Pakistani brothers reflect country's contradictions - Asia - World - The Independent

Pakistani brothers reflect country's contradictions

 

Lahore, Pakistan

One cleric is a wanted terrorist who preaches that the United States is Pakistan's worst enemy, determined to "wipe out every Muslim" with the help of his other nemesis, the Jews. His name is Hafiz Mohammad Saeed.

The other cleric fondly recalls his years in the United States, where he drove a Chevy Suburban and allied himself with a prominent rabbi to promote religious tolerance. His name is Hafiz Muhammad Masood.

Masood, 54, and Saeed, 62, are brothers. Their conspicuously different paths illustrate the often contradictory nature of Pakistan itself, a country that behaves like both friend and foe to its chief patron, the United States — frequently at the same time.

As much as Pakistanis are said to loathe U.S. policies, many eagerly seek opportunities for themselves and their children in the United States. Masood was one of them, spending 21 years in the Boston area.

Today he is the spokesman for the Lahore-based religious charity that his brother heads, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, or Party of Truth. The United States calls it a terrorist front group tied to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai and has offered $10 million for evidence leading to Saeed's arrest or conviction. Masood has denied the accusations.

Unlike his fiery-tongued brother, Masood displays a calm, good-humored nature. He has an easy command of American idioms, such as "one size fits all" and "this is a no-no."

Masood returned to Pakistan only grudgingly, after pleading guilty in 2008 to visa-related violations. He left behind his comfortable job as an imam at the Islamic Center of New England, as well as his wife and eight children.

"Believe me, I love American life, and for many aspects," Masood said contemplatively, sitting in a quiet room across the courtyard from the capacious two-level mosque where his elder brother delivers his rants against the United States, India and Israel. "People are very logical, they are very open, and I found the Islamic work very, very enjoyable in American society."

The world knows much about Saeed and the other U.S.-designated terrorist group he founded: Lashkar-i-Taiba, or Army of the Pious. Officials say Lashkar-i-Taiba carried out the three-day attack in Mumbai — killing 166 people, including six Americans — and is responsible for several other deadly operations against India. The $10 million reward puts Saeed in the same top-tier terrorist category as fugitive Taliban chief Mohammad Omar.

Far fewer have heard of Masood, whose 15-year tenure at the Islamic center in Sharon, Mass., won him praise for outreach to other faiths. His supporters, including members of a local synagogue, said the immigration case stemmed from anti-Muslim bias.

"He was a positive influence on the community, and I didn't think it made a whole lot of sense to deport him," said Rabbi Barry Starr of Temple Israel in Sharon. "I found him to be a gentleman, a gentle person, a person of peace."

In Masood's view, the case against him represented classic guilt by association. "When they want to find something on you, they will," he said with a hearty laugh.

In lengthy conversations, Masood, a stocky man with a chest-length beard, rarely seemed angry or bitter, even though he gave up everything he had worked to achieve in the United States: His family, a five-bedroom house on five acres, three cars, a lovely garden and access to the swimming pool and tennis courts on the Islamic center's grounds.

"I lost my worldly life," Masood said. "I lost that for good."

"Hafiz" is a title bestowed on those who have memorized the entire Koran. Saeed, Masood and their younger brother, Hamid Mahmood, all earned that distinction, as have their two sisters.

Their father was a farmer, Islamic teacher and respected village elder. "He did conflict resolution," Masood said.

Their mother ran a religious school for children. With her prodding, Masood learned the Koran by heart by age 10.

In 1965, war broke out between Pakistan and India over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. It soon touched the family's village, about 120 miles west of Lahore.

Actually, there was no fighting there; it was wartime paranoia.

Rumors flew that Indian spies might infiltrate the village. Their target: the nearby Pakistani air force base at Sargodha. The teenage Saeed grew convinced that Indian paratroopers might land in the vicinity.

He organized a group of boys — 30 or 40 of them — to stay awake all night, brandishing sticks to guard the village, he recently told a Pakistani newspaper.

"I still remember that the boys were fully charged," recalled Masood, who was 7 at the time. Their leader instructed them to beat the bushes looking for Indians and "any suspicious activity."

Did they ever catch any spies?

"No," he said, laughing.

As young men, Masood and Saeed earned advanced degrees in Pakistan and became professors. The elder brother focused on Islamic studies and Arabic literature, while Masood's specialty was Islamic economics.

The younger brother's path led him to the United States on a student visa in 1987. He took his wife and five small children, enrolling first at Vanderbilt for a semester, then earning his bachelor's and master's degrees in economic policy at Boston University.

Saeed went in a different direction. His advanced scholarship took him to Saudi Arabia, where he studied in the early 1980s under the same teacher who once instructed Osama bin Laden.

