NEW YORK - "My fate is in the hands of God, not America," Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed was quoted as stating in a leading American newspaper, which reported from Lahore that despite a $10 million US bounty on his head, he lives an "open, and apparently fearless, life."
The Times correspondent Declan Walsh commented, "As American troops prepare to leave Afghanistan next door, Lashkar is at a crossroads, and its fighters next move — whether to focus on fighting the West, disarm and enter the political process, or return to battle in Held Kashmir — will depend largely on Saeed."
At his Lahore compound - a fortified house, office and mosque - Saeed is shielded by his supporters wielding Kalashnikovs outside his door, the paper added. Saeed has over the past year addressed large public meetings and appeared on prime-time television, and now even gives interviews to Western news media outlets he previously eschewed.
He says that he wants to correct “misperceptions.” During the interview with The New York Times at his home last week, Hafiz Saeed insisted that his name had been cleared by the Pakistani courts. “Why does the United States not respect our judicial system?” he asked.
Still, he says he has nothing against Americans, and warmly described a visit he made to the United States in 1994, during which he spoke at Islamic centers in Houston, Chicago and Boston. “At that time, I liked it,” he said with a smile.
"The militant struggle helped grab the world's attention," he told the Times. "But now the political movement is stronger, and it should be at the forefront of the struggle." Pakistani analysts caution that Saeed’s new openness is no random occurrence. “This isn’t out of the blue,” Shamila N. Chaudhary, a former Obama administration official and an analyst at the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm, was quoted as saying in the dispatch. “These guys don’t start talking publicly just like that.”