of thousands of dollars` in the days following the terrorist attack in Mumbai. There are reports that IKK has not stopped its door-to-door collection of 2.5 per cent of each family’s savings as donation for the poor. There is also no evidence of any restrictions on the group collecting funds through its sympathisers and supporters in mosques across Europe. IKK’s website--www.dawakhidmat.org-- is also running as ever despite the claims by the authorities of having shut down the websites run by the terrorist group. Was it a mere coincidence that in the last week of May 2009, Hafiz Saeed’s brother-in-law and LeT’s second-in-command, Abdur Rahman Makki addressed a Friday prayer meeting at LeT’s new headquarters in Lahore and said Saeed would be released soon? Saeed was freed on June 2, 2009. Six days after his released, he gave an interview to Daily Jasarat (June 8, 2009) in which he said: “Time will come soon when Kashmir will be liberated through jihad. Azad Kashmir should be the base camp for the independence movement of Kashmiris.” About a month later (July 24, 2009)  Saeed addressed the Friday prayers at Al Qadsia, Lahore: “I am surprised why the ISI chief has held a meeting with the Indian envoy. The meeting has brought shame to the army. Pakistan army is a jihadi army. It should support jihad inside Kashmir and every part of the world. But due to the US pressure, it has abandoned jihad and the mujahideen. It has mocked the sacrifices of mujahideen. Remember brothers, jihad is the order of Allah. One does not need the permission of army or the government to initiate it. Every Muslim adult man or woman can initiate jihad against infidel of his/her free will.” It is quite clear that Pakistan Army and the government have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect LeT, the question is why?  The answer is not difficult to find. LeT, with its vast network of trained jihadis, commanders and training infrastructure, is Pakistan Army’s key strategic instrument in keeping terrorism active in Kashmir and other parts of India. Since the Army cannot justify its stranglehold over Pakistan without projecting India as the arch enemy, LeT and its affiliates will remain long term investments in keeping the proxy war alive. Wilson John is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi
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