After supporting the fight to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan, Saeed in 1990 established Lashkar-i-Taiba to target Indian troops in Kashmir. For years, Pakistan's main intelligence service backed Lashkar-i-Taiba as a proxy against India.

Official support ended when then-President Pervez Musharraf banned the group in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But it has still enjoyed tacit sanction.

After the ban, Saeed disassociated himself from the militant group and said it no longer exists. Instead he runs Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which many investigators describe as a benign facade behind which Saeed has tucked Lashkar-i-Taiba. But there is no denying that it has earned goodwill across Pakistan for its schools, anti-poverty programs and health clinics, as well as its relief work for flood and earthquake victims.

Saeed has been periodically placed under house arrest but never convicted of any crimes. He has insisted that he has no connection to Lashkar-i-Taiba.

As for the Mumbai attacks, Saeed was exonerated by Pakistan's Supreme Court, which declared that "the India lobby" concocted the charges.

In gentler tones, Masood echoes his brother's accusations that India, with U.S. help, is scheming to dominate Afghanistan as a way to intimidate Pakistan. He also calls the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan illegal and imperialistic.

Muhammad Amir Rana, an expert on extremism here, said that Jamaat-ud-Dawa is trying to establish a different identity and build a political base, but that it retains its militant links.

The group has made clear that it opposes attacks within Pakistan and condemned the Pakistani Taliban's recent shooting of the young education activist Malala Yousafzai. But no matter how mild Masood comes across, Rana said, he still represents an extremist group that is "the new far right in Pakistan."

The United States has long expressed irritation at Pakistan's refusal to hand over Saeed. Pakistani officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, indicated that the matter has recently died down, with the United States putting greater focus on the Haqqani terrorist network, which is based in Pakistan's tribal areas. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad would not comment on Saeed.

After his studies in Boston, Masood joined the suburban Islamic center, where he inherited a fractious congregation of 3,000 Muslims of various nations and beliefs — Sunnis and Shiites, liberals and hard-liners.

He is remembered particularly fondly in the Jewish community: Once, when Nazi swastikas were painted on a local temple, the imam and members of his mosque helped remove them.

Masood also introduced a course for interested locals called Islam 101. He said he converted hundreds of people to the faith.

In October 2006, the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan coincided with the Jewish High Holy Days. Members of Starr's synagogue and Masood's mosque came together for prayers and the breaking of the Muslims' daylight-hours fast.

"It was a beautiful moment," the rabbi recalled.

Six weeks later, Masood found himself in jail, caught up in an eight-state dragnet in which the federal government accused him and 32 others of immigration-law violations.

In the early 1990s, it turned out, Masood had violated the terms of his student visa because he had not returned to his native country for two years as required. And, while pursuing permanent residency, he had lied on documents by saying that he had.

Masood fought the charges, determined to remain in Sharon, but finally admitted to them. Facing certain deportation, he left the country the day after entering a plea deal.

During questioning, Masood said, federal agents attempted to draw links between him and his older brother. He said they had no relationship and didn't communicate.

"Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Lashkar-i-Taiba formed in my absence," Masood said. "I read about them in the newspaper."

The former U.S. attorney in Boston, Michael Sullivan, said the case against Masood was rooted in visa fraud and nothing more. "It was not an investigation opened up because of guilt by association," he said.

Masood is convinced that he will never be allowed to return to the United States, where his wife and five children who were born in Pakistan are fighting deportation. (His three other children are U.S. citizens.)

"Even if they allowed me, they would always suspect me as" — he curves his fingers to form air quotes — " 'a terrorist,' as 'an extremist,' 'brother of Hafiz Saeed.' "

Today, besides heading his brother's media wing, he runs a separate mosque and religious school. He isn't paid, he said, although the congregation provides him a home. He supports himself through a small embroidery business.

"I have a very humble car," he said — a 10-year-old Toyota Corolla.

He took a second wife, as is permissible under Islam, and has since had another son, who is 2. "I started my family from scratch again," he said.

William Joyce, who formerly represented Masood and his family, said the case's outcome left the imam with few options. "He was sent back with no particular way to survive," Joyce said.

The lawyer speculated that that might have driven Masood to begin working with his brother.

But Masood cited a different reason. "I thought to myself: I cannot have again as good a life as I had in America," he said. "So what is left to me is only the hereafter. So the rest of my life is used for service to people. Maybe I will earn something from God."

The muezzin gave the call for late-afternoon prayer, and the men of Jamaat-ud-Dawa began to filter back to the mosque. Inside, a few hours earlier, Saeed had delivered a trademark sermon. He assured his listeners: "The ultimate end of the United States and the West is near, and Islam will completely dominate the lands of the world."

He denounced the U.S. "trick of interfaith harmony."

And he said: "We know that the Jews are behind all these conspiracies."

The muezzin's call faded. Masood excused himself politely and went to pray.

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