Islamabad, Pakistan – The Palestinian Authority (PA) has recalled its ambassador to Pakistan after he attended a rally in support of Palestine’s position on Jerusalem hosted by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who carries a $10m US bounty on his head for allegedly masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Ambassador Walid Abu Ali was summoned back to Ramallah on Saturday, with the Palestinian foreign ministry saying his participation in the rally was “an unintentional mistake, but not justified”.
Thousands of Pakistanis attended the mass protest rally organised by Saeed in the northern city of Rawalpindi on Friday, rejecting US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel earlier this month.
Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba armed group, has long been accused by the United States and India of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which saw gunmen kill 166 people as they stormed hotels and other targets in the Indian financial hub.
Saeed denies any involvement in the attacks and says he only runs the Jamaat-ud-Dawa charitable organisation. The United Nations and the US both designate Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its affiliates as a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which frequently carries out attacks targeting Indian security personnel in the disputed region of Kashmir.
The Palestinian ambassador addressed a crowd of thousands at the rally.
“All Pakistani people from all walks of life have strongly rejected Trump’s decision of [recognising] Jerusalem as the [Israeli] capital,” Ali told Al Jazeera shortly after his speech.
The PA’s decision appears to have come after India protested the ambassador’s presence at the rally, terming it “unacceptable”.
“The spokesman for the Palestinian Foreign Ministry stresses the commitment of the State of Palestine and its keenness to maintain good relations with the friendly Republic of India, as well as its support for the efforts of the Republic of India in its war against terrorism,” noted the Palestinian foreign ministry’s statement.
“The State of Palestine stands with the Republic of India in dealing with terrorist threats.”
India was among 128 UN member states, including Pakistan, to vote for a non-binding resolution rejecting Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel earlier this month.
Saeed’s status has long been a thorn in the rocky relationship between Pakistan and India. After being held under house arrest since January, he was released last month by a judicial review board, which deemed the state to have presented insufficient evidence to continue extending his detention.
Saeed is subject to international sanctions for his association with Lashkar-e-Taiba, including UN restrictions that subject him, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and other associated organisations to an asset freeze, arms embargo and international travel ban.
In 2002, Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Taiba as a “terrorist” organisation, and since 2008, authorities say they have been abiding by UN sanctions. Jamaat-ud-Dawa, however, continues to operate freely across the country and is often seen at the forefront of humanitarian relief efforts following natural disasters. It also runs a network of seminaries and releases several periodical publications.
Late on Saturday, Pakistan defended the decision to allow Saeed’s rally in Rawalpindi.
“The public meeting held yesterday was yet another demonstration of the Pakistani strong sentiments in support of the Palestinian cause,” said a foreign ministry statement.
“This public rally was attended by thousands of people from all walks of life. More than 50 speakers addressed the rally, including Hafiz Saeed. Contrary to the impression being created, UN proscription does not place any restrictions on the freedom of expression.”
Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim