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Explaining Hafiz Saeed’s recent engagements

Many on Twitter noted that LeT/JuD chief Hafiz Saeed delivered a lecture at an event sponsored by a student group from Lahore’s University of Engineering and Technology (UET).  He also subsequently addressed a public rally in Islamabad and attended a ceremony to hand over ambulances to a district’s emergency services unit, an event at which Islamabad’s Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police was present.

Yet, none of this is news.  Hafiz Saeed is not in hiding — like Osama bin Laden was — nor has he been found guilty of any crime by Pakistan.  Saeed isn’t holed up in a cave.  His Markaz-e-Taiba complex in Muridke is spread across 200 acres, and has been a recipient of generous grants from the Government of Punjab.  When the United States announced a bounty on Hafiz Saeed in 2012, Saeed taunted the U.S. with a challenge: “catch me if you can.”

But this isn’t just bravado.  Hafiz Saeed benefits greatly from his carefully cultivated image as a mujahid, an indispensable asset of the Pakistani security establishment against India, a public figure and philanthropist.  His Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), ostensibly a charitable wing of JuD, has assisted in rescue and rehabilitation efforts during calamities in Pakistan (such as the 2005 earthquake, or after the many regular bouts of flooding).

In many circumstances, the FIF is reported to have arrived even before the state’s emergency services to provide aid to those in need.  Taken as a whole, this puts Saeed in a different category from the run-of-the-mill jihadi who might be used by the state to do its bidding and then disposed if and when no longer needed.

Historically, Hafiz Saeed’s public engagements and outreach have served two primary, if often related, purposes: to rally public opinion in favor of a nationalist cause favored by the army, or to pressure the incumbent civilian government on issues pertaining to Pakistan’s fragile civil-military relations.

These recent engagements come at a time when there is turmoil in the relationship between Nawaz Sharif’s government and the army, led by Gen. Raheel Sharif, on multiple axes: relations with India, domestic counter-terrorism and corruption.  On April 13, 2016, Hafiz Saeed was interviewed in Nawa-i-waqt by the decidedly right-leaning columnist Fazal Hussain Awan, where he spoke at length on one of the areas of contention between the government and army: India.

Excerpts from Mr. Awan’s op-ed and the interview with Hafiz Saeed follow:

India has accused Pakistan of being involved in the 2016 attacks in Pathankot and the 2007 (sic) attacks in Mumbai.  According to India, Jamaat ud-Dawa’s chief Hafiz Saeed and his associates were responsible for the Mumbai attacks, while Jaish-e-Mohammad’s leader Maulana Masood Azhar was accused of carrying out the attacks in Pathankot.  India approached the UN on both occasions and the UN, under the influence of Indian propaganda, proscribed the Jamaat ud-Dawah and Hafiz Saeed.

The Zardari government also arrested Hafiz Saeed and his associates.  Then Interior Minister Rehman Malik moved the case to the Supreme Court, which, after deliberation, found Hafiz Saeed innocent.  India was outraged at the verdict and protested, but there is no higher authority than the Supreme Court to which the case can be referred in Pakistan.

India reacted in a similar manner to the attack in Pathankot.  Having accused Maulana Masood Azhar, India took its case to the UN.  However, because of Pakistan’s active diplomacy at the UN and China’s assistance, India’s attempts to proscribe Masood Azhar were defeated.  On Mumbai, the Pakistan Peoples Party reacted defensively which led to JuD’s leadership coming under India’s diplomatic assault.

Thanks to China’s active intervention, the attempt to proscribe Masood Azhar was vetoed.  However, India continues to demand Pakistani action on Hafiz Saeed despite the fact that the Supreme Court has found him not guilty and has allowed him to continue to lead his life as a free citizen of the country.

I have no personal connection with Hafiz sahib, but was able to meet with him through some acquaintances I have in his media team.  Both Yahya Mujahid [LeT/JuD spokesman] and Muhammad Irshad [JuD media person?] were present at the meeting. During our conversation, Hafiz Saeed talked to us about the most difficult moments of his life.

“I was a student at Punjab University when unrest broke out in East Pakistan,” Saeed sahib told us.  “India entered the conflict, supported the Mukti Bahini, and with the aid of the West, defeated Pakistan in 1971.  Approximately 93,000 Pakistan Army troops were taken prisoners of war by India.  I was unable to sleep or eat for several days.”

“It is then that I came to the realization that until we avenge the defeat and until India is degraded and destroyed, neither Pakistan nor its Islamic values can be saved.  I decided then that India must pay the price for the fall of Dhaka.”

