This article chronicles the jihad activities of Hafiz Saeed and his Lashkar-e-Taiba organization in Pakistan, which threatens to derail the India/Pakistan peace process before it really starts. From KRT Wire:
Alighting swiftly from a smoky windowed minibus on the edge of a small park in central Islamabad, the man blamed by India for orchestrating the 2001 suicide attack against India’s parliament seemed anxious to avoid attracting too much attention.
Hafiz Saeed, founder of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba organization and a member of Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front for Jihad, had come to town to address a gathering to mourn the death of a militant fighter killed in Kashmir.
He must have been aware that another, highly significant meeting was taking place in Islamabad that day, one that made his presence in the capital a matter of acute political sensitivity.
Just an hour earlier, Indian and Pakistani diplomats meeting nearby had proclaimed the successful conclusion of their first round of peace talks, talks made possible in part by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s solemn promise to put an end to the activities of the extremists waging war against India in Kashmir.
But despite Saeed’s attempts at discretion, there was no way to hide the gathering of 500 or so solemn, heavily bearded men who had assembled alongside one of Islamabad’s smartest shopping centers to hear him speak. Brightly colored carpets were strewn around the grass, and banners were strung up around the park extolling the virtues of the “jihad” being waged against Indian rule in Kashmir. “Beat the infidels so harshly that they run away,” said one.
Denouncing Musharraf’s support for the United States in its proclaimed war against terrorism, Saeed told his supporters that the jihad for Kashmir “will continue until Kashmir is free.”
“The time is near when all these oppressors will be crushed by this jihad,” he promised.
The public appearance of such a prominent extremist, just as India and Pakistan were announcing their agreement on a new “road map for peace,” underscored the difficulties that lie ahead, not only for the fledgling peace process but also for Musharraf’s efforts to crack down on extremists.
Government officials said they did not know Saeed was planning to address the ceremony and that no snub to India was intended. It was the 2001 terrorist attack on India’s parliament in New Delhi, attributed to Lashkar-e-Taiba, that provoked India to threaten war with Pakistan, triggering worldwide fears that a nuclear conflict was imminent.
“I’m surprised,” said Pakistan’s Information Minister Sheik Rashid Ahmed, when told about the gathering. “They are not allowed to be active. They are banned from doing these things.”
Yet despite Musharraf’s promise to India’s Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in January that he will “take to task any extremist here of whatever shape and color,” Saeed remains very much active in Pakistan.
Red bearded and portly, he is a veteran of the anti-Soviet Afghan war who frequented the same mujahedeen camp as bin Laden in the 1980s. He founded Lashkar-e-Taiba, or Army of the Pure, in the early 1990s, reportedly with bin Laden’s help, and in 1998 the group joined bin Laden’s International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Crusaders and Jews.
Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned in Pakistan in 2002 and has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Saeed was arrested by Pakistani authorities in January 2002 but was freed 10 months later.
Pakistani officials say they have no grounds to charge him because he is officially no longer the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Two weeks before the group was banned, Saeed formed a new organization, the Jamaat ul Dawa, a device employed by several of the extremist groups outlawed by Musharraf that enabled them to continue operating.
In recent months he has been crossing the country, speaking in mosques, addressing gatherings such as the one held in Islamabad and raising funds for the “jihad” against India in Kashmir.
But to all intents and purposes, Jamaat ul Dawa is the same organization as Lashkar-e-Taiba, said Arif Jamal, a Lahore-based expert on Islamic militancy. “It’s all the same people,” he said.
In November, Musharraf placed Jamaat ul Dawa on a terrorist “watch list,” which means it isn’t allowed to hold public meetings or raise funds.
But police who paused to watch Saeed speak in the park said that religious gatherings such as this one, held to mourn a dead fighter, do not require the permission of the authorities.
India has made its continued participation in the peace talks contingent on Musharraf’s efforts to crack down on groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.
But the two assassination attempts in December suggested Musharraf’s own life is in danger from the militant organizations he has vowed to crush, and Jamal said he doubted the government would ever succeed in denting the influence of groups such as Saeed’s.
“It’s almost impossible for them to curb these jihadis,” he said. “The jihadi establishment has become too big.”