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Saeed is back as key player in jihadi politics

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 16:43

Islamabad: Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz
Mohammad Saeed, who has been named among the world`s five most
wanted terrorists by the US, has re-emerged as a key player in
Pakistan`s jihadi politics after a brief setback in the wake
of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Though Saeed was briefly placed under house arrest after
the Mumbai incident, largely due to pressure from the West and
the UN Security Council, the 61-year-old militant ideologue
staged a powerful comeback last year by uniting over 40
hardline and extremist groups under the umbrella of the
Defa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC).

Cashing in on anti-American sentiments following a NATO
air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November, the
DPC ? which includes notorious banned groups like the
Sipah-e-Sahaba has organised massive rallies across
Pakistan.

At these gatherings, militant leaders like Saeed have
backed calls for jihad while targeting the US and India.

Saeed maintained a low profile for over a year after the
Mumbai attacks, carried out by LeT, and for some time
authorities barred him from appearing at gatherings.

However, he stepped up his public appearances in 2011,
and came to Islamabad for the first time since the Mumbai
attacks on April 11 last year to lead funeral prayers for
Kashmiri leader Maulvi Showkat Ahmed Shah.

Since then, Saeed has shared the stage at public meetings
with top politicians like PML-N chairman Raja Zafrul Haq and
former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who appeared
with the JuD chief at an anti-India meeting in Lahore on
February 18.

Analysts said Saeed`s hobnobbing with these politicians
reflects an acceptance of the JuD`s immense clout by political
parties.

"The JuD has a huge network across the country and it has
built up goodwill by carrying out relief operations after the
2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods.

"No party can afford to ignore the JuD, especially in
Punjab province," said one analyst, who did not want to be
named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Others questioned the timing of the announcement of the
US bounty of 10 million dollars for Saeed, noting that the JuD
chief was not on the run and had addressed a DPC rally a short
distance from the Parliament in Islamabad as recently as March
27.

"The timing of putting Hafiz Saeed on this list of most
wanted persons is a bit suspect because Pakistan-US relations
are in quite a mess.

"It could be the Americans` way of putting pressure on
the Pakistani military something they did in the case of
Kashmiri activist Ghulam Nabi Fai too," leading columnist
Mehmal Sarfraz told PTI.

"It is also interesting that a bounty has been put on
Saeed despite the fact that he`s not in hiding he holds
public rallies in major cities across Pakistan.

"What will they do about that? And it is quite clear that
it has nothing to do with India as such but only Pakistan-US
relations," she added.

Pakistan-US ties have virtually been on hold since the
NATO air strike in November and a parliamentary review ordered
by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has run into problems due
to reservations expressed by some opposition parties to
proposed new terms of engagement.

Observers believe the bounty for Saeed, who has long been
accused of having links to the security establishment, could
be part of American measures to put the squeeze on the
Pakistani military.

Saeed has been named among four terrorists for whom the
US Rewards for Justice programme has offered 10 million
dollars.

The others in the same category include Afghan Taliban
chief Mullah Mohammad Omar and al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu
Du`a.

The only person with a greater bounty on his head is al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, for whom the US has offered 25
million dollars.

Though the UN Security Council named the JuD as a front
for the LeT in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistan
never formally banned the group under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

This was even acknowledged by a senior law officer of the
federal government in the Lahore High Court in 2009 during the
hearing of a case related to Saeed`s detention.

Some have also raised questions about Saeed`s continued
patronage by the security establishment.

When Saeed and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat leader Ahmed
Ludhianvi attended a DPC rally in Islamabad on March 27,
Ludhianvi was chased by security forces for almost six hours,
arrested and symbolically detained for a day for defying an
order not to enter the federal capital.

Though the same order applied to Saeed, the JuD leader
was allowed to address the rally and leave Islamabad without
facing any problems.

PTI



First Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 16:43

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