Pakistani Minister Caught on Tape Pledging Support for US- DesignatedTerrorist

By Patrick Goodenough | December 19, 2018 | 4:30am EST
Pakistan's interior minister of state, Shehryar Afridi, meets with U.S. charge d'affaires to Pakistan Paul Jones in Islamabad on October 22, 2018. The ministry said Afridi 'apprised the U.S. envoy about the sacrifices of Pakistan in war against terrorism.' (Photo: Pakistan Interior Ministry)

(CNSNews.com) – Three months after Pakistan complained about a U.S. decision to withhold funding over a failure to tackle terrorism effectively, a government minister has been caught on camera evidently pledging to support a global terrorist who is the subject of a $10 million U.S. reward offer.

Radical cleric Hafiz Saeed is the founder of Lashkar-e-Toiba, the terrorist group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks which cost the lives of 166 people, including six Americans.

Saeed has changed his organization’s names several times in a bid to evade justice, most recently in August last year when a group called the Milli Muslim League (MML) was formed to contest this year’s federal election. However, the country’s Election Commission (ECP) refused to recognize it.

Now, a video clip has emerged showing Shehryar Afridi, the interior minister of state in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s four-month-old government, apparently assuring MML officials of support both for their organization and for Saeed himself.

“As long as we are in the government, all those including Hafiz Saeed who are raising voice for Pakistan and righteousness, we are with them,” he was quoted as saying.

In a still from the leaked video clip, Pakistan's interior minister of state, Shehryar Afridi, center in white, speaks to officials of Saeed's MML organization. (Screen capture: YouTube)

When an MML official raised the fact that the ECP had refused to recognize the MML as an election contestant due to U.S. pressure, Afridi replied that “this will not happen in the Imran Khan’s government.” (The ECP is an independent statutory body.)

Afridi is the junior minister in the ministry responsible for law enforcement and state security, including counterterrorism. The senior minister is the prime minister, Khan.

Just three weeks ago, the State Department announced a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of those responsible for the Mumbai attack.

The November 2008 attack took place over a 60-hour period, with ten gunmen attacking targets including hotels, a railway station, hospitals and a Jewish community center in India’s financial capital.

After interrogating the sole surviving terrorist, India handed Pakistan a list of 20 suspects, with Saeed’s name at the top.

LeT has been designated a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) since 2001, and has also been on a U.N. Security Council sanctions list since 2005.

Saeed himself has been the subject of a $10 million U.S. reward offer since 2012.

A previous Pakistani government banned LeT under U.S. pressure after 9/11, but the group continued operating under the name Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD), a supposed charity.

The State Department amended its FTO designation for LeT to include the JuD alias, and again last April, this time to include the MML alias.

“Make no mistake,” the department’s counterterrorism coordinator, Nathan Sales, said at the time. “Whatever LeT chooses to call itself, it remains a violent terrorist group.”

‘A deeply troubling message’

For years critics in India and the U.S. have accused Pakistan of clamping down on selected terror groups, but condoning – and even sponsoring – others to advance its foreign policy goals, especially in Afghanistan in disputed Kashmir.

LeT’s founding focus was to fight India in Kashmir, but it later declared “jihad” on America and carried out attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan. A senior U.S. military officer in 2011 called it a “global threat.”

Early last year – days after President Trump took office – the Pakistani authorities placed Saeed under house arrest, but last November a court in Lahore ordered his release.

When Saeed was released from house arrest last November, the White House said in a statement the move “sends a deeply troubling message about Pakistan’s commitment to combatting international terrorism and belies Pakistani claims that it will not provide sanctuary for terrorists on its soil.”

“If Pakistan does not take action to lawfully detain Saeed and charge him for his crimes,” it warned, “its inaction will have repercussions for bilateral relations and for Pakistan’s global reputation.”

The statement did not elaborate on the “repercussions” but since 2001 U.S. taxpayers have contributed almost $34 billion to Pakistan, either in direct aid or as reimbursements for counterterrorism efforts.

Two months after the court-ordered release, the Pentagon said that $300 million in aid was being withheld until Pakistan ensures terrorists no longer find safe haven on its soil.

In September, the suspended funds were “reprogrammed” to other priorities, prompting Pakistan’s foreign minister to say that the withheld money was not aid but “actually the payment of expenses incurred by us during the war against terrorism.”

Pakistan’s people and army have “sacrificed a lot” in the fight against terrorism, he said.

Saeed recently called publicly for the killing of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman on death row for blasphemy who was acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court seven weeks ago but has been refused permission to leave the country.

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