Ignoring the ‘other Osama’

That Pakistan’s government has ignored evidence to prosecute Hafiz Saeed is shocking, but equally, it is as much evidence of the U.S.’s lack of follow-through as it is of India’s helplessness

January 28, 2015 02:13 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:29 pm IST

MASTERMIND OF TERROR: “The evidence against Hafiz Saeed’s involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks is far from meagre.” Picture shows the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa addressing his supporters in Karachi.

MASTERMIND OF TERROR: “The evidence against Hafiz Saeed’s involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks is far from meagre.” Picture shows the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa addressing his supporters in Karachi.

Progress was made on several fronts during President Barack Obama’s visit to India, but one area that wasn’t highlighted as much as many had expected was terror. While the Indo-U.S. joint statement listed several groups that they would work to “disrupt,” including the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the Haqqani network, and called for Pakistan to bring the “perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice,” it didn’t contain any new language from the statement issued in 2014. It also made no mention of the group that most openly threatens both India and the U.S., despite a number of events that have occurred since then.

In the past few weeks, Pakistan’s news media have carried “reports” that the government was planning a “ban” on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and its leader Hafiz Saeed. This began with a story in The Express Tribune , which was then followed by Dawn — both respected newspapers of Pakistan. But nobody questioned how the JuD and Saeed could be banned again, given that they had already been banned in 2008 after the Mumbai 26/11 attacks. Indian newspapers were also quick to pick up the reports, linking the decision to pressure from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had visited India just before going to Pakistan. Even the U.S. Department of State believed the reports; it issued a statement “welcoming” the ban on JuD and other organisations. However, after days of waffling, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry clarified in an interview to The Hindu on January 23 that there was no new ban and that all the “action” taken against the JuD dated back to 2008.

It now appears that the reports and the official “leaks” were prompted less by U.S. pressure or Indian complaints and more by the impending visit of the United Nations Al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee in Islamabad this week. The committee is looking specifically at the directives of the UN Security Council on resolution 1267 that obligate UN members to ensure that all funds of designated terrorists are frozen, that they don’t acquire arms, or travel “through their territory.” It is going to be hard to see how Pakistan’s actions against Saeed and his organisations can qualify under any of the three, given his prolific public appearances all across Pakistan, his well-guarded compounds in Muridke and Lahore and his massive social media presence.

The U.S. stand

In international relations, comparisons are never possible. Yet, it should be possible to imagine this scenario: imagine if, post 2001, instead of living secretly in a small compound in the military town of Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden lived in a heavily guarded fortress outside Lahore. Imagine that every Friday he led prayers at a centrally located mosque, where he advocated war against the U.S. And once every few months, he held massive public rallies, under the al-Qaeda banner, to make fiery speeches against the U.S. What would the U.S. do?

This is exactly the situation that the U.S. is facing today in the case of Saeed and JuD. In 2001, the U.S. designated the LeT, also founded by Saeed, as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation; in December 2008 the definition of Foreign Terrorist Organisation was amended to include the outfit’s offshoot, the JuD, in June 2014. Saeed himself was designated a Foreign Terrorist with a $10million bounty on his head for information leading up to his “arrest or conviction” under the U.S. Rewards for Justice programme in 2012. Apart from the U.S., the UN has named Saeed, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the LeT and the JuD in the al-Qaeda/Taliban sanctions list. It seems inconceivable that the U.S. administration watches blankly as a man designated just as much as Osama bin Laden once was, flaunts his immunity with impunity.

India’s ineffectiveness

If the American stand on Saeed shows a certain double standard, it also points to India’s own ineffectiveness in having its evidence on the issue counted. The UN monitoring committee led by former British Diplomat Alexander Evans (since 2013), that has produced 16 reports so far, hasn’t said anything on Saeed and Lakhvi yet. Even after the Mumbai attacks, it has focussed on the LeT’s links with the al-Qaeda, the Tehreek-e-Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban, but has not said much on where the JuD and Saeed obtain their funds and operate freely across Pakistan.

In its defence, the Pakistan government has said its courts have not found Saeed guilty of masterminding the 26/11 attacks and has expressed discomfort with using the evidence that Indian investigators have pieced together against him. But the evidence against Saeed’s involvement in one of the world’s most horrific terror attacks is far from meagre. To begin with, he is the founder of the LeT, the group that took responsibility for the attacks, even as they were under way. Second, Indian police were able to catch one of the attackers, Ajmal Kasab, who became the most powerful witness in the case. Kasab’s testimony, which identified Saeed as an instigator — as someone who visited the 26/11 attacker team to lecture them on the mission and even picked Kasab for the team — is strong enough. Third, there is corroborative evidence from David Headley, who has been convicted and sentenced in a U.S. court for his role in the Mumbai attacks. Headley detailed how he conducted the reconnaissance missions for the Mumbai attacks, picking target locations and filming the route for the LeT’s team, all under instructions from Saeed and others in the LeT. If the U.S. sent warnings to India ahead of November 2008, it was on the basis — at least partially — of what Headley, who served as a double agent, had told them.

In addition, there are the voice recordings of the Karachi control room including clear cold-blooded instructions to the 26/11 attackers to kill, which, if Pakistani courts had allowed, could have been matched against the men currently standing trial in Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail, if not Saeed himself. At the worst, if the voice samples match with none of them, it would prove that Pakistan needs to broaden its hunt for the masterminds. Finally, there are the testimonies of the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency in the Adiala court, which in 2012 testified that the 26/11 terrorists were trained at LeT camps in “Mirpur Sakro of Thatta district, Yousaf Goth and Landhi areas of Karachi, all in Sindh province” and other areas in Pakistan, which corroborate the statements of Kasab and Headley in many ways.

That Pakistan’s government has chosen to look away from the mountain of evidence that points towards the existence of the LeT/JuD, and the need to prosecute Saeed for the 26/11 attacks, is indeed shocking. But it is as much an evidence of the UN and the U.S.’s lack of follow-through on the mass murder of 166 people in Mumbai, as it is of India’s helplessness in the face of both. The speculation over a fresh ban, should, if nothing else, serve as a reminder of the facts in a case that still sears India’s soul and subconscious.


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