Why defend the blue-eyed boy?

| | in Oped
Why defend the blue-eyed boy?

The fact remains that despite international pressure to arrest and charge Hafiz Saeed for his crimes, the civilian Government in Pakistan remains obdurate in not taking any action against him

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the blue-eyed boy of the Pakistan Army, is the co-founder of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) and Chief of the Jamaat-Ud-Dawa (JuD). He is an international designated terrorist and the United States announced a reward of $10 million on Saeed. He is the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which more than 164 innocent civilians, including six Americans, were killed. Besides 2008 Mumbai attacks, he is also responsible for the 2006 Mumbai train bombings and attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. Saeed is also on the most wanted list of the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

LeT is involved in numerous terrorist activities in India, including massacre of Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs in Kashmir, which resulted in the mass exodus of non-Muslims from the Valley. It attacked Red Fort in New Delhi in 2000 and also claimed responsibility of the attack of Srinagar Airport. It is also responsible for the serial bomb blasts in Varanasi, New Delhi and Mumbai.

LeT, which is a Salafi outfit, is active in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and it proclaims to establish Islamic rule in the whole of region through violence and terrorist activities. It was declared a terrorist organisation by the US, Australia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Russia and India. Pakistan had also banned it on paper but it operates openly and collects donations. Its leaders hold public meetings with the active support of the district administration.

JuD is the political wing of the LeT, which was banned by Pakistan in 2015. India, the US and Israel are the prime targets of the LeT, which is dangerous to world peace and tranquility. Relations between the US and Pakistan are becoming tense as the latter is not amending the policy of sponsoring terrorism and US President Donald Trump has formulated a stringent policy towards terrorism. Trump clearly indicated about the change in the US’ policy towards Pakistan when he mentioned that Pakistan provides “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror”.

He and his Administration have warned Pakistan several times as the latter is sheltering, training and providing safe heaven to terrorists. Nonetheless, Trump gave the harshest message in his first tweet of 2018, where he mentioned that “The US has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools.” The US has also suspended financial assistance to the rogue nation.

The Pakistan military, which is the real ruler of the country, feels that the US needs Pakistan more than it needs the US. Hence, instead of taking any punitive action on the various terrorist outfits and their leaders, Inter-services Intelligence (ISI)-sponsored Haqqani network has intensified its terrorist activities in Afghanistan.  The Haqqani network carried out two terrorist activities in war-ravaged Kabul within a week. In the first attack, the terrorists seized the Intercontinental Hotel on January 2 and killed more than 42 persons, including 14 foreigners, out of which, four were US citizens. In another attack on January 27, terrorists used ambulance and exploded bombs in a crowded area and killed 103 persons and injured more than 158, while six children and an adult was killed in a rocket attack in Ghazni Province on January 26.

China and Russia both have a sizable Muslim population, hence, they want to curb mounting influence of the Islamic State (IS) and to counter the IS, they are assisting the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has pressurised the Taliban and soon there will be a meeting between the representatives of China, Pakistan, Qatar and others with the Taliban leadership to get an amicable solution to the present Afghan crisis. It is expected that Russia, which also wants to reinforce the Taliban against the IS, would also attend this meeting. The US has refused to participate in the meeting as it wants to curb not only the IS but also Taliban. There are reports that China is negotiating with Kabul to construct a military base in the country under the pretext of controlling the terrorists’ activities in Xinjiang region. 

Pakistan is aware that the US cannot withdraw completely from Afghanistan as in that case, terrorist outfits, like the IS and Al-Qaeda, would strengthen their bases in radicalised Afghanistan and Pakistan. The IS, which is weakened in Iraq and Syria, is in search of  a new territory and both these countries can be a stronghold of IS. Consequently, US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops cannot relinquish Afghanistan and it will be difficult for the US to send supplies to its forces in Afghanistan without cooperation from Pakistan. The US cannot use the Chabahar Port as its relations with Iran are also not cordial.

The United Nations Security Council’s sanctions monitoring team visited Pakistan on January 25 and 26 to assess the actions taken by Islamabad against UN-designated terrorists outfits, including LeT and JuD of Saeed. Islamabad has adopted quite uncompromising attitude as the administration wanted that the team could not gather relevant information.

Pakistan considers terrorist outfits — JuD, LeT and the Haqqani network —  as their foreign policy assets. ISI uses JuD and LeT against India, especially in Kashmir, while the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban are used to carry out terrorist activities in Afghanistan.

General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf termed LeT and other terrorist outfits as “freedom fighters” and Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa also defended Saeed while speaking in the Senate Committee.

Saeed delivers fiery speeches against India, the US and Israel and has a large support in the country. In the past, Pakistan authorities had arrested him and ostensibly kept him under house arrest but clandestinely, he was availing all facilities, including meeting his cohorts and hatching conspiracies against India, including infiltration of terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir.

Saeed, in August 2017, launched a new political party, namely the Milli Muslim League (MML) with the blessings of the Army. Saifullah Khalid, a close associate of Saeed, was made president of the party. He stated that the party was constituted with the object of making Pakistan a true “Islamic and welfare state”. Tabish Qayyum, a known JuD worker, became the spokesperson of the MML, and stated that the party, which would adhere to the policies of the JuD, had applied to the Election Commissioner for registration and will contest the 2018 elections.  

Analysts feel that Saeed constituted MML to resist international pressure, to collect donations and weaken Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). However, it is a dangerous trend which may have grave repercussions in the long run. At present, Saeed has a lot of following in the country, his party may even win few seats in the general election and become a coalition partner, which may be dangerous for the region.

Pakistan authorities do not want to take action against Saeed hence they took the shelter of the judiciary and the court released him in November 2017. Again, when the UNSC monitoring team was visiting Islamabad, Saeed moved the court, which restrained the Government to arrest Saeed. Although Islamabad wanted to show that they are helpless because of the orders from the judiciary, but the world is aware that Pakistani courts are worse than kangroo courts and the claim of an independent judiciary is a myth. In reality, Saeed is the poster-boy of  the Army and has large followers. Hence, the civilian Government is in no position to take any worthwhile action against him.

(The writer is member, United Services Institute of India, and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses)

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