Pakistan Cabinet minister Noor-Ul-Haq Qadri “should have been more sensitive” while sharing the dais with 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed, the country’s foreign minister has said as he promised that he would ask his ministerial colleague the reason behind his move. Qadri, the Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, was seen seated near banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Saeed as he addressed an All Parties Conference organised by the Difa-e-Pakistan Council – a coalition of over 40 political and religious parties – on Sunday in Islamabad. A banner in the background said the conference was in “defence of Pakistan”, and mentioned “Kashmir” as well as “threats from India”.
“I will go home and certainly ask him (Qadri) why he did that. But what I am told it was an event to highlight the situation in Kashmir,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a Washington audience on Wednesday when asked about his Cabinet colleague sharing a dais with the LeT chief Saeed. “It had nothing to do with Lashkar-e-Taiba. There were other political elements there. He happened to be one of them,” Qureshi said in an attempt to defend his Cabinet colleague. “I think he (Qadri) should’ve been more sensitive, but it wasn’t that he subscribes to his (Saeed’s) point of view,” the visiting Pakistani foreign minister said.
“Please explain why earlier this week on Monday, your government’s federal minister of religious affairs appeared side by side at a public conference with the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist organisation banned by Pakistan?” Qureshi was asked by a member in the audience at the US Institute of Peace, a US Congress-funded think tank. The US Department of the Treasury has designated Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and the US, since 2012, has offered a USD 10 million reward for information that brings Saeed to justice.
Saeed’s Jamat-ud Dawah is believed to be the front organisation for the LeT which is responsible for carrying out the Mumbai attack that killed 166 people. It has been declared as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US in June 2014. Qadri’s presence at the event with Saeed vindicated India’s stand that there is no change in Pakistan’s attitude towards terrorism after Prime Minister Imran Khan assumed office in August.
Qureshi asserted that Pakistan is serious in the fight against terrorism. “We cannot surrender to terrorism. We will have to take them on and we will have to clear areas. We have successfully done that. Well it’s a work in progress, we would have to continue to build on what you’ve achieved, but to a large extent, things have changed,” he said, adding that this shift is not being recognised enough in the US.
“Cutting off training, not giving precision equipment that could’ve been used against terrorism, I don’t know to what extent that’ll help. In my view it will not help collectively,” he said. “Collectively we can achieve our shared objective. A blame game will not be productive,” he said.