Cola and ketchup with one of America’s most wanted

  • 30 June 2014
  • From the section Asia
Media captionHafiz Saeed tells the BBC that Washington is unfairly targeting him

For a man with a $10m (£5.8m) US bounty on his head and any American assets of his organisation frozen, Hafiz Saeed seems to take a very relaxed approach towards American companies.

When we sit down in one of his offices which doubles as a madrassa, his aides bring bottles of Coca-Cola and a big pack of Heinz Ketchup to go with a plate of chicken drumsticks.

The flat-screen TV on the wall is showing CNN - until an aide switches over to the BBC.

In the small mosque next door, young boys rock gently back and forth as they recite the Koran.

When Hafiz Saeed arrives, there is a small entourage around him but no obvious security. If there are weapons, they are concealed.

He has got plenty of time not only to talk to the BBC, but also to greet several followers who approach him.

It is clear that in the two years since the US announced a reward for Mr Saeed's arrest, calling him the mastermind of the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, he has little fear of arrest in his home city of Lahore.

"The people of Pakistan know me and they love me," he says. "No-one has tried to approach the American authorities to get this bounty."

He denies having had any role in the Mumbai attacks and says he just does charitable work through his organisation, Jamaat-ud Dawa (JUD).

Confusion of acronyms

But the Americans call the JUD a front for terrorism and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant group which the US and India say carried out the three-day assault on Mumbai with Pakistani backing.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Saeed's supporters make no secret of their disdain for the US

Although he says he has now cut ties with LeT, Mr Saeed is widely reported to have created the group 25 years ago - with the backing of the Pakistani security establishment - to fight India's presence in Kashmir.

This confusion of acronyms and organisations is deliberate, says Washington, so that LeT can avoid US sanctions. And it has now imposed new economic restrictions on JUD and two elderly associates of Mr Saeed.

Sitting in a small, leafy garden outside the madrassa, he says the Americans are doing this because they "need India's help in Afghanistan".

Many see the US bounty on Mr Saeed and its new sanctions as little more than symbolic.

But he has become symbolic himself of Pakistan's often painfully ambiguous policy towards Islamist militants.

Its armed forces are currently engaged in an offensive against what commanders say are militant hideouts in the tribal area of North Waziristan - an operation the US has long called for.

It comes three weeks after the devastating and embarrassing attack on Karachi airport, claimed by Uzbek militants allied to the Pakistani Taliban.

This time, Pakistani military spokesmen have said, they are not distinguishing between "good" and "bad" Taliban - which has been taken to mean both those they want to use as proxies and those behind the past seven years of attacks which have killed thousands of Pakistanis.

'Proxy war'

Mr Saeed praises the army operation, saying it is "only targeting foreigners brought to Pakistan to carry out bomb attacks and violence".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Saeed says he is being targeted by US sanctions because America needs "India's help in Afghanistan"

But already there are widespread reports that many militants of all shades have been allowed to escape the army offensive - and many Pakistanis doubt their military is really kicking its habit of using proxy groups for further its strategic goals, particularly against India.

But the problems Pakistan has faced over the last few years are all "because of the US and Nato", says Mr Saeed.

"They have been using Pakistan as a base camp", and they have allowed India a free hand to start "its own proxy war" in Balochistan, he explains.

And then the man with the $10m reward on his head walks quietly away for afternoon prayers.

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