It’s an irony few in Pakistan would have missed. Around the time India offered to hold talks with Pakistan, and Islamabad mulled whether or not to accept it, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) amir Hafiz Mohammed Saeed was taking to the streets, mouthing vituperative anti-India slogans, promising to liberate Kashmir, and stoking jehadi passions. Wouldn’t his strident speeches miff India, wondered those who had hailed New Delhi’s offer to open dialogue with Pakistan. After all, they argued, Hafiz Saeed is the founder of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the militant organisation implicated in the Mumbai horror, and the very Pakistani who’s at the top of India’s most wanted list.
The doubts arose naturally as they watched JuD activists in Lahore wend their way from Markazul Qudsia to Faisal Chowk, waving toy Kalashnikovs and the group’s black-and-white flags. From various districts of Punjab they had come in thousands to participate in the Yakjehti Kashmir Karwan or Kashmir Solidarity Rally, walking or driving in vehicles and lustily shouting slogans against India and the United States —and in praise of the LeT. At the Mall were banners extolling Saeed, and makeshift stalls hawking literature on the ongoing jehad in India’s Kashmir.
It’s true such rallies are quite common on Kashmir Solidarity Day, observed on February 5 every year. But after the United Nations sanction on the JuD (on December 10, 2008), this was the first time the authorities had allowed it to hold a rally under its own name. Earlier, the JuD brass would appear publicly but under fictitious nomenclature. Like last year the JuD observed the Kashmir Solidarity Day under the banner of the Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir or Kashmir Freedom Movement.
February 5 was also the first public appearance for Saeed since his release from prison in October 2009. To the crowding throngs, Saeed disclosed that militant groups waging an armed struggle in Kashmir were considering renewing their jehad. He then demanded, “Therefore, no talks with India should be held unless it pulls out its occupation forces from Kashmir and releases the water of Pakistani rivers.... Any future Indo-Pak dialogue should include all contentious issues including the unjust division of Punjab at the time of Partition, the Indian army’s terrorism in East Pakistan, the demolition of Babri Masjid and India’s occupation of Hyderabad Deccan and Junagadh. As the Americans prepare their exit strategy for Afghanistan, the Indian security forces will have to retreat from Kashmir in the same fashion....”
A day before the rally in Lahore, the JuD had organised a Kashmir conference on February 4 in Muzaffarabad, which was attended by several key leaders of the pro-Kashmir jehadi groups. Delivering a fiery speech was Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin, who rejected the Indian allegation about the involvement of the LeT and JuD in Mumbai, and urged the government to release LeT’s commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. “He is our aide and an active member of the United Jehad Council who has been behind bars for quite long...though no charges have been established against him,” Salahuddin said.
Subsequently, the conference adopted a declaration asking Pakistan to revoke the ban on Kashmiri groups so that ‘Azad Kashmir’ (PoK for Indian readers) could become the base for waging the freedom struggle in India’s Kashmir. The declaration warned Islamabad that friendship with India won’t be tolerated, and that the Indian army should be taken to the International Court of Justice for committing war crimes in Kashmir. “If the Pakistan government can’t extend any political, diplomatic and moral support to the Kashmiri people, it should at least give a free hand to the mujahideen to tackle India on their own,” the declaration concluded.
Indeed, Hafiz Saeed was just about everywhere last week. On February 2, he attended a seminar organised by the Nawa-e-Waqat daily, and warned India that it would be held accountable for every single Muslim martyred in Kashmir. He accused India of illegally constructing 62 dams on the rivers flowing into Pakistan, with the insidious aim of turning the country barren. But India’s design would fail because these dams are bound to become Pakistan’s once Kashmir is liberated—which, he said, has to happen. On February 5, the Nawa-e-Waqat published an article from the JuD amir. He wrote, “India has been trying to malign the freedom struggle in Jammu and Kashmir by falsely implicating Pakistani jehadi groups in the 26/11 attacks. India has miserably failed to prove any Pakistani involvement in these attacks. Under the present circumstances, Pakistan should adopt an aggressive stance and expose all Indian conspiracies besides internationalising the Kashmir issue.”
Saeed’s renewed anti-India activities, most analysts agree, couldn’t have been possible without the consent of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. They say the JuD and LeT are working in tandem, and cite the interview of former JuD spokesman Abdullah Muntazir to bolster their contention. On November 24, ’09, Reuters quoted him as saying that the LeT had opened several new training camps in Pakistan’s Kashmir, and that Islamabad was tolerating it because it hadn’t been involved in attacks in the country. “The LeT cadres are seen as a kind of civil defence force in the event of a war with India and going after the group could create a new enemy when Pakistan is concentrating on defeating the menace of Taliban.”
Intense media scrutiny compelled the Punjab government to take control of the JuD headquarters at Muridke, where its educational institutions are housed. This prompted Saeed to shift base to Markazul Qudsia in Lahore. But nothing has changed at Muridke—no one’s been dismissed from service, not one inmate has been expelled from campus. Saeed still visits regularly and several members of his family continue to live there.
Officially, though, the JuD repeatedly complains that its banks accounts have been frozen and its newspapers and periodicals banned. It accuses the government of creating hurdles in its way of carrying out welfare activities. However, a JuD office-bearer told Outlook, “Our offices are closed but our members are active in their respective areas raising money, running social welfare projects and spreading the religious-cum-welfare mission of the JuD. That’s something no administrative action and curbs can stop us from doing.”
The sudden burst of JuD activities could well be interpreted as the Pakistan establishment’s snub to the Indians who are perceived to have blinked and reversed their stance of no-dialogue with Islamabad until it took concrete action against those implicated in Mumbai, including Saeed. Islamabad’s subliminal message is this: unlike the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the anti-India militant groups can’t be hounded.
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