The Jamaat-ud-Dawah, run by Hafiz Saeed—currently under house arrest in Lahore—plans to rebrand as the Milli Muslim League political party after the Election Commission of Pakistan approves its registration. This will further lighten the burden on Saeed, who has been under pressure since the U.S. ordered $10 million in head money for him after he was accused of having orchestrated the killing of 166 people in 2008’s Mumbai attacks.
Saeed, under house arrest since January after being found to run illegal courts in many cities across Pakistan, will now step into the political arena empowered with exemption from law; he has already sent a message of congratulations to Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf over the ouster of Nawaz Sharif. Empowered with his own immunities, Khan is no stranger to embracing the rightwing. In Sindh, he has publicly embraced Bharchundi Sharif’s Mian Mithu into the PTI fold despite multiple reports of the cleric’s abduction and forced conversion of Hindu girls in the region. Similarly, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government led by his party has allocated Rs. 300 million in public funds to the powerful Taliban-favored madrassa of Maulana Samiul Haq near Peshawar.
It is difficult to believe—despite vociferous claims from pundits of all stripes—that the Army backs Hafiz Saeed and his Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Lashkar-e-Taiba because he has never taken on the Islamist terrorists who kill Pakistani soldiers. The publication of The Mind of a Terrorist: David Headley the Mumbai Massacre and his European Revenge (2016) by Kaare Sorensen provides some context. Daud Gilani alias David Headley—an American terrorist of Pakistani origins who traveled to Mumbai for pre-strike reconnaissance ahead of the 2008 attack—makes confessions of crucial importance in great detail in this carefully put together document.
What leaps out of Sorensen’s book is Headley’s interest in Kashmir and his affiliation with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawah, and ISI operatives that former ISI chief General Pasha admitted were “ex-Army.” Further revealed is the anti-Army and anti-ISI orientation of these same officers, who trained him for the Mumbai operation before sending him to North Waziristan for further tutelage under militant commander Ilyas Kashmiri, who spearheaded Al Qaeda’s operations in Europe. It was this training that eventually did Headley in: he was caught while undertaking one of Kashmiri’s “jobs” in Belgium.
For now, Hafiz Saeed and his groups remain “under watch” by Pakistan’s interior ministry under Schedule II of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. Rebranding as the Milli Muslim League with ECP approval—if they can get it—could be the answer to their woes.