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]