Time To End the Charade around Hafiz Saeed

It is time to end the charade around Mumbai attack mastermind and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) founder, Hafiz Saeed. For too long, both Pakistan and the United States have played games around a man who openly espouses terror and exports his mercenaries to India.

His arrest on Wednesday – for the eighth time since 2001 and for the sixth time since the Mumbai terror strike in 2008 – is a sham, just as his previous detentions were. Saeed, who likes to call himself a professor, has been giving open calls for jihad against India and the US and it was quite bemusing to read the tweet posted by President Donald Trump.

“After a ten year search, the so-called “mastermind” of the Mumbai Terror attacks has been arrested in Pakistan. Great pressure has been exerted over the last two years to find him!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.

There was no need for a search, let alone a 10-year one. Saeed was available, giving Friday sermons by the week and in television studios, all the time. Trump should know that his predecessor Barack Obama even placed a $10 million bounty on Saeed in 2013. The question that Trump needs to answer, if any, is why the bounty has never been executed considering how freely Saeed has been roaming around.

What pressure is Trump talking about? And what exactly does he mean by “so called mastermind”? The 26/11 Mumbai attack was one of the worst terror strikes ever, which killed 166 civilians including six American citizens. David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American, had visited Mumbai multiple times to videotape the targets that were eventually chosen for the final attack. Headley’s account, recorded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and then the National Investigation Agency of India, leaves no doubt whatsoever of Saeed’s role in the planning and execution of the attacks.

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee did well to counter Trump’s comments, saying, “FYI Pakistan wasn’t searching for him for 10 years. He’s been living freely…” The Committee also suggested that Trump hold the applause until Saeed was convicted by the Pakistani authorities.

So, let’s come to Pakistan. Numerous dossiers have been handed over by India to Islamabad and they’ve been called “a piece of fiction” by none other than Pakistan’s foreign secretary. India has called off talks with Pakistan over the issue of terror, but the country’s stand always has been – in the particular instance of Saeed – that he was freed by a court of law.

The fact of the matter is that Pakistan just hasn’t put pen to paper and collected pieces of evidence that lie on its soil. If Saeed has been arrested again – this time on terror financing charges – it is because Prime Minister Imran Khan will shortly be leaving for Washington for a meeting with Trump. Saeed has also been arrested – and the so-called charities run by him have been taken over – because Pakistan has been told in no uncertain terms that it stands the risk of being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in October.

Pakistan has for long, played the sham game.

This writer visited the headquarters of LeT, which was rechristened as the Jamaat-ud-Dawaah after it had ostensibly been taken over by the Pakistan government but it was clear that it was still in the firm grip of Saeed and Co. The writer was escorted in by Saeed’s son-in-law; not a government functionary. Yes, there was a functionary there but he was pretty much quaking in his boots.

Trump and Khan, shed the charade please. Here are words that ought to be paid heed to. Rejecting Saeed’s plea that his name be removed from the list of terrorists, the United Nation’s Security Council, had this to say in March this year:

“From the reasonable decision by the Pakistani judiciary to lift the petitioner’s (Saeed) house arrest, the petitioner can only deduce that he does not represent a security or terrorist threat to Pakistan… The court did not pronounce on whether the petitioner could pose a terrorist threat outside Pakistan. But if any, the latter seems to be the case.”

Saeed remains a terrorist, one sanctioned by the United Nations, and that is what both Trump and Khan need to understand in its totality and with the seriousness it deserves.

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