Assertive Hafiz Saeed looms over renewed Indo-Pak tension

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File photo
File photo

In the backdrop of escalating ceasefire violations by Paksitan along the International Border last week, there was also a renewed assertiveness on Kashmir by Hafiz Saeed, the Jamat-ud-Dawa chief and the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack. In recent months, Saeed through his activities has sought to put Kashmir back in the discourse in Pakistan and he seems to be hitting a chord.

After the recent killing of four civilians by security forces at Gool in Kashmir, Saeed was the first to react and call for protests against the incident in Pakistan which later culminated in the Pakistan government issuing an official condemnation of the killings and a protest led against the incident by Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) Prime Minister Chaudhury Abdul Majid. Leading opposition politician in Pakistan Imran Khan also tweeted that he was “shocked at the silence of PML(N) government on this latest violence against Kashmiris.”

But Saeed was more direct: “To our Kashmiri brothers, we would like to assure you – we will never leave you alone at the hands of this oppression; India must stop,” Saeed said in a tweet. He also called for strong decisions on Kashmir.  “Strong decisions on Kashmir will strengthen and unify Pakistan: will inspire Muslim nations to stand behind us and people of Jammu and Kashmir”.

In June, when Nawaz Sharif took over as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan– with Musharraf and his Kargil adventure acting as a foil to this India-friendly image – Saeed held a series of public meetings in PoK to rally support for Kashmir. In the three successive rallies at Muzaffarabad, Rawlakot and Bagh, Saeed called on the new Pakistan government to “work hard to win back their (Kashmiris) trust and ensure their presence in every step towards resolution of Kashmir”.

“We should revive the confidence and hope of our Kashmiri brothers; their sacrifices will never be in vain,” Saeed told a rally at Bagh which his twitter feed covered. He also warned that no agreement like ‘Most Favoured Nation’ will be acceptable to the people of Pakistan, until the long standing issue of Kashmir is resolved. “Kashmir is central and most significant issue that Pakistan faces today”.

There are indications that the Sharif government will not go by the Kashmir settlement proposals propagated and pursued by his bête noire General Pervez Musharraf – albeit this was the policy also adopted by the preceding PPP government which, soon after it took over in 2007, withdrew from pursuing a Kashmir solution along the lines of Musharraf’s four point proposals. In a recent article, Shamshad Ahmad, Pakistan foreign secretary during the previous Sharif-led government asserted, “Pakistan’s total commitment is to the cardinal principle of the right to self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter which is the basis of its Kashmir policy”.
“Nawaz Sharif is not Musharraf and cannot be nudged into any secret deal on Kashmir,” Ahmad in whose term the “composite dialogue” was first instituted between the two nations in 1997 said in the article.  “Being from the Kashmiri biradari himself, he (Sharif) will never betray the people of Kashmir. He will never agree to what Musharraf touted as an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution, which was nothing more than legitimisation of the status quo”.

However, so far the new Pakistan government is yet to establish any contact with the separatist leadership in Kashmir. The moderate Hurriyat delegation which visited Pakistan late last year had held a detailed discussion with Sharif. “He (Sharif) told us that if voted to power, his Kashmir policy will have a substantive input from Kashmiri leadership,” moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told TEHELKA. “Sharif sahib also assured us that the Kashmiri input will not be only event-based but that opinions of Kashmiri leadership will be sought on a regular basis to ensure that Pakistan policy was in line with Kashmiri aspirations”.

Sharif’s own policy on Kashmir, which is traced to the aborted Lahore Process he initiated together with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999, was in the spirit of mutual accommodation. In the Lahore Declaration of February 21, 1999, between the two leaders, the two countries agreed to “intensify their efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir”.

However unlike Musharraf’s proposals, the declaration was more about a broad-brushed sentiment than any specific roadmap to resolve Kashmir. It hardly serves as a guide for any specific solution that the two countries might pursue to address Kashmir. It remains to be seen what the Lahore Process will evolve into. Even though it didn’t specify it, the Process left nobody in doubt about Pakistan’s climbdown from its maximalist position on Kashmir.

But Saeed’s newfound assertiveness on Kashmir could prove to be a spoiler, especially with the renewed tensions on the Line of Control between the two countries. In his talks with the Hurriyat delegation that visited him last year, Saeed had told them that the jihad will revive in Kashmir in 2014 following the US departure from Afghanistan.

“India wants to silence us, let me tell this clearly – we consider India an aggressor and speaking for Kashmir now is an obligation,” Saeed said in a tweet.

Earlier on 14 August, while addressing some 4,000 of his followers at a rally organised by the JuD outside the Punjab Assembly to mark Pakistan’s Independence Day, Saeed who is accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks, said he was prepared to appear before a joint judicial commission of Indian and Pakistan to prove his “innocence”. “India and Pakistan should form a judicial commission to investigate terrorism charges against me. I am ready to appear before it to prove my innocence, he said.

India has accused the Pakistan-based LeT of carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead. Following the attacks, the UN Security Council declared the JuD a front for the LeT. Despite a USD 10 million bounty offered for Saeed by the US, the JuD chief continues to live at his house in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s most populous province.

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