Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the leader of the Pakistani organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawah, has said that allegations against him of plotting attacks in India are baseless.
Saeed is accused by India of masterminding the November 2008 attacks that left at least 166 people dead and hundreds more wounded in the country’s financial capital, Mumbai.
“India always indulges in propaganda and has always fabricated false reports about me and that’s how India has been able to use international pressure against us,” Saeed said in an exclusive interview to Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder in the Pakistani city of Lahore.
His organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawah, is suspected by security experts to have strong links with Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India accuses of carrying out the Mumbai attacks that targeted two luxury hotels, an Orthodox Jewish centre and several other public places.
Wanted by India
Saeed, a well-known political figure in Pakistan, is wanted by both India and the US.
He was put under house arrest by the Pakistani army on December 11, 2008, after the UN declared that Jamaat-ud-Dawah was a front for Lashkar.
“But the Punjab high court exonerated us and they concluded that neither I nor the Jamaat-ud-Dawah had any involvement in the Mumbai attacks,” he told Al Jazeera.
Pakistan made several arrests in connection with the Mumbai attacks, but no criminal charges were brought against Saeed.
In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, P Chidambaram, India’s interior minister, alleged that the training for the Mumbai attacks was personally co-ordinated by Saeed.
“Hafiz Saeed selected the trainees and gave them new names. [Ajmal] Kasab was given a new name, Abu Mujahid, and that name was given by Saeed,” he said.
Chidambaram was referring to Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving suspect in the Mumbai attacks.
Kasab link denied
When asked to comment on the accusations, Saeed said: “I never saw him [Kasab]. In fact, it was from media in India that I discovered he was a Pakistani national.
“I have never met Kasab nor have I ever known him, and I have said this on many occasions. This is baseless propaganda without an iota of truth.”
However, Salman Haidar, a former Indian foreign secretary, said that there was “a lot of evidence” that Saeed was involved in the Mumbai attacks.
“The Indian authority is convinced that they provided conclusive evidence and the appropriate action should be taken now,” he told Al Jazeera.
Saeed further said he favoured the idea of having open dialogue with India.
“I never said no to dialogue – that is propaganda. I have always talked about having open dialogue, but it needs to be productive, it needs to obtain results,” he said.
“India has never had a sincere interest in opening dialogue. When they do, it is because of national interest. If India wants to restore confidence in opening dialogue with Pakistan, then India must accept Kashmir as a core dispute.
“India saturated all of Kashmir with military personnel. They must change the situation on the ground, withdraw their forces and set a timeframe for such a withdrawal.”
Commenting on the statements, Asad Durrani, a former head of Pakistan intelligence services, told Al Jazeera: “Whatever he [Saeed] said, some of it should be taken as truth, but there are of course many other factors which he has not talked about.”
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder said: “What Saeed was trying to do was to clear up the misconception that Jamaat-ud-Dawaa was a terrorist organisation.
“What we did see for the first time was a message offering a chance for peace, but the only thing is how sincere Islamabad and New Delhi are in trying to bring about that peace or are they obstacles still remaining.”
Saeed said that Jamaat-ud-Dawa was a welfare organisation working to improve education and medical services across Pakistan.
“Our organisation is working in education with 160 schools for boys and girls, colleges and even two universities and are constantly expanding that,” he said.
“We are providing ambulance services throughout the country we are offering medical relief through hospitals and dispensaries.
“The world saw our conduct after the major earthquake in Kashmir and the NWFP [North West Frontier Province] – even the United Nations organisation gave us a certificate.”