Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is the leader of Pakistan’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which has been designated by the UN as a terrorist organization and is ostensibly banned in Pakistan. The United States has a bounty of $10 million on Saeed, over his alleged role in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Saeed, who denies involvement in the Mumbai attacks, recently spoke with The Diplomat about the Kashmir issue, Pakistan’s crackdown on the Taliban, and the fighting in Yemen.
Do you think that the armed struggle (or militancy) in Indian administered Kashmir has become weaker over time?
The Kashmir issue is one of the core issues of the Islamic Ummah. Although the Jihad for Kashmir has never died, the militants had to overcome many hindrances along the way. Undeniably, the armed struggle for Kashmir has weakened in the past few years.
Why did the armed struggle became weaker?
Both India and the United States appeared to be successful in declaring our Jihad to be terrorism. Still, I carry the hope that the situation will improve one day and that the movement for a free Kashmir will strengthen.
Do you think that the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan will affect the future of the armed struggle in Kashmir?
Yes for sure. After the U.S. and NATO troops get out of Afghanistan, the armed struggle for Kashmir will get stronger.
(Smiled, but refused to respond)
Do you think that a political solution for Kashmir is possible ?
Yes, I do believe in a political solution, but only with respect to the resolutions passed by the United Nations urging the right of self-determination for the Kashmiris.
Are you satisfied with the role of Pakistani embassies and diplomatic missions across the world in projecting the Kashmiris as well as highlighting the core issue itself?
The Pakistani embassies and diplomats are very weak when it comes to the Kashmir issue internationally. Kashmir could get a lot more support and attention worldwide if the Pakistani embassies and consulates abroad promoted it more strongly and with greater sincerity for the cause.
Do you believe that European Nations could play a role in resolving the Kashmir issue?
Europe is showing too little decisiveness. If European nations would take a clear stance they could settle the Kashmir issue. The West knows well enough that India is oppressing the Kashmiris. The European people recognize every other nations’ right to freedom, so why shouldn’t they recognize the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination or freedom?
Why do you harbor so much hatred against India?
Kashmir is the only reason why I consider India an enemy. Once the issue of Kashmir will be resolved, I won’t harbor any hatred anymore.
Will you ever visit India if you have the chance?
Yes, why not? With pleasure, but only after the Kashmir issue is resolved. It is the fatherland of my entire family who has migrated to Pakistan.
Your charity organization JuD is, according to many observers including the United Nations, nothing more than a cover for the violent organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the main suspect in the case of the attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi in 2001 and the 2008 Mumbai attack. After the Mumbai attacks the U.S. placed a 10 million dollar bounty on your head for information leading to your conviction. Do you still claim you are innocent?
Of course I am innocent and the U.S. knows this. They know I am a free man in Pakistan. The Americans are always welcome here to talk to me directly. But they won’t come because they don’t have any proof I am involved in this act of terror.
How do you see the involvement of Pakistan or current LeT-leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi in the 2008 Mumbai attack?
Neither Pakistan nor the LeT were behind these attacks. Instead this act was staged by the Indian intelligence service so India could afterwards tighten its anti-terror laws. The blame was attributed to the LeT after Ajmal Kasaab’s testimony – one of the survivors among the Mumbai terrorists. But when the Pakistani commission asked to meet Kasaab, India refused and immediately hanged him. The Pakistani court recently released Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi on parole, only because they could find no connection between him and the Mumbai attacks.
Why did India take the Mumbai terrorism case to United Nations?
India faced its worst defeat during the legal proceedings of this case, that’s why it has decided to take this matter to the United Nations. This only illustrates India lost the legal war and currently holds the weakest position.
What role do armed groups play in waging the Jihad?
The Jihad can only be declared by an Islamic government, and not by just any individual or group. There is no space for private armies or militias in Islam.
How do you see the militancy triggered by the Islamic State to establish an Islamic Caliphate across the globe? Do you consider this the revival of an Islamic Caliphate?
Groups such as Islamic State have no real ambition to found a Muslim Caliphate and their claim will not hold. Their acts are barbarian and only benefit anti-Islamic powers and forces.
