Mohammed Saeed: Pakistan's heart of terror
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
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
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.