Suspicions rise of Indian involvement in car bomb at Pakistani jihadi Hafiz Saeed’s home


  • Target and timing of attack, which came as Indian leader Narendra Modi met Kashmiri political parties, sets alarm bells ringing
  • ‘This could be a glimpse of the India-Pakistan proxy war in post-US Afghanistan,’ analyst says
A policeman inspects the site of the June 23 car bomb that killed three people in Lahore. Photo: AFP
A policeman inspects the site of the June 23 car bomb that killed three people in Lahore. Photo: AFP

Is the attack location a coincidence, or a shot across the bow?Michael Kugelman, Wilson Centre

While Pakistani police officials investigating the bombing were initially reluctant to blame India, “the fact that it occurred close to JuD leader Hafiz Saeed’s home looms large”, said Michael Kugelman, senior South Asia associate at the Wilson Centre in Washington. “Is the attack location a coincidence, or a shot across the bow?”
The JuD chief’s son Talha Saeed, who is being groomed as his successor, was injured in a similar bomb attack in Lahore in December 2019, hours after his father appeared in court to face terror financing charges.
Pakistani security officials downplayed the prospect of Indian involvement in the incident, blaming it on a gas cylinder explosion.
Police and locals near the site of the June 23 car bomb that killed three people in Lahore. Photo: AFP
Police and locals near the site of the June 23 car bomb that killed three people in Lahore. Photo: AFP
“This is perhaps a warning of sorts by India to Pakistan not to touch its interests/investments in Afghanistan, or India has the capability to stir trouble in Pakistan,” he wrote on Twitter.

Writing for the website of Indian television channel CNN-News18 on June 23, security analyst Praveen Swami said the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), New Delhi’s external intelligence agency, “is believed to have slowly escalated the tempo of covert operations against jihadist groups inside Pakistan, targeting training camps, key field commanders and logistics facilities” in recent years.

Locals scout for their belongings at the site of the June 23 explosion in Lahore. Photo: AFP
Locals scout for their belongings at the site of the June 23 explosion in Lahore. Photo: AFP

He said that there was no evidence that the RAW had anything to do with the car bombing near Saeed’s home.

“But should it be involved, the attempted assassination of the JuD leader would mark a significant step up in lethality and reach” of the RAW within Pakistan, Swami wrote.

His analysis was borne out by the police chief of Pakistan’s Punjab province Inam Ghani, at a press conference in Lahore on Monday to announce that 10 Pakistanis had been arrested for carrying out the June 23 attack at the behest of “a hostile intelligence agency” – a phrase often used by officials to describe the RAW.

Ghani declined to name the agency, saying it would be “inappropriate”, and said the matter had been referred to the federal government for further investigation.

Rather than deploying its own operatives to carry out the attack on Saeed’s home, he said the unnamed spy agency had hired locals through a Pakistani national resident in the United Arab Emirates, identified as Peter Paul David, who was arrested on June 24 at Karachi airport.
“These hostile agencies cannot come inside Pakistan because of how our [intelligence] agencies and immigration [department] are working. They find agents in Middle East countries. So, no person of an external agency comes and carries out [attacks] himself,” Ghani said.

Speculation about Indian involvement in the car bombing is due largely to its target and timing.

The absence of a claim of responsibility seems to discount an attack by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other insurgent jihadist groups at war with Islamabad.

Although the pro-Pakistan JuD has criticised the TTP, it has not previously been targeted by the insurgents.

Suspicion about an Indian role in the June 23 car bombing has grown because it coincided with three major events of critical importance to both Pakistan and India.
The day of the attack, members of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) a Paris-based multilateral anti-money-laundering organisation backed by the G7, were gathered to determine whether Pakistan had taken sufficient action to prevent fundraising by jihadist groups like Saeed’s JuD.

Pakistani courts last year convicted and imprisoned Saeed and two other high-ranking JuD militants on charges of terrorism financing.

Pakistan’s government has also carried out 26 of 27 actions prescribed by the FATF.

However, the Paris-based body on June 24 declined to remove Pakistan from its so-called grey list, and said it would not do so unless Islamabad prosecuted the leaders of other jihadist groups.

Prominent among them is the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group, blamed by India for most of the high profile attacks on its security forces in Kashmir in recent years.

They included the February 2019 car bombing of a paramilitary convoy which killed 40 troops and sparked India’s aerial revenge attack on the training camp operated by the JeM near the town of Balakot, 200km north of Islamabad.

The car bombing near Saeed’s residence in Lahore also came before a June 24 meeting between India’s Prime Minister
Narendra Modi and mainstream Kashmiri political parties – the first to be held since New Delhi rescinded the Himalayan state’s semi-autonomous status under India’s constitution in August 2019.

A week before the meeting, Pakistan warned India against taking further “illegal steps” to divide the half of Kashmir that it administers, or to change the demography of the

Muslim-majority territory by encouraging settlers from India’s Hindu-majority population to buy property there.

Furthermore, the explosion came as the national security advisers of India and Pakistan attended a counterterrorism meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Dushanbe.

Backchannel talks held in the United Arab Emirates since January between Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval and the chief of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed on February 24 yielded the reinstatement of a ceasefire along the Line of Control which divides Kashmir, ending years of heavy skirmishes.

However, the two governments are yet to conduct any public bilateral meetings, in part because New Delhi has not entertained Pakistan’s demands to roll back its August 2019 decision.

Likewise, Doval did not meet his Pakistani counterpart Moeed Yusuf on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation conference in the Tajikistan capital.

Coming amid an escalating campaign by TTP insurgents based in Afghanistan and by separatists in restive Balochistan province, the Lahore attack has reinforced fears that Pakistan could face hostile borders on both of its lengthy flanks if ongoing efforts to normalise relations with India were to fail.

“Needless to say, it’ll be hard for [Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed] Bajwa to maintain steadfast adherence to a Line of Control ceasefire if the Pakistan government concludes India is blowing up neighbourhoods in Lahore,” said Christopher Clary, a non-resident fellow at the Stimson Centre, a Washington-based think tank.