A terrorist tag by the United Nations Security Council and a $10 million reward for his capture by the United States sit lightly on the man India holds responsible as the mastermind of the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
On Friday, as Pakistan marked the memory of soldiers killed in its 1965 war against India, Hafiz Saeed swept into the well-tended capital for a rally by Jamat-ud-Dawa, the organisation that he leads, and which is a front for the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba, banned by the Musharraf regime months after 9/11.
Causing traffic jams and road blocks, the procession of cars and trucks drove in from Rawalpindi, the garrison city where the Pakistan military has its headquarters, and where Mr. Saeed had addressed another rally earlier in the day, at the historic Liaquat Bagh grounds.
Almost all the men – there were no women – in the rally wore black, and waved the black and white standard of the JuD, with its insignia of a sword and the first Kalma in Urdu.
Near the National Assembly, Pakistan’s parliament, people spilled out to D chowk in the evening and sat in neatly arranged chairs. Mr. Saeed, addressed his audience of stick wielding youth from a stage made up of three container trucks emblazoned with a large green banner setting out his campaign agenda -- “water aggression” by India, “killings by India” at the LoC, freedom for Kashmir, US drone strikes and terrorism in Pakistan.
The sea of white and black flags waved often in appreciation at his words, which were mostly concerning India and the Kashmir question. Every now and then the silence from the rapt audience would be broken with shouts of “Hafiz Saeed aage badho hum tumhare saath hai(Hafiz Saeed lead the way we are with you) or slogans proclaiming jihad. Security cameras ensured surveillance and even the TV crew was precariously perched on two Maersk containers. Mr. Saeed portrays the JUD as a social work organisation, but his speech was almost entirely about why Pakistan must make no moves for peace with India, though he said he was not for aggression or enmity.
Swinging between sarcasm and rhetoric, he denounced the attempts at talks between the two countries, saying Pakistan should not participate in any such process, back channel or otherwise, until the Kashmir question was resolved.
India, he claimed, was using its consulates in Afghanistan for terrorism in Balochistan, it was behind the bloodletting in Karachi, and it was flooding Pakistan by releasing waters from its dams. Until all these issues were resolved there was no need for talks or trade, nor was there any need to take electricity from India, he declared.
India has been demanding that Pakistan address its concern over Saeed’s virulent speeches, apart from his involvement in sending armed young men into Kashmir.
But like the previous government, the Nawaz Sharif government too seems to have decided to let him be. In its budget this year, the Punjab government even allocated Rs 61 million to JuD, defending the move as necessary in the light of services provided by the organisation. In 2009, Saeed’s detention in the Mumbai terror attack was set aside by the high court in Lahore which did not find any evidence linking him with the incident.
Saeed’s diatribe against India comes at a time that the two sides are preparing for a possible meeting of their Prime Ministers later this month, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will meet Pakistan Prime Minister's national security and foreign policy Sartaj Aziz on September 13 in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek in this regard.