NEW DELHI: Former military dictator of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf said this week that he is banned terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba's (LeT) "biggest supporter" and that he's aware they "like" him too.
When asked by Pakistan's AryTV if he's similarly appreciative of LeT's founder and mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks Hafiz Saeed, Musharraf nodded, saying Saeed "is involved in Kashmir" and he "supports" that involvement.
Saeed, a United Nations-designated terrorist was freed from house arrest last week on an order from the Lahore high court. Musharraf, meanwhile, was declared a fugitive from justice by Pakistan in August this year.
"I am the biggest supporter of LeT and I know they like me and JuD (Jamaat-ud-Dawa) also likes me," said Musharraf, referring to both groups founded by Saeed. JuD is the LeT's 'charitable' wing.
The US has also branded Saeed a terrorist and put a $10 million bounty on Saeed's head after the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. Musharraf claimed Saeed was not involved in the Mumbai terror attack in 2008 because Saeed "himself denied the charges" of being the attacks' mastermind.
Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf stirred fresh controversy by saying that he loves LeT and that the LeT l... https://t.co/1UkJyLlgjq
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The LeT is banned in Pakistan since 2002 and it was, in fact, the Musharraf government that banned the group. When reminded of that fact, Musharraf said he didn't know much about Saeed at the time. He implied that he wouldn't have banned LeT if he had known more about Saeed.
"We had banned LeT because the situation was different at that time. We were moving towards peace and as such I thought we should reduce 'mujahids' (religious warrior) and increase political dialogue and frankly I had very less knowledge about him," said Musharraf.
LeT, though banned, it is widely believed to orchestrate attacks in India, especially in Kashmir. For Musharraf, that makes Saeed a-ok.
"I was always in favor of action in Kashmir and of suppressing the Indian Army in Kashmir and they (LeT) are the biggest force. India got them declared as terrorists by partnering with US," said Musharraf.
The former military dictator was also reminded that he calls himself a liberal and a moderate. The interviewer wondered if that was at odds with Musharraf's admiration for LeT. He said it isn't.
"Yes I am liberal and moderate... these are my thoughts but that doesn't mean I am against all religious leaders," said Musharraf.
This kind of hypocrisy is typical of Pakistan's establishment. On the one hand, you will have Pakistan's foreign minister saying on a public forum that Saeed is "a liability" for Pakistan - like minister Khawaja Asif did in New York in September - and on the other, you have the country's army and its intelligence agency providing safe havens for terror groups and terrorists.
Which is why the president of an infuential US think tank said this week it's a "mystery" why Pakistan is still considered a 'major non-Nato ally'.
Richard Haass, president of the prestigious think tank Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted this week saying Pakistan has "harbored terrorists for years and provides sanctuary to the Taliban" and others, including Saeed,
The Council on Foreign Relations president joins what's becoming a chorus of influential domestic voices asking that Pakistan's status as a 'major non-Nato ally' be taken away.
After Saeed was freed last week, a top American counter-terrorism expert told PTI news agency that it's time to remove Pakistan 'non-Nato ally' status.
"Nine years after 26/11, its mastermind still eludes justice. It is time to rescind Pakistan's status as a major non-NATO ally," said Bruce Riedel, a top U.S. expert on security, South Asia and counter-terrorism.
Saeed's release by the Lahore High Court came despite entreaties by a senior Pakistan finance ministry official who said that freeing Saeed would bring diplomatic and financial problems to the country, reported Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.
Those entreaties obviously fell on willingly deaf ears as the emboldened Lahore High Court even ignored the US administration's August threat to cut off all aid to Pakistan if it doesn't stop providing "safe havens to agents of chaos and terror".
The US hasn't really followed up with stringent punishment since those fighting words in August from US President Donald Trump.
In fact, a significant alteration to a bill that would have pinned Pakistan down on the Saeed-founded and banned organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was watered down last week in its final iteration. The US Congress decided against including action against terror group LeT as a condition to reimburse Pakistan for its cooperation in the 'war on terror'.
In September, the version of the bill passed by the US Senate said Pakistan must show "it has taken steps to demonstrate its commitment to prevent the
and Lashkar-e- Taiba from using any Pakistan territory as a haven and for fundraising and recruiting efforts".
Now, Pakistan must only show it has acted against the Afghanistan-oriented Haqqani Network (no relation the Haqqani cited in this article) and not the India-focussed LeT.