Pakistan’s former military dictator Pervez Musharraf, who was the brain behind the 1999 Kargil conflict, has called himself the “biggest supporter” of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and its founder Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind the 26/11 attack on Mumbai nine years ago.
Mr Musharraf, who lives in self-exile in Dubai, said he supports the terror group’s role in Kashmir in “suppressing” the Indian Army there, and added that Saeed “is involved in Kashmir”. The 74-year-old retired general and former Pakistan President, who ruled his country from 1999 to 2008, also said in an interview to a Pakistani TV channel: “The Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa are fond of me.”
Asked if he too liked LeT and JuD chief Hafiz Saeed, Mr Musharraf said: “Yes! and I have met him. I have always been in favour of action in Kashmir and I have always been favouring pressuring the Indian Army in Kashmir. This is the biggest force and they have been declared terrorists by India along with the US.”
He categorically denied that LeT was involved in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, for which India blamed Pakistan. Mr Musharraf said he had banned LeT in 2002, just after 9/11 and after considerable American pressure on Pakistan, because the “situation was different then”.
On Washington’s official statement on Hafiz Saeed, he said it was written in “highly offensive language”, and said it was an “insult to Pakistan’s sovereignty”.
The White House said there would be repercussions for US-Pakistan relations unless Islamabad took action to detain and charge the LeT chief for allegedly masterminding the Mumbai attacks. The US had asked Pakistan to re-arrest Saeed, who has been designated a terrorist by the US justice department. “This language is offensive and insults Pakistan’s sovereignty. I would never accept this,” he said, adding: “I would have told them, please do not dictate to us. We are in charge here. We will decide whether he has to be tried or punished. This is our decision.”
Mr Musharraf’s comments came days after Saeed walked free after the Pakistan government decided not to detain him further. He was under house arrest since January this year.
Questioned about his recently announced 23-party grand alliance with religious groups, he said such an alliance “is the requirement of the day”. He said his “enlightened moderation and liberal outlook” will not be damaged if he sits with Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen, Sunni Ittehad Council, Pakistan Sunni Tehrik and Pakistan Awami Tehrik.
“You are describing me as a liberal. Yes, I am. These are my thoughts. This does not mean I am against all religious parties,” the former military ruler said. Mr Musharraf ruled out the possibility of any martial law in Pakistan and added that democracy in the country was not under any threat.