Hafiz Saeed said that terrorists and their sponsors are being apprehended in Pakistan and that the capture of Kulbhushan Yadav has exposed R&AW’s network in Pakistan.  According to Saeed, “India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the ‘mastermind’ of terrorism in Pakistan and yet Pakistan’s leaders are apprehensive about holding him accountable.”

Saeed despairs that Pakistan’s politicians are no longer interested in the Kashmir cause and instead blindly tow the line of the West.  Yet on Kashmir, Saeed reposes his faith in the Pakistan Army.  He says that the Pakistan Army is sincere in its commitment to the Kashmir cause, as are the people of Pakistan. The Kashmir issue can be resolved if Pakistan’s politicians display the same level of commitment.

Speaking on Pakistan’s ideology [Nazaria Pakistan], Hafiz Saeed says “I’m not a great fan of cricket, but when India lost to the West Indies, there was a lot of joy in Pakistan.  In fact, more sweets are distributed in Occupied Kashmir than even in Pakistan on such occasions. The slogan ‘Pakistan Zindabad!’ resonates from Srinagar to Jawaharlal University in Delhi.  This is a testament to Pakistan’s enduring ideology and the Two Nation Theory.” [وائے وقت]


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Pakistan’s sophistry on Jamaat ud-Dawah

Nawaz Sharif’s claims of zero tolerance on terrorism have zero credibility.

India’s civil society and its political leaders across all hues shared the grief of ordinary Pakistanis after the barbaric attack in Peshawar where 132 school children were massacred by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.  In the days following the brutal attack, former Pakistani DG-ISI Hameed Gul, former army chief Pervez Musharraf and Jamaat ud-Dawah’s amir Hafiz Saeed blamed India for the attack even though the TTP had already accepted responsibility.  Jamaat ud-Dawah — the “charity organization” — then held a Ghazwah-e-Hind conference barely a week after the Peshawar tragedy; its loud banner threatened to exterminate India.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a televised address to his country, proclaimed that the “Peshawar atrocity has changed Pakistan…history will never forgive us if we do not eliminate the curse of terrorism.”  He announced a 20-point National Plan of Action against terrorism which envisaged, among other things, zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab.

Right off the bat, the Sharif government found itself having to explain to India and to the rest of the world how Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operational chief, Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who had allegedly been cooling his heels in prison for having orchestrated the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, was about to be released on bail.  The Sharif government has since had to apply the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) ordinance to effectively prevent Lakhvi’s release.

Many in India have quite rightly been skeptical of some news reports that Pakistan was planning to ban the Jamaat ud-Dawah.  Many will remember that Pakistan had claimed that it had  “banned” the JuD one month after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, so it is not clear how it is now contemplating banning an already-banned organization.  We know from Hafiz Saeed’s public appearances, his keynote addresses — of all places — in Lahore’s High Court, and the magazines and literature his organization is able to freely distribute, that neither he nor the JuD are proscribed in Pakistan.

But let’s not take my word for it, let’s just hear it from a Pakistani government official.  Enter stage right, Pakistan’s Minister for Defense Production, Rana Tanveer Hussain who spake thus on Jan 17:

JuD is a charitable organisation and the government of Pakistan has no evidence against Hafiz Saeed or the JuD…The JuD does not have a military wing and they are only involved in preaching Islam and working in the education field…The JuD only pinches India, not Afghanistan or America. You can’t group it along with ISIS and al Qaeda. [The Hindustan Times]

So the JuD is a “charitable organization” that “pinches” India? What sort of charitable organization “pinches” other countries? If we had to be charitable, we would say that Mr. Hussain was being naive.

And “pinches”? Pakistan’s historical euphemism to refer to the India-specific terrorists it bred was “freedom fighters.”  Apparently there’s been a change in nomenclature.  These freedom fighters are now “pinchers.”

But Mr. Hussain’s story is, as the Brits would say, total codswallop.

UN Security Council Resolution 1267 (under the “al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee”) proscribed the LeT (QEL 118.05) and declared the JuD to be its front organization (the UN also sanctioned Hafiz Saeed).  As a UN member state, Pakistan ultimately must comply with these resolutions.  The U.S. Department of State also added Jamaat ud-Dawah (along with al-Anfal Trust, Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool and others) as aliases of the already-proscribed Lashkar-e-Taiba.  Hafiz Saeed himself has been on the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list for quite a while.

