Hafiz Saeed claims he is being targeted for his political stance on Kashmir, the US and India.
Hafiz Saeed claims he is being targeted for his political stance on Kashmir, the US and India.

Who is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed?

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, born in Pakistan, is the leader of Pakistan-based charity group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). He is known to have founded Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) - an armed group mostly fighting Indian soldiers in the disputed Kashmir region since 1990.

Saeed, an Islamic studies teacher, went to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s for higher studies where he met Saudi leaders who were participating in the Afghan-Soviet Union war.

Saeed with Abdullah Uzzam, a Palestinian scholar, set up Jamaat-ud-Dawa wal-Irshad - a preaching and publishing group in the late 80s. This was around the same time that an armed rebellion against New Delhi's rule began in Kashmir. Emboldened by the defeat of the Soviet Union and the Iranian revolution earlier, Kashmiri fighters and those who came from Afghanistan were sure that they would defeat another superpower - India.

In Saeed's LeT, Indian soldiers found a formidable opponent. LeT brought new tactics of guerrilla warfare including the group's trademark Fidayeen, or "life-daring" attacks in the disputed territory.

In a 2010 interview to The Independent, Saeed, denied forming LeT, or that his charity group is a front for LeT. He calls it a "Propaganda of India".

Why is he a controversial figure in South Asia?

It was after the 9/11 attacks in the United States that LeT came under the international radar. Pakistan banned the group in January 2002.

In Kashmir the group gained ascendency along with the pro-Pakistan Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (mostly involving local Kashmiri fighters). Many other outfits aspiring for the complete independence of Kashmir shrank as years passed. Today, most of the rebels fighting Indian soldiers in Kashmir come from Hizb and LeT.

Pakistan detained Saeed, who has a US $10 million bounty on his head but often appeared in TV interviews after India accused him of playing a role in the 2001 Indian parliament attack and 2006 Mumbai train bombings. Because of a lack of witnesses or evidence, Pakistani courts freed Saeed.

In 2008 LeT was blamed for carrying out multiple attacks in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai in which more than 160 people, including six Americans, were killed.

In the same year, the United Nations placed Saeed on a terrorist watch list and imposed sanctions on JuD, which runs a well-disciplined network of hospitals and schools across Pakistan.

Thousands of JuD volunteers led effective rescue and relief missions in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. They also helped deal with the 2010 and 2014 floods, as well as a 2015 earthquake in Pakistan.

Yet in 2015, Pakistan placed Saeed's JuD on its terror watch list. However, Pakistani authorities stopped short of banning it.

Hafiz Saeed holds some sway within Pakistan because of his group's relief and rescue efforts during natural disasters in the country.
Hafiz Saeed holds some sway within Pakistan because of his group's relief and rescue efforts during natural disasters in the country.

Saeed was previously acquitted by the courts. Why has Pakistan arrested him now?

Pakistan's interior ministry ordered his detention on January 30 citing UN Security Council resolutions. The Pakistani army insists that the decision to put Saeed under house arrest "is a policy decision" without any foreign pressure.

But before his arrest, Saeed made multiple statements on Twitter blaming the new US administration led by Donald Trump and India's right-wing prime minister Narendra Modi for coercing Pakistan into obedience.

"We believe it were the US and Modi governments which worked behind the scenes to pressurise Pakistan," JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid told TRT World, adding further, "We will go to courts again."

But Pakistani commentator Mosharraf Zaidi rejected these speculations.

"If the US had to build pressure, it would rather build on Haqqani network which is actively involved against the US interests in Afghanistan, not against the groups like LeT or Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) which are focused in Kashmir," Zaidi told TRT World.

Zaidi suggested Saeed's arrest could have more to do with the pressure from the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APGML) which ensures that countries have enough measures in place to avoid their financial system from being used for financing terror. Pakistan is a member of the 41-nation group.

South Asia expert Michael Kugelman argued in a Dawn article that "it's doubtful Trump actively pressured Pakistan to rein in Hafiz Saeed, but it's likely Pakistan's detention of Saeed was done with Trump in mind." Kugelman did not rule out China's leverage on Pakistan.

But Javed Rana, an Islamabad-based political commentator, believes that the "pre-emptive" move could have come keeping in view Trump's Pakistan policy "which is in the making."

"So before Trump comes up with anything over Hafiz Saeed, Pakistanis deemed it wise to arrest Saeed under the UNSC obligations. This time the army is on board too," he told TRT World.

What does Saeed's arrest mean to India?

India has been cautious on the issue. New Delhi says only a credible crackdown "on the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief" will be proof of "Pakistan's sincerity".

Pakistan has not officially acknowledged any role by either JuD or LeT in the Mumbai attacks, saying it waits for India to share concrete information.

Indian columnists have largely played down Pakistan's move with some calling it a hogwash to hoodwink Trump and Modi. But some supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) see Modi's influence on Trump as a factor leading to Saeed's arrest.

Saeed could benefit India only if Islamabad hands him over to New Delhi for questioning. But this is highly unlikely. Relations between both nuclear rivals are bitter. They do not have an extradition treaty either.

"There is no way that Pakistan will hand over Saeed to India," Naveed Ahmad, a Qatar-based Pakistani investigative journalist and analyst told TRT World. "Pakistan does not see the issue as India does."

Will Saeed's prolonged arrest or disbanding JuD spark tensions within Pakistan?

Hafiz Saeed has enjoyed considerable support within Pakistan for his role in the Afghan-Soviet war and his support for the sturggle in Kashmir. Saeed is also the vice-president of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC or Defence of Pakistan Council) - an amalgam of over 40 political and religious parties. The DPC has street power but no electoral influence.

Even though his recent arrest triggered small protests across Pakistan's major cities, many see the outlook of disbanding JuD grim. It's possible that the group could turn against Pakistan.

"There is a legitimate risk. The group can indulge in tensions," Zaidi told TRT World.

Others like Rana see a potential repeat of the past when LeT was banned.

"They can just change the nomenclature and erupt with a different name," he said.

Rana said JuD has a country-wide base and support especially after its relief efforts during the natural disasters including the 2010 floods when one-sixth of Pakistan was under water.

"JuD's social activities are well-known. So I see a merger or fusion [of the JuD members] with other political parties. I won't be surprised. This has happened in the past as well," Rana said.

Naveed Ahmad believes that there won't be any tension "unless a stern court action is announced".

"His (Saeed's) followers and friends have not gone beyond statements whenever he was arrested previously," he told TRT World.

Author: Baba Umar

Source: TRT World