The ordinariness of Hafiz Saeed

The truth is that Hafiz Saeed is a very ordinary man, who has come to believe that he has the right to play god.

Jyoti Malhotra August 06, 2012

It’s been a busy fortnight for me on the Pakistan airwaves, with the Pakistani television and radio asking for comments on everything ranging from Hafiz Saeed to India’s electricity blackout this week, which is said to have been the largest in the world. I guess there is no other country, except China, where so many people were plunged into the heart of darkness at once.

It was almost strange to have been sitting in the same e-space as Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba founder, who India believes is the root of most India-focussed terrorism and certainly the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, as well as the man on whom the US has put a $10 million bounty.

I couldn’t see him — I was on a phone line — when Dunya TV called in to ask if I wanted to ask him some questions? He was in the studio already.

It was almost a disappointment to hear him. No, he knew nothing of Abu Jundal, had never met the man, in fact. He was equally shocked when the Mumbai attacks had taken place and pointed out that it was a crime in Islam to kill innocent men and women. In any case, why did the Indian authorities deny the visiting Pakistani judicial team the chance to question Ajmal Kasab? Everything was Indian propaganda. As for the question, on why 10 Pakistani citizens left Karachi to attack Mumbai in November 2008, well, there was really no answer at all.

The truth is that Hafiz Saeed is a very ordinary man, who has come to believe that he has the right to play god. There are several versions as to how he became this way, depending on which country’s point of view you want to consider. The point here is that he disregards the Pakistani judiciary, the polity and the state, although on the last, I believe the state is biding its time.

He’s probably an avid watcher of Hindi films, because at a press conference in Islamabad on April 4, reacting to the $10 million bounty, he said, “Dil chahta hai ki main Amereekanon se keh doon ... (I wish I could tell the Americans...)

I’m sure Hafiz Saeed would have applauded the electricity blackout in India this week, just as Kamran Khan, the well-known TV anchor, almost did. I tried to tell Khan that he was factually incorrect in describing the blackout as a nearly 48-hour ordeal, that, in fact, it had lasted about 12 hours one day and eight hours the next, but he wasn’t listening. This was a great news story, which it was. Every self-respecting newspaper in India and the world was covering it with the despair that it deserved. India’s Economic Times headlined it the next morning as, “India, the superpower. RIP”.

On the phone line with Khan, I could sense the restrained glee, as I frankly described the big blow to India’s economy, to its prestige, to its self-worth. Surely, this was a lesson to India’s political masters to revamp the rules, punish greedy states from overdrawing on the grids and generally introduce much-needed power reforms. But I was taking too long and had already been cut off ...

Only 24 hours later came a call from Radio Pakistan and its gentle interviewer asking the same questions: what, why and who was responsible for the blackout? Except he began the interview by commiserating on India’s suffering. And then the sweetest question of all: in Pakistan, people want to know, do the lights regularly go out in smaller cities beyond New Delhi and Mumbai, in places like Jaipur and Patna and Allahabad and Lucknow?

You could hear the pain in his voice. This man, too, had the right to just one vote, just like Hafiz Saeed and Kamran Khan, and the courage to believe in himself.

It is time to applaud the diversity and democracy in India’s western neighbourhood. Thank god, that recognition is the real reason behind New Delhi opening the doors to Pakistani investment.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2012.

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