By Ambreen Agha
There’s no need of announcing bounties. We are not hiding in caves. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, at a Press Conference in Islamabad, April 3, 2012.
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the Chief of Jama’at-ud-Dawa (JuD), the front organisation of the Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), finds no reason to hide. He operates with impunity, conducting numberless mass rallies across Pakistan under the banner of the newly formed Difa-e-Pakistan (Defense of Pakistan) Council (DPC). DPC came into being towards the end of 2011, and comprises 44 religious and political parties, including a number of banned terrorist formations. Its declared ideology pits it against a American-Jewish-Indian ‘conspiracy’ under which the “US withdrawal from Afghanistan after a decade of brutal occupation” is intended “to leave India in a position where it can dominate the region and serve the interests of (a) Zionist Controlled world”.
These increasingly visible activities continue, despite the US announcement, on April 2, 2012, of a bounty of USD 10 million for information leading to Saeed’s arrest or conviction. The US holds Saeed responsible for his alleged role in the November 26, 2008, Mumbai terror attacks. US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated, “It (the bounty) has everything to do with Mumbai and his brazen flouting of the justice system… It is because we want to see him brought to justice.” The US also announced a USD 2 million bounty under its Rewards for Justice Programme for Saeed’s brother-in-law and LeT ‘deputy leader’, Hafiz Abdur Rehman Makki. The bounties were posted on the US State Department Rewards for Justice Website, which stated,
Saeed is suspected of masterminding numerous terrorist attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 166 people, including six American citizens… Additionally, the United States Department of the Treasury has designated Saeed as a Specially Designated National under Executive Order 13224. Saeed was also individually designated by the United Nations under UNSCR 1267 in December 2008. Lashkar-e-Tayyiba was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in December 2001. In April 2008, the United States designated Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a Foreign Terrorist Organization; similarly, the United Nations declared Jamaat-ud-Dawa a terrorist organization in December 2008… .
US Government sources indicate that one of the main reasons for the US announcing the USD two million reward for Makki was his proximity to the Afghan Taliban ‘supreme commander’ Mullah Omar and al Qaeda’s chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Saeed’s response to the announcement of the bounties has been contemptuous. Moving freely across Pakistan, he held a defiant Press Conference close to the country’s military headquarters in Rawalpindi on April 3, 2012, declaring, “I am here, I am visible. America should give that reward money to me. I will be in Lahore tomorrow. America can contact me whenever it wants to.” He also dared the US to carry out a military raid against him like the one that killed al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden, declaring that he was not hiding and would himself give his whereabouts to the US.
Despite his provocative stance, and in a rather bizarre announcement, on April 29, 2012, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, blamed the Pakistani media for “misreporting” the issue, claiming that the US Government had not announced any bounty on Saeed. “Though Hafiz Saeed is a suspected accused of the Mumbai terror attacks, the US Government didn’t place any bounty or head money for him.” Allegations subsequently surfaced that Munter had sought to pacify the JuD chief in a one-on-one meeting in Islamabad held on an unspecified date, though both sides have categorically denied such a meeting. Significantly, on May 9, 2012, a US State Department official disclosed that Munter would step down from his position as Ambassador to Pakistan “this summer”, after serving less than two years in the post. The official added that it was “the ambassador’s decision to go…”
Amidst rising confusion, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 7, 2012, reconfirmed the bounty, stating, in Kolkata (India), “I authorised the award for Hafiz Saeed who was responsible for attacks in Mumbai. It may take longer than we like but we will stand with you (India) and try to make that happen. India and the US are greatest rebukes to religious discrimination.”
On February 16, 2012, much before announcing the bounty, the US had strongly urged Pakistan to prevent Saeed from moving freely in the country, freeze the assets of the groups associated with him, and stop allowing LeT to acquire weapons.
Though it is not clear whether Saeed was present at the DPC demonstration at Lahore, on April 6, 2012, the crowd at the meeting carried banners and placards inscribed with slogans in his favour and against the US and India. Leaders from different religious groups delivered fiery speeches, condemning the US for “taking this decision (on the bounty) under Indian pressure.” ‘Commander’ of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) Asghar Rasool, who participated in the rally warned: “The US is pleasing India…It’s not the issue of Hafiz Saeed but of the entire Muslim Ummah and if we don’t rise to the occasion today it can happen to many others tomorrow.”
Frequent rallies are now being organised by DPC, with the participation of a number of proscribed outfits, including JuD, Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jama’at (ASWJ) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), as well as Islamist political groupings such as the Jama’at-e-Islami (JeI), Dawat Ahl-e-Hadees, Majlis Ahrar-e-Islam, International Khatam-e-Nabuwat and Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees, and mainstream political parties such as Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jama’at Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The presence of top terrorist leaders, including the ‘father of the Taliban’ Maulana Sami-ul Haq and the LeJ founder Malik Ishaq, raises serious questions regarding the DPC, the ‘state patronage’ that it, and others of its ilk, enjoy in Pakistan, as well as the ideological and political spectrum within which it is located. JuD Spokesperson Yahya Mujahid confirmed that Malik Ishaq was present on the stage during the DPC rally on February 17, 2012, in Multan District.
