Face to face with Pakistan’s most wanted

Robert Fisk becomes the first Western journalist to interview Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the man accused of masterminding the Mumbai massacre

As Pakistani ministers and the country's army chiefs lobbied the Obama administration in Washington this week for increased military funding for the fight against Al Qa'ida militants, the top man on the US, UN and EU most wanted list in Pakistan moved freely in the streets of Lahore.

In his first interview with a western newspaper, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed – suspected of organising the slaughter of 166 Indians in Mumbai in November 2008 – denied responsibility for the bloodbath and told The Independent that he had won his court battles to remain a free man. Saeed, bearded, bespectacled and claiming to have no links with Lashkar-e-Taiba – the "Army of the Righteous", which is blamed by the Indians and Americans for the Mumbai killings – is guarded in Lahore by two Pakistani policemen.

He said he believed in the Lashkar group's "fight for freedom" in Kashmir, adding that US and Nato troops "must leave" Afghanistan. He blamed "Indian propaganda" for the accusations against him – a claim unlikely to move his enemies in the US, India and other nations – and said that he condemned the Mumbai killings. Saeed said he runs a well-funded charity called the "Group of Preaching" which rescued more than a hundred victims of the Kashmir earthquake.

But his outspoken remarks are likely to cause friction in Washington where Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, this week hailed the dawn of "a new day" after "years of misunderstandings" in the relationship between the US and Pakistan. The country's Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and army chief of staff have been trying to persuade President Obama's administration that they are resolute in their domestic as well as their international battle against "terror".

At their high-level "strategic dialogue" which also involved Mrs Clinton and the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, President Obama is reported to have specifically asked for the arrest of Saeed. Condemning Pakistan for supporting members of Lashkar after the Mumbai attacks, Gary Ackerman, the anti-Pakistani chairman of the US House subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, described the group as "a bunch of savages" that needed to be crushed.

In the latest Indian file on the Mumbai killings, handed over to Pakistani Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Salman Bashir during his recent visit to Delhi, the Indians also demanded "strict action" against Hafiz Saeed and his extradition to India with 34 others on Delhi's wanted list.

But Mr Bashir described the evidence against Saeed as "mere literature". Lashkar are also held responsible by India, the US and the UN for a long series of massacres: at Chittisinghpura in 2000 when 35 Sikhs were killed; at the Red Fort in Delhi the same year; at the Delhi parliament the following year;, at a Delhi market in 2005, when 31 people were killed; in Uttar Pradesh in 2006 - where 37 civilians lost their lives; and train bombings in Mumbai in 2006, which left 211 dead.

The US is currently supplying Pakistan with aid worth $1.5bn a year. But at the Washington talks, Islamabad asked for a further boost in financial assistance for the country's power generation system and water supplies, as well as military equipment and mass funding for the Pakistani army, navy and air force. Islamabad believes that its long and bloody battles against the Taliban – both the Afghan and the Pakistani variety – have earned it substantial financial rewards from Washington. Most of its army have been moved from the Kashmir border with India to the western battles against the Taliban – to the delight of the Americans and the Indians. But Lashkar remains the enemy within which can strike again at Indian targets.

Hafiz Saeed remains unmoved. Insisting he has no connection to Lashkar, he said that his charity had hundreds of offices across Pakistan. "They make me out to be the biggest and most evil terrorist," he laughed. "Do I look like one to you?"

He said he had visited Afghanistan, but only to observe the situation, never to fight. He had met Osama bin Laden once, he said, on the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca in the 1980s, praying near him and then speaking to him – but only "briefly".

Many Pakistanis believe that Saeed is controlled by the country's formidable Interservices Intelligence (ISI) organisation, and the armed policemen outside his temporary office in Lahore may be part of that protection. A senior ISI officer travelled to the Washngton talks.

Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
fashion

British supermodel and hitmaker join forces to launch a 'huge song'

News
news

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announce they are set to welcome second child in spring

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually a challenging and nuanced title

Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Lead Teacher of Thinking School Drive Team and Year 3 Form teacher

Competitive: Notting Hill Prep School: Spring Term 2015 Innovative, ambitious ...

Operations Data Analyst - London - up to £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Operations Data Analyst -...

Programmatic Business Development Manager

£35 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: As the Programmatic Business Develo...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is currently recruitin...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past