In Pakistan some religious parties oppose the government’s decision to launch a military expedition called “Zarb-e-Azab” against the Pakistani Taliban, Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP)? What is your stance on the issue?
I support the Zarb-e-Azab operation by the Pakistani military against TTP. This mission is completely justified as the Pakistani Taliban has nothing but the blood of thousands of Pakistani victims on their hands.
The uprising in FATA, the Tribal Areas, is the outcome of a well-planned conspiracy. (Saeed does not say who he believes is responsible for this conspiracy. But he has indicated elsewhere that he believes that India and its military intelligence service RAW always play a central role.)
Afghanistan is a breeding ground for these rebels. Because of them the Pakistani economy received a sharp blow, and now our country is forced to mobilize resources to combat them.
How do you see the current talks in Doha between the Afghan National government and the Afghan Taliban?
These talks are a positive sign. Reconciliation between the Afghan national government and the Taliban is needed. The Taliban presented strong demands during these talks and we support them as they also have their rights.
The U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan have been badly defeated, that’s why they are pulling out from Afghanistan.
How do you observe the ongoing violence against minorities groups in Pakistan?
Pakistan should offer more protection to its minority groups. Islam blesses all minorities. For me, the acts of terror targeting non-Muslims are equally barbarous and worrying as the terror targeting Muslims. The state should protect everyone.
According to most analysts and prominent American politicians, the Pakistani intelligent service ISI continues to offer protection to the LeT and JuD – including though financing. The former Pakistani ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, has even called your organization a “state sponsored instruments Pakistan uses to fire upon India.”
JuD and LeT activities are not at all determined by the Pakistani authorities. Also, JuD has absolutely no privileged relationship with the Pakistani army nor with the ISI. We have cordial ties with the Pakistani military, the government, and all people who do not believe in violence.
Since the Mumbai attacks the JuD has appeared on the United Nations terror list, a list that obligates all member states to freeze your banking accounts and to impose a weapon embargo and travel ban on you. What are the effects of these sanctions on your organization?
These sanctions restrain JuD financially, but luckily the Pakistani people are very generous and always willing to cooperate with JuD, so we don’t have to deal with financial problems.
Do you believe that JuD is still a political force in Pakistan, even though it has been labeled a terrorist organization?
JuD always believed in politics and we will remain part of Pakistani politics in the future, however we will not take part in elections.
How do you see the widespread and growing belief in Pakistan that religious seminars such as those organized by JuD are involved in preaching terrorism as well as training terrorists?
Religious seminaries are not the root cause of terrorism and they are not being used to train terrorists. This is the secular community that propagates these kind of false impressions.
You regret the recent decision of the Pakistani parliament not to participate in the Saudi military action against the Houthi rebels, and to opt for a diplomatic solution for the conflict. Why?
The Saudi attacks against the rebels in Yemen are an effective measure. Saudi Arabia is visibly changing its policy. For the first time the country is not seeking support from the U.S., but from Muslim countries such as Pakistan, which we can only applaud. Good relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will be of great significance for the Ummah, as Pakistan is a strong defensive base and Saudi Arabia is a strong financial base for Muslims.
It is a shame that the U.S. and the Jewish lobby have turned the Saudi-Yemen confrontation into a Shia-Sunni issue.
What do you think about the recent nuclear deal between Tehran and Washington?
The Yemen crisis kicked in at the exact moment that Iran and the U.S. stuck their nuclear deal. This raises doubts. Iran should stand with the Muslim block.
Would you send your people to Saudi Arabia in the event of any advance by Houthi and Saleh forces inside Saudi Arabia?
If the Yemen conflict escalates, and the Houthi rebels advance to the holy places in Saudi Arabia, I will not hesitate to send my own people to the front lines. In this scenario, not only Pakistanis, but all Muslims worldwide would sacrifice their lives for the protection of the Holy land.
Hanne Couderé is a Belgian freelance journalist specializing in South Asia who writes for various print media about international politics, migration and conflict. Aftab Chaudry is a Pakistani journalist who works for the Abbtakk television station.