A sympathetic tone towards the Afghan Taliban dominates DPC rallies. Speaking against US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, and warning Islamabad of “serious consequences”, on March 28, 2012, Saeed declared that if NATO supplies through Pakistan are “ever resumed”, this would only further entrench the US in Afghanistan. Significantly, Pakistan closed NATO supply routes soon after US-led NATO forces attacked Pakistani troops on November 26, 2011, at the Salala Checkpost in the Mohmand Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Earlier, in a DPC rally on February 12, 2012, several speakers paid tribute to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and warned that they would turn every square of the country into a ‘Tahrir Square’, if attempts were made to push the country into US subservience.
Kashmir is also ‘close to their heart’. Addressing the Defence of Islam Conference in Mirpur District of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) on April 17, 2012, Saeed threatened that there would be no peace in South Asia without resolution of the longstanding Kashmir dispute:
We will go to the last extent to help the Kashmiris and ultimately India will have to pull out its 800,000 troops from the occupied territory. When the United States (US) along with almost 40 other nations cannot perpetuate its presence in Afghanistan, how can India continue with its occupation of Kashmir?.
All this occurs openly, despite the fact that Saeed’s direct involvement in terrorist acts has been documented repeatedly and well. Adding to a large body of evidence that has led to successive bans on virtually every organisation that Saeed heads (the DPC remains a present exception), David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani American LeT operative involved in planning 26/11, in his confessional statement in the US, had confirmed: “Hafiz Saeed had full knowledge of the Mumbai attacks and they were launched only after his approval.”
India also has given significant evidence on Saeed’s involvement in 26/11. Indian Government sources disclose that such evidence included the statement of Ajmal Kasab – the lone surviving gunman in the Mumbai attacks – conceding that “Saeed was present during the selection and training of terrorists behind the 26/11 attack.”
Bruce Riedel, a former Central Investigation Agency (CIA) officer and now a senior fellow in the Seban Centre at Brookings Institute, citing the documents recovered from slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s hideaway in Abbottabad in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, observed that Saeed, who is an al Qaeda ally, was in close touch with Osama until his death: “Osama Bin Laden communicated with Saeed and others via courier. He practised very good opsec [operations security]. The two had a long-standing relationship going back to the creation of LeT in the 1980s… Osama Bin Laden provided some of the seed money to start the group (LeT).”
The US has also claimed that it had “hard evidence” that Saeed was communicating with Osama bin Laden through a courier and that Laden had played a key role in the 26/11 attacks. On February 7, 2012, Saeed himself confessed for the first time that he had met with Osama bin Laden and claimed that he (Saeed) had studied under the same scholar, Sheikh Bin Baz, who taught Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri.
Yet, Islamabad continues to shield Saeed claiming that there is ‘no evidence’ against him to sustain a prosecution.
Such claims have been endorsed at the highest level. Federal Minister for Interior Rehman Malik claimed that, when Islamabad asked for evidence in support of the US bounty, “we came to know there was none… If America doesn’t have any evidence and India still claims to have evidence, it should be shared with us”. In a similar tone, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, on May 13, 2012, declared that there was insufficient evidence to arrest Saeed. “If you arrest him (Hafiz Saeed), that means he will be released by the courts in Pakistan. For the courts you need more evidence… You know the judiciary is completely independent in Pakistan.”
Adding to this ‘tragedy of errors’, an unnamed counter-terrorism official in Islamabad made the bizarre assertion, on April 6, 2012, that Saeed was helping de-radicalize militants: “Hafiz Saeed has agreed with the Punjab Government programme of de-radicalisation and rehabilitation of former jihadis and extended full cooperation.” Expressing concerns for his safety, the Federal Government had ‘requested’ him to maintain a low profile after the announcement of the US bounty. On April 23, 2012, Saeed told the media that Federal Government Agencies had ‘advised’ him not to participate in public rallies ‘for the time being’. Significantly, reports indicate that at least nine policemen, on six hour shifts, guard the three barricades set up by JuD volunteers about 200 to 300 meters from Saeed’s house.
Saeed is openly appreciative of the ‘security’ offered to him, and the support given to the enterprise of jihadi terrorism, by the Pakistani state. On January 1, 2012, he thus observed:
Pakistan is unmatched in terms of the freedom it allows for the pursuit of jihad and for the spread of Islam. No other ‘territory’ in the world matched Pakistan and it was a great blessing from Allah… Non-Muslims were conspiring against Pakistan both internally and externally.
Saeed, undoubtedly, has enormous support from the authorities at the helm. Bruce Riedel notes,
Saeed, a very public figure in Pakistan and admired by its military advocates a truly extreme vision: the destruction of India and the creation of a Muslim caliphate over the entire subcontinent. Both Saeed and LeT for years benefitted from state patronage, particularly, the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency..
The open support extended by state and political agencies to the DPC and its various constituents, as well as to Saeed, Makki and other terrorist leaders, can only embolden existing Islamist extremist and terrorist formations in Pakistan, and create widening spaces for a new breed of violently intolerant clones. Islamabad continues to breed groups committed to violence in the name of jihad against the US, India and other ‘infidel’ states. This enduring state collusion and the consequent impunity with which extremists and terrorists function can only further devastate the fragile political, social and economic landscape in Pakistan, and destabilize the wider South Asian region as well.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management