The march, scheduled to begin in Karachi on Sunday and end in the federal capital 10 days later, is being organized by a coalition of Islamists including Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar e-Toiba (LeT) terror group and alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
The U.S. last month announced a $10 million reward for information leading to Saeed’s arrest and conviction, but the radical cleric, who denies any involvement in the deadly attacks in India’s commercial capital, has defiantly continued to appear in public.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a visit to India earlier this month, said of the Saeed case, “We’re well aware that there has not yet been the steps taken by the Pakistani government to do what both India and the United States have repeatedly requested that they do, and we’re going to keep pushing that point.”
Far from acting against him, the Pakistani government has – according to Saeed himself – “advised” him to keep a low profile. It continues to maintain that it lacks sufficient evidence linking the cleric to Mumbai to bring criminal charges against him.
India says it has provided such evidence; the sole surviving gunman involved in the 60-hour assault, which cost the lives of 166 people, including six Americans, implicated LeT and Saeed personally.
Late last year Saeed was instrumental in the establishment of a coalition of several dozen radical groups called the Difa-e-Pakistan (Defense of Pakistan) Council (DPC), one of whose primary goals is to oppose the reopening of the NATO supply lines.
Pakistan closed the routes to protest drone attacks and a U.S. air strike along the Afghan-Pakistan border last November that killed 24 Pakistani troops.
The DPC says its goal is “to defend Pakistan from onslaughts of international powers and their agents at home,” and accuses the U.S. of waging “illegal wars that gave birth to legitimate resistance in Afghanistan.”
When, in the run-up to the NATO summit, it was reported that Pakistan was poised to reopen the supply lines, the DPC in a brief response warned that the government “will face massive resistance for their treachery.”
Saeed earlier issued a letter addressed to Pakistani lawmakers, urging them not to agree to open the route, and warning that if they did so, “Pakistan will be engulfed yet again by the flames of terrorism fanned by the likes of the U.S., NATO and India.”
“Islamabad continues to breed groups committed to violence in the name of jihad against the U.S., India and other ‘infidel’ states,” Ambreen Agha, a researcher at the New Delhi- based Institute for Conflict Management, said in an analysis Monday.
“The open support extended by state and political agencies to the DPC and its various constituents, as well as to Saeed, Makki and other terrorist leaders, can only embolden existing Islamist extremist and terrorist formations in Pakistan, and create widening spaces for a new breed of violently intolerant clones.”
Makki is LeT deputy Abdul Rehman Makki, Saeed’s brother-in-law, whom Indian officials claim has close links with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The State Department is also offering a $2 million reward for “information leading to the location” of Makki.
Amir Zia, editor of the Pakistan daily The News, wrote in an opinion column Sunday that the U.S. reward offer for Saeed had “deepened the mistrust between Washington and Islamabad that do not see eye to eye on their strategies to combat terrorism in the region.”
“The U.S. move has put an already embattled government and the military in a tight spot in a highly polarized political atmosphere where they face the wrath of an organized and deeply entrenched religious rightwing which remains opposed to Pakistan’s cooperation in the U.S.-led war,” he argued.