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Volume 2, No. 2 - July 2002

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Hafiz Mohammed Saeed: Pakistan's heart of terror

At first sight - he is an academician - jovial man who wears an easy smile on his face and, invariably, a Turkish cap on his head . . . a shalwar kameez-clad man, thoroughly Eastern in dress and habit, who is friendly and humble towards those who listen carefully to him . . . probably a person whose only introduction to cosmetics has been the henna that is regularly applied to his long beard - a regular feature on a regular feature on a regular face in this part of the world.

At first sight - it is a face that hardly begs for the camera. Look closer - it is a face that shies away from cameras as a rule. It has good reason to: Islam, the much un-photographed man says, forbids the capture of human images. Human lives, however, are another matter. For Professor Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, killing is a pious man's obligation: it is his duty 'to destroy the forces of evil and disbelief'. And the Professor is a very pious man.

His kind of piety has also given him dubious distinctions. An uncrowned terror king till the suicide attack on the Indian Parliament House in New Delhi on 13 December 2001, Saeed headed the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the militant arm of the innocently titled Markaz Dawa Wal Irshad (the Centre for Religious Learning and Propagation). Dreaded for its guerrilla attacks in Kashmir and well known for the infamous attack on the Red Fort in New Delhi on 22 December 2000, the Lashkar is the Professor's brainchild, crafted through an interpretation of militant Islam. Statistics also bear out that the Lashkar-e-Toiba is no less pious than its ameer and founder. The website of the Markaz Irshad, in fact, proudly displays the cold equations of terror:

  • During the last eleven years of jihad in Kashmir, 14,369 Indian soldiers were killed as against 1,016 Lashkar-e-Toiba militants.
  • In 1999, eleven fidayeen (suicide) missions in Kashmir (that is, what Pakistan refers to as Held Kashmir) killed 258 Indian soldiers and officers.
  • In, 2000, by the grace of Allah, the mujahideen successfully carried out 98 fidayeen missions in which 891 indian soldiers including three colonels, 10 majors, one commandant, one captain, three engineers and a number of JCOs were killed.'

At Muridke, 45 km from Lahore, which the bulky and bearded Professor Saeed used at his base - till Washington banned the Lashkar and Pakistan followed suit by freezing its assets - there is no trace of the blood behind the figures. Just the impression, which the Professor likes to give, of a scholarly man. But he is much more than that. outwardly a simple Punjabi, who speaks in the tongue of the region, he has broken a fifty-three-year-old tradition: before him, the Pashtuns always led the jihad against India. Now, the Lashkar's ranks have just a few Pashtuns and even fewer Kashmiris.

Though the Lashkar-e-Toiba leader cultivates simplicity, he always moves under tight security. His preferred vehicle is the hardy Pajero. The Professor is generally surrounded by young followers with whom he is quite frank. The leader and his keen young group talk freely. Most of the youngsters are from big families that count close to ten members. The Professor favours the big-family norm, reasoning that greater Muslim numbers translate into many more fighters of jihad against the infidels. Once in the Lashkar, the youngsters are drawn into a pattern of community life, epitomised by the shared, common meal. Al young men eat together using their fingers to pick food from a big, shared bowl or parat. This simple occasion is almost a rite, symbolising and encouraging fraternity among the comrades-in-arms.

The Professor himself comes from a close-knit family. He is married to the daughter of his maternal uncle, Hafiz Mohammad Abdullah Bahawalpuri, a well-known religious leader and renowned Ahle Hadith scholar. But, interestingly, he heads a very small family unit: one son and one daughter. Three members from among his widely dispersed family have been drawn into the organisation's ranks. His only son, the thirty-one-year-old Talha, looks after the affairs of the Lashkar at its base camp in Muzaffarabad. His brother-in-law, Abdul Rehman Makki, is his close partner and holds an important position in the Markaz at Muridke. Makki spent many years in Saudi Arabia before settling down in Pakistan. The Professor's son-in-law Khalid Waleed is also associated with the Lashkar's organisational set-up in Lahore.

Two of the Professor's brothers live in the United States. One runs an Islamic centre while the other is pursuing his Ph.D studies in an American university. Both remain in constant touch with him. However, the Professor has never travelled to the United States or set foot anywhere in the West. And unlike most fundamentalists, he does not express deep hatred for it.

