Lashkar-e-Taiba founder says sees room for Pakistan-India talks

February 18, 2010

singhgilaniThe idea of holding talks to resolve the many competing interests across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – which has most recently focused on whether the Afghan Taliban can be brought to the negotiating table – appears to be catching on.

Now Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the banned Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the Nov. 2008 attacks on Mumbai, says in an interview with Al Jazeera that he sees room for Pakistan to hold talks with India over disputed Kashmir.

“”We’ve never said ‘no’ to a dialogue. To say that we don’t believe in dialogue is propaganda,” he said in a rare interview. “We’ve always talked about a dialogue but the problem is it should be productive and obtain results. India has never been sincere in talks and only holds talks when it is in her interests.  If she wants to restore confidence in the talks, she must accept Kashmir as a core dispute.”

Saeed, who runs the Jamaat-ud-Dawa humanitarian wing of the Laskhar-e-Taiba, has been accused by India of masterminding the attacks on Mumbai — an accusation he denies. He is also seen as close to the Pakistan Army, so for him to come out now and talk about talks carries some resonance.

The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan are due to hold talks on Feb. 25 to try to end the diplomatic freeze which followed the Mumbai attacks. Although no quick progress is expected, especially after last weekend’s bombing in the Indian city of Pune, it’s hard to escape the impression that the long stalemate  over Afghanistan, Pakistan and India is lifting.

In any case, it’s very unusual to see a top Afghan Taliban commander arrested in Pakistan in the same week that one of the leaders of the Pakistan-based fight against Indian rule in Kashmir gives an interview about talks.   Coincidence or otherwise, there seems to be an acceleration in regional diplomacy.

(File photo of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani)

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