Incidentally, Mr. Hussain’s sophistry converges with Hafiz Saeed’s.  In an interview with the Urdu daily Ummat in 2012, Hafiz Saeed claimed he had nothing to do with Lashkar-e-Taiba and that the LeT was a Kashmiri group:

1990-91 saw the birth of organized “armed resistance” against India’s occupation [of Kashmir].  Among the organizations fighting India’s occupation was a group called Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).  This organization and its setup was based exclusively in Kashmir.  There was never any relationship between the JuD and the LeT, nor was any leader of the JuD ever the head of the LeT.  But a section of India’s media has consistently spread propaganda alleging that I am the leader of the LeT. [روزنامہ امّت]

Very interesting.  Perhaps Hafiz Saeed thinks the world has forgotten, for example, his editorial  in “ud-Dawah” magazine (one of the five monthly publications of Markaz ud-Dawah wal-Irshad, the predecessor of the JuD) in May 2001 protesting the U.S.’s designation of the LeT as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.  Saeed wrote in that editorial:

We believe that the U.S.’s designation of Lashkar-e-Taiba as a terrorist organization will have no impact on us.  But we say that if the U.S. thinks we are a terrorist organization, let them place their evidence in front of the public.  We have repeatedly told the U.S. that it is welcome to present whatever evidence it has against Lashkar-e-Taiba in an independent international forum.

We now reiterate our appeal.  We will prove to the world who the real terrorists are — India, the U.S., Russia and Israel, or the mujahideen.  [Editorial, Majallah ud-Dawah, May 2001]

To be fair, Hafiz Saeed spins so many stories on a daily basis, he’d be hard-pressed to keep up with them all.  And as for Prime Minister Sharif, his “zero tolerance” on terrorism has zero credibility.


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Urdunama: Ghazwa-e-Hind

On May 5, 2014, Lashkar-e-Taiba’s leader Hafiz Saeed chastised Pakistan’s GEO Group, accusing it of representing India and favoring India’s views against Pakistan.  He then proceeded to write an op-ed in the very same group’s Urdu newspaper, Jang, two weeks later on the occasion of the anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear tests.  In his op-ed, Saeed warned Pakistan’s political leadership of India’s enmity with Pakistan and urged them to exercise caution in dealing with the new Indian government.

Excerpts follow:

India conducted its May 18, 1974 nuclear tests a mere 93 miles away from the Pakistani border.  These nuclear tests were conducted within a few years of East Pakistan having been lost.  After the 1971 victory, Indira Gandhi stated that the Two Nation Theory as a credible concept now lay somewhere at the bottom of the Bay of Bengal.

But why did India conduct nuclear tests even after it had successfully managed to dismember Pakistan?  The truth is India accumulated nuclear weapons and missiles not because it harbors any good intentions towards its neighbors, but because it wishes to dismember them.  Pakistan, by contrast, has only pursued nuclear weapons for self-defense.   Nuclear technology is essential to Pakistan for two reasons.

One, India to this day has not accepted the reality of Pakistan.  It opposes the integrity and raison d’être of the Pakistani state.   India is an enemy of Pakistan and Islam on political, religious and societal lines.  The concept of “Akhand Bharat” is but a manifestation of the religious, political and militant extremism of India’s leaders.  India’s leaders harbor the same ill-will towards Pakistan today as they did in 1947 or 1971.  Nuclear weapons are thus needed to protect Pakistan’s independence and sovereignty.

Two, Pakistan is a developing country and is confronted with many challenges, including an energy crisis.  We are now also faced with critical water shortages as a result of India’s “water terrorism” against us.  With the help of nuclear energy, Pakistan can hope to address critical shortages in energy supply in Pakistan.

Sixteen years ago, the ruling BJP party threatened to seize Azad Kashmir and annihilate Pakistan after they tested their nuclear weapons.  The BJP is back in power in India.  Narendra Modi is now the prime minister and most Indians appear to be enthusiastic at the ascendance of this extremist leader.

We appeal to Pakistan’s leaders that they should not forget that India’s attitude towards Pakistan has not changed in the 16 years since the nuclear tests .  India’s attitude towards Pakistan is one of hatred and enmity. Our past leaders were prepared to sacrifice Pakistan’s independence and sovereignty in the quest for peace with India.  They deviated from our long-standing official position on Kashmir.  But what did Pakistan get in return from India?  Enmity, sabotage, terrorism, water aggression and hatred.

