Pakistan's former President Pervez Musharraf has said he is the "biggest supporter" of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and expressed his liking for its founder Hafiz Saeed, blamed for the horrific 2008 Mumbai terror attack.
"I am the biggest supporter of LeT and I know they like me and JuD (Jamaat-ud-Dawa) also likes me," Musharraf told Pakistan's ARY News this week, referring to the groups founded by Saeed. JuD is the LeT's charitable wing classified by the US and the UN as a terror group.
Asked if he liked Saeed, who has a $10 million US bounty on his head for his role in terror activities, the former Pakistan Army chief said he does and that he had met him.
Saeed was freed after 10 months of house arrest last week after Islamabad failed to submit proof to a court to back charges that his release would lead to law and order problems.
Acknowledging that the JuD and LeT were waging a "jihad" to liberate Jammu and Kashmir from India, Musharraf said: "Yes, they are involved in Kashmir and I support them."
Musharraf said in the interview that he had always favoured "action" in Kashmir.
"I was always in favour of action in Kashmir and of suppressing the Indian Army in Kashmir. They are the biggest force (LeT), India got them declared as terrorist by partnering with the US."
New Delhi accuses Pakistan of arming, training and financing militant groups fighting to secede Jammu and Kashmir from India.
Musharraf denied the LeT was involved in the Mumbai terror attack that left 166 Indians and foreigners dead. "I don't think Saeed was behind the 26/11 attack. In Pakistan, we don't call him a terrorist."
Ten Pakistani terrorists sailed into Mumbai and carried out multiple attacks spread over three days. One of them was caught and hanged by India.
Saeed was put under house arrest after the 2008 Mumbai attack but released about six months later. Musharraf said Washington's statement following the JuD's chief release last week was an "insult to Pakistan's sovereignty".
The US had asked Pakistan to re-arrest Saeed. "Please do not dictate to us; we have to decide who ... has to be tried or punished."
Musharraf said democracy in Pakistan was not under threat but required "tailoring" in keeping with the country's requirements. "We need (to make) amendments to the system, political restructuring, electoral reforms and checks and balances."
Musharraf, who ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999, now lives in exile in Dubai. He was declared an absconder by an anti-terrorism court in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.