Thursday, 15 August 2013

Foe of US and India Raises Profile in Pakistan, by SAEED SHAH

Foe of US and India Raises Profile in Pakistan, by SAEED SHAH
Ex-Professor Tied to Group Behind Mumbai Attack Gains Prominence as Regional Tensions Grow
ISLAMABAD—The man New Delhi and Washington view as a terrorist mastermind led a parade in the Pakistani city of Lahore to mark Wednesday's Independence Day, further inflaming tensions between India and its neighbor.
India last week accused Pakistan of being behind the killing of five of its soldiers in the disputed Kashmir region. Pakistan denies involvement in those deaths, which have cast doubt over the initiative by new Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to reopen peace talks.
Mr. Saeed speaks at Wednesday's rally in Lahore after leading a march to mark Pakistan's Independence Day.
The prominence of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the leader of an unofficial parade put on by his group for Independence Day, goes to the heart of Pakistan's ambiguous relationship with jihadist militants based on its soil and the country's 30-year-old strategy of using extremist proxies to fight its wars.
Officials from the U.S.—which is offering a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction—and India say Mr. Saeed founded Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group they blame for the 2008 terrorist assault on Mumbai, which killed 166 people, including six Americans.
India also alleges that LeT, banned by Pakistan in 2002, is supported by Pakistan's army and that the militants and the army cooperate on some operations—charges Islamabad denies.
"We remain concerned about the movements and activities of Hafiz Saeed," said Meghan Gregonis, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. "We encourage the government of Pakistan to enforce sanctions against this individual."
Mr. Saeed led several thousand supporters through the center of Lahore, the provincial capital of the country's most heavily populated region—and Mr. Sharif's hometown. Authorities closed part of Lahore's main thoroughfare, Mall Road, for the parade.
In his speech outside the provincial parliament, Mr. Saeed lashed out at the U.S. and India, accusing Washington of deliberately pushing its war in Afghanistan onto the streets of Pakistan and teaming up with New Delhi to back separatist insurgents in Pakistan's Baluchistan province.
"America is trying to break up Pakistan," said Mr. Saeed, a 63-year-old former professor. "America is giving only one option to Pakistan: that if we want to stay alive in this region, we have to accept Indian supremacy here."
India's foreign minister, Salman Khurshid, said on Wednesday that there must be "accountability for Mumbai", which "in future" must include Mr. Saeed.
However, India hasn't called off plans to revive peace talks with Pakistan, though no firm date has been set.
Following the Mumbai attack, Pakistan put on trial seven LeT activists. The glacial progress of the four-year-old court case has angered India—as did the fact that Mr. Saeed remains a free man.
Aizaz Chaudhry, the spokesman for Pakistan's foreign ministry, declined to comment on Mr. Saeed. However, he added: "The issue of terrorism was one of the agenda items under discussion in our dialogue. We need the dialogue process to resume."
Despite voluminous evidence to the contrary, Mr. Saeed denies any link with LeT. He now officially heads an outfit group called Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is proscribed by the United Nations as a terrorist group, but is legal in Pakistan.
Mr. Saeed's spokesman rejected U.S. and Indian accusations against him. "Mr. Hafiz Saeed has not threatened anyone," said Yahya Mujahid. "Lashkar-e-Taiba was made by Kashmiris and is run by Kashmiris. Hafiz Saeed was never its leader."
LeT has traditionally been focused on the mountainous region of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority area both countries claim. There, the group can take on the Indian military with small-scale attacks, which the Pakistani army couldn't carry out itself without risking war.
LeT fighters are also present in parts of eastern Afghanistan.
Within Pakistan, the group argues against attacks on its own government, security forces and citizens. That sets LeT apart from groups Pakistan sees as menacing, like the Pakistani Taliban, who have turned on their own country under the influence of al Qaeda.
Unlike the Pakistani Taliban, LeT is involved in charity work, including running schools and pharmacies for the poor, and helping with relief work for natural disasters.
For Islamabad, the LeT ideology is a useful counterweight to the Pakistani Taliban, said Christine Fair, an assistant professor at Georgetown University.
"For the Pakistani state, Lashkar-e-Taiba's message of external jihad, of not killing Pakistanis, could be seen as part of the solution," said Ms. Fair.
Ms. Fair said that in LeT's own publications, there was evidence that Hafiz Saeed personally chose which of his activists would be deployed in India.
Arif Jamal, author of a forthcoming book on LeT, "Call for Transnational Jihad," said the group was the armed wing of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and was much larger in scale than other Pakistani extremist outfits.
"LeT will pose a far-bigger danger and challenge to [Pakistan] than all other groups combined," said Mr. Jamal. "They want to wage jihad in Pakistan as well one day."
For the U.S., LeT isn't a direct terrorist threat currently. However, Washington is concerned about its potential for global reach.
"LeT's decision not to attack the U.S. stems from strategic restraint, but that could change," said Stephen Tankel, author of "Storming the World Stage," a book on LeT. "And if it does, LeT has, or is developing, the capabilities to threaten U.S. interests at home and abroad."
Write to Saeed Shah at

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