The clearest evidence of India’s antipathy towards Pakistan is the most recently-concluded elections in India, which were contested exclusively on the basis of hatred towards Pakistan.  These elections have revealed India’s farcical claims of secularism and friendship with Pakistan. BJP’s agenda involves the abrogation of Jammu & Kashmir’s special status, replacement of the Babri Masjid with a Ram temple and the repatriation of all Hindus living abroad to India.

We therefore ask Pakistan’s political leaders to reassess their priorities in dealing with India.  Optimism is perhaps a good thing, but being delusional isn’t. In international relations, delusional thinking can lead to the downfall of countries.  It is important, therefore, for our government to clearly identify our enemy and understand its aims and motivations. [جنگ]

The MJC appears to be working overtime on account of the new leadership in India.  We also understand that Saeed has scheduled a Ghazwa-e-Hind (Conquest of India) conference on June 5 in Rawalakot, PoK, with the usual suspects Maulana Saifullah Khalid and Nassar Javed likely to be in attendance. (h/t @TarekFatah)

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The attack on Hamid Mir and its aftermath.

Propagandists in Pakistan move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform.  Those who once exercised creative license to ascribe any and all acts of terror in Pakistan to India’s external intelligence agency R&AW are now being labeled agents of that same agency.  Hamid Mir, senior journalist with the GEO Group, was attacked this past Saturday by unidentified persons while on his way to a special broadcast on GEO TV in Karachi.  Mr. Mir was shot six times in the abdomen and legs, but miraculously survived the attack.

In the ensuing outrage, Amir Mir, brother to Hamid and a journalist of repute himself, accused the ISI of orchestrating the attack on his brother.  GEO TV, as part of its coverage of the attack, broadcast a photograph of DG ISI Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, while Ansar Abbasi, investigative editor of the Jang Group’s English-language newspaper The News, demanded his resignation.

Big mistake.  One does not simply accuse the DG ISI on national television and get away with it.  The ISI dismissed the allegations as “baseless” (as all allegations usually are in Pakistan). Pakistan’s Defense Ministry, in its complaint against GEO TV, accuses it of bringing the ISI into disrepute and demands that Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) cancel GEO TV’s license to broadcast.

With the PEMRA verdict still pending, GEO TV took to Twitter yesterday, indicating that its channel had been blocked by a few cable operators.  This may of course be true, but some of us may be forgiven if we suspect this to be a reenactment of the last time GEO TV claimed to have been taken off air. In that particular instance, a GEO official privately confirmed that they had “taken themselves off the air in order to blame [a] political party, and garner support for the station.”

GEO TV and Mr. Mir are now under attack from many quarters.  Rival media houses are in an all-out war.  Many of them are unable to appreciate the fact that the price one now pays for defying the Deep State is no longer censorship, it is death.  And it wouldn’t matter if it were GEO, Express or Dawn.  The rules of the game have changed.

Of course, propaganda theories of Indian involvement are never very far when hell breaks loose in Pakistan, which is always.  The Awami Muslim League’s Sheikh Rasheed, who was “detained” in the U.S. in 2012 for his links with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed, opined that the attack on Hamid Mir benefited India, which was looking to malign the Pakistani Army and ISI. Hafiz Saeed also took to Twitter to level vague and uncreative accusations at India and the U.S. 

Mr. Mir himself had been particularly distressed in the recent past at being labelled an “Indian agent.” But how things change.  It wasn’t too long ago that Mr. Mir did the bidding of higher powers in Rawalpindi and Islamabad before he managed to find his liberal conscience (though possibly not his “liberal fascist” conscience).

Indeed, he was for the ISI before he was against it.  After all, not every journalist in Pakistan gets to interview Osama bin Laden.  And that too not once, but on three occasions. But the nature of that relationship changed in 2010 when a tape surfaced of Mr. Mir allegedly conversing with the TTP’s Usman Punjabi, in which he relayed false information that may have contributed to the death of ISI official Khalid Khawaja.  The recorded conversation, still available online, also has Mr. Mir talking disparagingly about Pakistan’s persecuted Ahmedis. Quite the liberal indeed.

So where does this all end? It is hard to see how PEMRA could fly in the face of the ISI’s demands and recommend anything other than revoking GEO’s license. But in time, the brouhaha will be forgotten.  Ansar Abbasi and the GEO crew will probably show up somewhere, somehow on some national TV show in which they will proceed to eulogize the Pakistani army, thereby underscoring their hubb ul-watan (patriotic) credentials. Couple this with private undertakings to comply with the red lines now drawn and order will be restored. Licenses will be reinstated, and talk show hosts and their guests will be yelling at each other, competing for the soundbite of the day on GEO TV soon enough.

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