But the Professor's past has been bloody, with a cause for revenge. Thirty-six members of his family were murdered during Partition n 1947 when his father, Kamaluddin, an ordinary landlord, moved to Pakistan, Kamaluddin first tried to settle his family in the Sargodha district of Punjab, but finally chose Village 126 Janubi, in the Mianwali district. A government land grant to the settlers and hard work soon brought prosperity to the family, an effect that the Professor credits to Allah's bounty.

The Professor's parents were religious-minded and his mother used to teach the Holy Quran to her seven children, five of whom are still alive. The Professor was a good learner, and memorised the Quran. His favourite verse is: Wajahidu Fee Sabilallah: Wage a holy war in the name of God Almighty.

In college, the Professor furthered his religious interests. After graduating from the Government College at Sargodha, he went to Saudi Arabia for a Masters in Islamic Studies and in Arabic Lexicon from King Saud University, Riyadh. He frequently met religious scholars and even received special religious instruction. Indeed, his first job in Pakistan was as a research officer for the Islamic Ideological Council.

His current job could not have been more different. At fifty-five, he has just retired as professor of Islamic Studies from the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore, and is fully devoted to his organisation. The fruits of that devotion are significant: in ten years, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, launched in 1991, has reportedly set up six private military training camps in Pakistan and in what is termed Azad Kashmir; has 2,500 offices across the country; and over two dozen launching camps along the Line of Control (LoC).

The Lashkar's jihadi network is the largest, the most efficient, and also has greater independence than other militant organisations since the Markaz Dawa Wal Irshad has a Wahabi orientation and does not have to follow any of the four Muslim religious leaders or imams. On the other hand, three other fundamentalist organisations - the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, and the Jaish-e-Mohammed - are Deobandis and follow the imams.

The Lashkar - in an attempt to prove that the Kashmir insurgency is a freedom struggle - has announced that it is shifting its base to 'Indian-Held Kashmir' but it is Muridke that is the base of the Markaz Dawa Wal Irshad and the hub of the jihad machine. Spread over 200 acres, the complex houses teaching and residential facilities, complete with its own farms, mosques, fish-breeding ponds and stables.

Over 2,000 students are presently enrolled at the Centre and the teachers insist that all are Pakistanis. The education - Islamic and Western - is from the primary to the university level for both men and women. Students are doctrinated towards propagating Islam. The Markaz also has a modern-looking, computerised religious university, which has five related institutions. At least two dozen thoroughbred horses are used for training the Centre's students between the ages of eight to twenty years. these students, dressed in military uniforms, are imparted compulsory training in shooting and swimming. In fact, they are not allowed to cross the barbed periphery wire until they are 'mature'.

Photography of all living things which is anathema to the Professor is strictly prohibited. The Markaz Dawa Wal Irshad describes photo cameras, TV sets and films as un-Islamic and its students carry out periodic campaigns for the public destruction of cameras and TVs. Visitors are frisked for cigarettes and any other addictive substances, which are banned in the complex. The Muridke complex is also not just restricted to the Markaz Dawa Wal Irshad. Around the seminary, the organisation has bought land for supporters, who have build houses, shops and more mosques and centres of Islamic learning. 'We want like-minded people to get together.' Says a resident.

Evidently that is happening. The organisation has transformed the land between Lahore and Gujranwala into an Islamic state that has banned music, television and smoking on its heavily guarded premises. Not even passing vehicles are allowed to play music which, the Professor believes, is strictly forbidden in Islam. The complex also has a garment factory, an iron foundry, a wood-works factory, a swimming pool and three residential colonies.

So far, Rs 30 million have been spent on the Markaz projects. Where has the money come from? Osama bin Laden, whisper rumours. It is alleged that the Saudi billionaire, a figure who has grown from being demonised by the West to being mythologised, rolled out a thick wad - Rs 10 million - for the construction of the Markaz's mosque. Osama bin Laden is even said to have financed Professor Saeed, his low-key, comrade-in-arms Zafar Iqbal, and a short-lived founder, Abdullah Azam, to launch the Markazs Dawa Wal Irshad in 1989.

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