Hafiz Saeed walks free in Pakistan: India needs to get over No Action Talk Only syndrome, will policymakers oblige?
Hafiz Saeed being set free by Pakistan is no surprise. He was anyway only under house arrest and provided protection. That does not mean outsiders were not allowed to meet him, he could not confer with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistani military and his coterie of radical rodents: Same as Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who as per Pakistani media, was being given the red carpet by the Pakistan military in prison before he was ‘set free’ on bail.
Hafiz Saeed being set free by Pakistan is no surprise. He was, anyway, only under house arrest and provided protection. That does not mean outsiders were not allowed to meet him, he could not confer with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistani military and his coterie of radical rodents: Same as Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who as per Pakistani media, was being given the red carpet by the Pakistan military in prison before he was ‘set free’ on bail.
As Pakistani scholar Ayesha Siddiqa wrote in January after Qamar Javed Bajwa was appointed army chief and superseded his seniors—including Zubair Mahmood Hayat, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee— since November 2016 “even his (Bajwa’s) epaulette weighs heavy. With his limited maneuverability before Islamists, he’ll continue to clean his yard and pet the useful jihadis”.
Incidentally, Zubair recently alleged Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) established a $500 million fund to disrupt the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC). That allegation was promptly trashed by China to boost Bajwa (the more useful pawn) with the ongoing tussle between Zubair and Bajwa within the Pakistani military.
Najam Sethi writing in Friday Times on 16 March, 2012, said the ISI has walked into GHQ (General Headquarters) and seized control of the armed forces, indicating a critical point in Pakistan’s political history was a harsh reality. That is as stark as Sidiqqa’s reading of Bajwa.
Looking at the radical pedigree of Saeed and Masood Azhar, both of them are ‘more that useful’ not only to Pakistani military, ISI and the Chinese, with China using Pakistan (as a borrowed knife) to destabilise India. So, if Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes the initiative to improve relations, these radical mullahs can be used to launch terror attacks such as the one on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot. And, of course, Nawaz Sharif can be sacked, Panama papers or any other pretext notwithstanding.
The cover for the release of Saeed was lack of enough evidence. It is extremely convenient that the prosecutors were doing just that: Producing just enough evidence to set him free and suppressing critical proof.
Some critics in India talk of the need for Pakistani justice system to be reformed without realising judges in Pakistan not adhering to the writ of the military can simply vanish overnight.
Before Saeed’s release, the US issued a formal statement: "The US is deeply concerned that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Saeed has been released from house arrest in Pakistan. LeT is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organisation responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, including a number of American citizens. The Pakistani government should make sure that he is arrested and charged for his crimes”.
In 2008, US designated Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, in addition to the UN designating him so in the same year. Since 2012, the US has offered $10 million reward for information to bring Saeed to justice. But isn’t it ironic that the US has not pursued the incriminating statement of David Coleman Headley, the American terrorist of Pakistan origin in US prison, who admits he conspired with the LeT to plot the 2008 Mumbai attacks?
Ironically, US focus has been on focusing the Haqqani Network attacking Afghanistan, not terrorism across Pakistan’s eastern borders. This, even as the involvement of Pakistan-based terrorist organisations such as LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) undertaking terror attacks in Afghanistan have been acknowledged by the UN Assistance Mission Afghanistan (UNAMA) since July 2016.
It is also known that the ISI formed the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK) in Peshawar region by amalgamating what the US intelligence acknowledged as “disgruntled elements” of both Taliban, pushing them west into Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. Afghans often describe the ISK as ISI, different from the Islamic State of Iraq-Syria, cadres of which are now homing on to the Af-Pak region.
Significantly, Afghanistan officially told Pakistan in July 2016 that Saeed was directing Islamic State operations in Afghanistan. It is a different issue that the actual Islamic State has started extracting blood in Pakistan. The latest victim was Ashraf Nur, Additional Inspector General, Pakistan Police, who was killed along with two other police personnel and another six injured on 24 November in Hyatabad, Peshawar.
On being freed, Saeed called Nawaz Sharif a traitor for seeking peace with India. He said he will continue to fight for the Kashmiris and "liberate" them from India. Saeed recently launched a political party while under house arrest: The Milli Muslim League (MML), which won thousands of votes in by-elections.
Now that Pakistan has absolved him of involvement in ‘any’ such case, why should Saeed not contest elections? Why would the Pakistani military not be amenable to install him even as the prime minister? Wouldn't Beijing be absolutely thrilled? The timing of his release was also carefully chosen: Cocking a double snoot at the US and India just before Ivanka Trump’s visit.
As after every Pakistan-sponsored terror attack, there is a furore in our media about Saeed’s release. It is humorous to see questions on social media: What is America doing, why are they not rescinding of the Major non-NATO ally (MNNA) status accorded to Pakistan? Why are they not designating Pakistan a terrorist state?
But how about looking in the mirror? Have we had the gumption of even withdrawing the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status from Pakistan? Not to mention, when a motion designating Pakistan a terrorist state was introduced in Parliament by MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, not even 50 MPs turned up.
MK Dhar, former Joint Director Intelligence Bureau wrote in his book Open Secrets: “The Pakistani establishment is a geopolitical bully. The best response to blunt such a bully is to take the war inside his home…. The sabre rattling of ‘coercive diplomacy’, which is nothing but sterile military power, cannot convince the Islamist Pakistani Establishment that India can take the border skirmishes inside their homes and hit at the very roots of the jaundiced Islamist groups.”
So, what are we going to do: More missile tests and keep thumping our chest about surgical strikes on terrorist launch-pads? Are we aware that in many foreign lands, India is referred to not NATO-member but NATO itself: No Action, Talk Only? Isn’t it ironic that during elections we try the dirtiest of tricks but when it comes to dealing with a rabid neighbor, we want to comply with the rules of Mahabharat?
The media is reporting that a town in Uttar Pradesh celebrated Saeed’s release: Biased reporting? Pervez Hoodbhoy, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, wrote in 2008: “The promotion of militarism in Pakistan’s schools, colleges and universities has had a profound effect on young people. Militant jihad has become a part of the culture in college and university campuses, with armed groups inviting students for jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan. The immediate future of Pakistan looks grim, as increasing numbers of mullahs are creating cults around themselves and seizing control over the minds of their worshippers”.
Interlocutors of all hues report progress in Jammu and Kashmir, but has anyone addressed what the young generation is being taught? A Class five textbook of a school—not a madrassa—in the Valley teaches non-Muslims are to be hated. And are madrassas elsewhere in the country preparing youth for jihad? Killing 190 terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir this year is good, but 110 of these were foreigners as per Jammu and Kashmir DPG SP Vaid. Meanwhile, 32,000 madrassas in Pakistan are producing a million radicals annually.
It is time to stop being No Action Talk Only and take the hybrid war into enemy territory. That is, if policymakers understand what that means, and more importantly, have the guts to do so.
The author is retired lieutenant-general of the Indian Army
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