Hafiz Saeed Explained: Terrorist in the Garb of a Philanthropist
(This article has been reposted in light of Delhi Court hearing the National Investigation Agency’s chargesheet which named Hafiz Saeed and 11 others in the J&K Terror Funding Case. This article was first published on 2 January 2018.)
“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools…No more!”
In a strongly-worded tweet, US President Donald Trump started his new year by lashing out at Pakistan for its alleged role in harbouring terrorist organisations. Backing up the statement, the US recently announced that it has decided to suspend its $255 million military aid to Pakistan.
In light of the accusations being hurled their way by the US, Pakistan seems to have bowed to international pressure and dived into instant action in an attempt to salvage their soiled reputation.
Its first move was to take over the charities run by internationally recognised terrorist turned self-declared philanthropist Hafiz Saeed. Notorious for his involvement in some of India’s biggest terror attacks, Saeed has a $10 million bounty on his head by the US, which had condemned the Pakistan government after it let him walk free in November.
But the real question is – who is Hafiz Saeed? A globally recognised terrorist responsible for a series of horrifying attacks on innocent people, an Islamist teacher looking to spread the ideals of his religion, or a self-declared ‘philanthropist’ leading charitable organisations to ‘help’ those in need?
When Did Hafiz Saeed First Draw International Attention?
According to Hindustan Times, Hafiz was appointed to the Council of Islamic Ideology on the recommendation of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who ruled Pakistan between 1978 to 1988. Later, he served as an Islamic Studies teacher at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore.
The report, citing information from the United Nations, goes on to say that sometime during the late 70s or 80s, Hafiz travelled to Afghanistan to receive military training. Here, he came into contact with Abdullah Azzam, the mentor of Osama bin Laden, and by 2005, had already become an active part of the core team leading the LeT. In an interview with The Independent, Hafiz had admitted to travelling to Afghanistan and meeting with Bin Laden, but refuted the fact that he was one of the founders of the LeT, and that at the time, he had only been there in “support of its soldiers”.
However, as the Hindustan Times report states, the LeT’s multiple attacks on multiple Mumbai locals (July, 2006), the Indian Parliament (December, 2001) and involvement in attacks in New Delhi in October 2005, and in Bangalore in December 2005, all had Hafiz’s name attached to them. He was also considered to be the mastermind behind the devastating Mumbai attacks of 2008.
Hafiz was formally designated as a “global terrorist” by the United States Department of the Treasury in May, 2008.
Pakistan had thus duly detained Hafiz on 21 December 2001 after allegations of his involvement in the Parliament attacks surfaced. He was held until 31 March 2002, arrested again on 15 May, and was placed under house arrest on 31 October of the same year, the report adds.
How Did He Manage to Walk Free and Turn Into a Self-Declared Philanthropist?
Hafiz had been formally arrested and placed under house arrest several times since 2001, following the allegations regarding his involvement in the 2001 attack against the Indian Parliament. Before his house arrest in January 2017 by Pakistani authorities, in light of an oncoming financial task-force deadline, Hafiz had been arrested in 2008 for his alleged involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but had been freed about six months later for the absence of any substantial evidence of his involvement.
The United Nations had, however, declared LeT a ‘terrorist organisation’ in the meanwhile and along with other countries like India, the UK, Russia and Australia, had formally banned it, reports The Hindu.
Pakistan, following suit, had officially banned it as well, but it is commonly believed that the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) continues to protect and support it. According to Huffington Post, Hafiz’s network works as a ‘strategic asset’ to the ISI.
Hafiz thus decided to focus his attention on the “political arm” of the LeT, the Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD), and expand it until its ban in 2015. When Pakistan was forced to ban the JuD in 2015 for its links with terrorism, he decided to change both its identity and official ideology, transitioning it from honing a ‘political’ agenda to that of conducting ‘charitable’ acts, reports Business Standard.
How Did He Validate the Existence of These ‘Charitable Organisations’?
He thus made it the JuD, run as the LeT’s “charitable wing”. He also wasted no time in forming yet another “charity organisation”, the Falah-e-Insaniyat (FiF), to strengthen his claim to philanthropy.
To validate their work, Hafiz’s charitable organisations made it a point to provide extremely effective support and relief measures during national crises and calamities. For instance, reports The Independent, Saeed's men reportedly rescued several of the Kashmir earthquake victims in 2005, sometimes arriving on the scene of the carnage before even the Pakistani authorities. Jama'at claims to have rescued 183 victims, treated more than half a million survivors in its field hospitals, and clothed more than 12,000 people.
In 2012, the JuD offered aid to Americans hit by superstorm Sandy. Saeed said his organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, was prepared to send volunteers, medicine and food if allowed by the United States. Saeed and his men had also reportedly led relief efforts in the poverty-stricken district of Thar, where a significant Hindu population resided, reports News Line Magazine.
But Were These Charities Just a Cover for His Political & Religious Agenda?
Hafiz has repeatedly stated that his aim through these charitable organisations is to promote an Islamic-oriented government through doing good work, Reuters reports. However, they seem to be a legitimised face for his real ambitions, both political and religious.
They seem to work as a mask to win the favour of the masses in Pakistan, allowing them to turn a blind eye to what is taking place behind their ‘social work’.
For instance, following the official ban of the JuD as the LeT’s political arm, Hafiz first focused on giving it a ‘charitable’ makeover before launching its own political arm, the ‘Milli Muslim League’ in August, 2017. The United States and India had both raised concerns regarding the new political party, as a result of which its official registration with the Election Commission lay pending for a few months.
The person who traded in bullets to take lives, is he trying to hide behind the ballot?Gopal Baglay, Spokesperson, External Affairs Ministry
However, Hafiz’s network responded to the concerns by stating that it had no links to violence and that its aim was to turn Pakistan into a "real Islamic and welfare state". Their statement relied heavily on the popularity the organisation had gained within Pakistan, based on its seemingly commendable charitable work.
In fact, according to Reuters, Hafiz’s network includes 300 seminaries and schools, hospitals, a publishing house and ambulance services. Along with this, the JuD and FIF alone have about 50,000 volunteers and hundreds of other paid workers, according to the information shared by two counter-terrorism officials with Reuters.
So who is Hafiz Saeed? An internationally recognised terrorist with a $10 million bounty on his head? Or a self-declared philanthropist masking political and religious agendas behind the face of charity? Maybe both?