A Pakistani Islamist leader accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed more than 160 people has threatened that India faces a wave of violence unless it stops “military oppression” of the people in the disputed Kashmir region.
Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT), which India blames for the Mumbai carnage, issued the warning while addressing a gathering in Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistani administered portion of Kashmir.
He again told New Delhi to withdraw its 700,000-member army from the Himalayan region or face consequences.
“If you [India] continue with your policy of trying to crush Kashmir’s independence struggle with your military might, then listen to me, this problem will not stay within Sri Nagar. It has already reached Pathankot. It will go further,” warned Saeed.
An attack on an Indian airbase in Pathankot last month left seven Indian soldiers dead. New Delhi claims the attackers came from Pakistan. Pakistani authorities swiftly promised to help India investigate the violence but has since insisted India needs to provide more evidence for the investigation to move forward.
The gathering Saeed addressed was organized ahead of the so-called Friday's “Kashmir Day", which Pakistan celebrates annually to express solidarity with Kashmiris fighting Indian rule.
The United States also accuses the Pakistani cleric of being behind the Mumbai attacks and announced a bounty of $10 million for information leading to his arrest.
“Saeed participated in the planning of the 4-day-long terrorist assault on Mumbai in November 2008 that left 166 people dead, including six U.S. citizens,” according to a U.S. State Department press release from 2012 announcing the reward.
The United Nations Security Council added Saeed to the list of individuals subject to international sanctions after the attacks on Mumbai.
Pakistan has detained and put on trial several suspected members of LeT in connection with the Mumbai attacks and insists India has not provided enough evidence linking Saeed with the incident.
A senior Pakistan foreign ministry official, when contacted by VOA, refused to comment on Saeed’s threatening statement.
Saeed’s statement comes at a time when relations between India and Pakistan are once again uncertain.
Earlier, months of tension and strong rhetoric against each other had given way to hopes for an improvement after a surprise visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend the wedding of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter’s wedding in December.
The visit was to be followed up by a meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two countries. However, that meeting was postponed following the Pathankot attack.
Saeed currently heads an Islamist charity called Jamaat ud Dawa and its sister foundation Falah e-Insaniyat. But the United States claims that these are new faces of LeT and has designated both of them as terrorist organizations.