Who got it done?
India has been demanding action against Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar, and the JuD for long, but the leadership in Pakistan had always maintained that Saeed and his orgamisations were working legally and that any Pakistani could not be banned just because a foreign government wanted it
Punjab police on Tuesday placed head of Jam’at-ud-Dawa (JuD) Hafiz Saeed under house arrest. Saeed was taken into police custody from the JuD headquarters situated in Lahore. Analysts suggest that the development is most likely a result of newly-elected US President Donald Trump’s policy vis-à-vis terrorism. Trump has banned citizens of seven Muslim countries including Iraq and Iran from traveling to the US. The list does not include Pakistan, yet it is being said that the Pakistan government might have taken the step against the JuD chief to create an impression that the country is doing enough against terror.
Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) head Masood Azhar, who was allegedly involved in terror activities in India, was earlier taken into ‘protective custody’ by the government of Pakistan following a terror attack in Pathankot city of India back in January last year. However, he was released in April 2016. Azhar is likely to be arrested again, but nothing is clear yet and the authorities are avoiding taking a clear position.
India has been demanding action against Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar, and the JuD for long, but the leadership in Pakistan had always maintained that Saeed and his orgamisations were working legally and that any Pakistani could not be banned just because a foreign government wanted it. Hafeez Saeed’s outfit JuD, despite having practiced hate speech and incitement to violence, clearly enjoyed backing of the state until recently. The JuD also works as a charity organisation and has been involved in relief work during humanitarian disasters, which is one of the reasons its questionable activities were usually ignored.
So what triggered this sudden change in policy? How did the authorities suddenly realise that Hafiz Saeed’s activities are a threat to the country’s security, especially given that the Indian government and civil society groups within Pakistan were saying the same thing for years? Is this because the new US administration under Donald Trump issued some sort of warning to Pakistan?
If that is the case, then the real question is that why did it take a warning from the US administration for the government to ‘act’ against these groups? It has been alleged, from numerous quarters, that the state has been soft on groups such as the JuD because they can be of use to the Pakistan military in Indian-Occupied Kashmir. Hafiz Saeed’s outfit had led several rallies to extend support to the Pakistan army in the war against terrorism and Operation Zarb-e-Azb, so their case is a bit different from other terror groups like the TTP.
The JuD managed to operate freely across the country under the garb of charity work despite its blatant hate speech, which was to be eradicated under the National Action Plan (NAP). But no action was taken against Hafiz Saeed and his group under anti-terror plan and some say they were spared because they had vowed to fight alongside the Pakistan army to liberate Kashmir.
“The government realised that Hafiz Saeed and his outfit’s activities are going to create problems for Pakistan internationally, especially after the election of Donald Trump, which is why they placed him under house arrest”, political analyst Ayaz Amir said.
The establishment does not see Hafiz Saeed as a threat to Pakistan, but he serves as a part of the security thinking of the state. The security policy in which such groups fit is not going to win us anything, according to Ayaz
Many argue that placing Saeed under house arrest is not enough and that a proper arrest should have been made much earlier.
“It is certainly a sensible decision, but the outfit has not really been disbanded. It’s not that their headquarters have been raided and their activities halted so this is a step simply aimed at improving Pakistan’s image internationally”, Ayaz said.
The timing of Hafiz Saeed’s house arrest is yet another factor that cannot be ignored and one cannot help but question if Pakistan was asked by the Trump administration to act.
“Trump probably didn’t issue a direct warning to Pakistan, but the government of Pakistan might have sensed the need to take the step given the complexity of the issue. If the US administration now asks the government of Pakistan what fresh steps it has taken against terror, it will have something to show”, Ayaz added.
It is alleged that the establishment of Pakistan backs Hafiz Saeed to use him and his jihadis as strategic assets in Kashmir against the Indian security forces, but Pakistani authorities have mostly denied having links with the group.
The establishment does not see Hafiz Saeed as a threat to Pakistan, but he serves as a part of the security thinking of the state. The security policy in which such groups fit is not going to win us anything, according to Ayaz.
“You are not breaking their headquarters and dismantling them, so don’t pretend that you are. Keep them all you want, but at least try to minimise international concerns so you don’t become isolated”, he added.
The interior ministry was more one-dimensional in its answer.
“We are a sovereign country and take our own decisions. Calling Hafiz Saeed’s house arrest a result of US pressure is just unfair”, a spokesman said.
“Criticism should be directed at the previous governments that delayed action against the group. The present government should be appreciated for taking decision in the interest of the country”, he added, while explaining why it took the authorities so long to make up their mind.
Another concerning issue is that sectarian terror groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and its sister organisation Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) were not on the list of outfits against whom the government launched crackdown under NAP. Even though LeJ claimed responsibility for recent attacks including the one on police training academy in Quetta, there was a complete lack of action from the government’s side. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar had been holding meetings with leaders of the outlawed ASWJ, which he later justified on the floor of the house.
“We follow the law of the land in every case and if an individual or group is found working against the security of the country, we will take required action”, the interior ministry spokesman added, while being unresponsive to questions about the minister’s meetings with banned sectarian outfits.
The current situation has ambiguity written all over it and it’s about time the government clarified its position to end the confusion. The parliament needs to be taken into confidence over what exactly the policy against terrorism is, and whether there are going to be changes to it. The government also needs to answer if the country has a plan to deal with the possible opposition it might face internationally post-Trump presidency.