Hafiz Saeed's kingly release highlights need for India, US to rehash Pakistan policy

The scourge of counter-terrorism forces is back on the streets. Not that Hafiz Saeed was ever seriously incommoded by his "house arrest" earlier. However, it did prevent him from venting his spleen against India, the United States or anyone else at Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)/Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) road shows.

A judicial review board of Pakistan's Punjab province ordered the release of the 26/11 Mumbai attack mastermind on Wednesday. Saeed's  return, in a kingly style with his car bedecked with flowers and escorted by assiduous policemen, is hard enough to bear. Far worse is the ridiculous attempt of the Review Court to present itself as unbiased.

 Hafiz Saeeds kingly release highlights need for India, US to rehash Pakistan policy

File image of JuD chief Hafiz Saeed. AFP

This is, after all, a country where judges giving unbiased judgments are usually shot dead. Remember the man who sentenced Salman Qadri to death for murder had to subsequently flee the country. The whole thing is a farce from start to finish.

So, what should India – and its new brother in quadrilateral circles, the United States – do? The counter-terrorism menu in the hands of both parties is "tried to death", though a little rehash may serve the purpose somewhat. The United States – admittedly, like any other power in the world – acts as per its own interests and so, such measures need to deliver to US' great power status, as well as to India's very real threat of terror.

The first such tool, which has been used regularly is that of "terrorist designation value". This does not really have any great "visual" value,  especially for a hungry media. After all, the Al-Muhammadia Students has recently been declared a terrorist organisation, which did not exactly caused cause jihadi leaders to weep into their handkerchiefs.

Designations only prevent terrorists from travelling abroad to collect funds, or from buying the latest Gucci release for their wives. In terms of terrorist funding, however, money comes into Pakistan anyway in terms of criminal money and other slush funds, apart from zakat and ushr collections.

So, there is no evidence that terrorist leaders – not the poor miserable wretches they brainwash – have any lack of funds. Second, a designation also disallows terrorists the facility to park their money in US firms or related enterprises. Since no terrorist is likely to be fool enough to do so anymore, it seems this is more to ensure that the US mainland is protected from terrorist money, rather than any serious inconvenience to the terrorist.

To tweak this a little, however, the same law can be extended to include all those officials, retired and serving, who assist in the terrorist enterprise. An ISI general for instance, would not be able to receive money from his children abroad, nor can he visit them there. That the Pakistani army general and his wife would not be able to do their annual foreign shopping trips, making their life rather distressing does paint a pleasant picture, besides being eminently doable.

Another weapon in the US counter-terrorism arsenal is the rescinding of the Major non-NATO ally (MNNA) status. The MMNA is a curious bird. The list of such states designated as such includes Australia at one end and Afghanistan on the other. In the former case, for instance, it allows quick US processing on joint research projects like missile defence, without going through Congress each time.

In the latter case, it allows easy transfer of old military surplus to the Afghan army. In short, it allows a great deal of cooperation in the military field, in a menu that is strictly a la carte. Pakistan, for instance, may only get some counter-terrorism assistance now, but nothing prevents the US from increasing defence sales under this law at a later date. And as everyone knows, the president is good at peddling arms.

A rescinding of the MNNA status would definitely irritate the Pakistanis, though not incommode them very much since brother China is available as a backup. However, it would hit their (already large) egos, and would further give the impression of a country that is rapidly becoming a pariah.

This has financial implications, and that is what will really hurt. International lending institutions and investors alike will hesitate in providing finance to a country that is seen as a terrorist sponsor. And the news from Pakistan is bad. Its probably begging bowl season again as its external debt rises.

It would be nice to think that the US will completely turn the tap off on aid to Pakistan. However, this remains unlikely. It is true that policymakers require some leverages to work with, without which it is impossible to threaten or to cajole. India itself has few leverages with Pakistan, due to decades of bad blood.

Of the few that exist, one is that of medical visas – though that hurts ordinary Pakistanis who have little to do with the decision making of governments. Banning overflights of commercial flights is not an option under our obligations under International Civil Aviation Rules. Military aircraft overflights are covered under the 1991 Agreement on Prevention of Air Space Violations. The Agreement requires information on the nature of the cargo, type of fuel and various other details from the overflying country, besides requiring the incoming aircraft to fly above 80,000 feet along specific corridors. This also applies to VVIP movement.

Barring one instance when India refused all overflights (2002-2004), there has been no interruption in flights between the two even during Kargil. Here's a surprise, however. Following the 18 September, 2016, attack on sleeping soldiers in Uri in Kashmir, Islamabad issued notices to airmen (also called NOTAM) over Karachi and barred its own civil flights to Gilgit, and Shadraul (Gilgit Baltistan) and Chitral in the tribal areas.

No reason was given, but clearly, Pakistan was expecting India to retaliate, and strongly. It might, therefore, be a good idea to give them something to think about, which might include a possibility of the launch another surgical strike or worse. Living in a state of suspense might be good for Rawalpindi's constitution.

There are many other instruments India and the US can jointly use to deal with a recalcitrant Pakistan. One is an interesting and highly effective one. In a landmark case, Rosenberg versus Lashkar-e-Taiba, filed by the distraught Jewish survivors of the Mumbai massacre 0f 26/11 in a New York court, the final decision had gone against the accused who were none other than ISI chief Pasha Shuja Pasha, Nadeem Taj, Major Iqbal as well as Major Ali and Major Samir, all from the ISI.

The court had summoned them for subsequent hearing and trial, giving the Pakistanis a severe shock. However, a month later, the US Attorney General clarified that the ISI was entitled to immunity under the FSIA (Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act) and thus could not face trial in a US Court. However, the US is not the only court in the world, nor is Mumbai its only crime. Legal luminaries have to sit together and work this one out, perhaps even through a war crime trial court. Because terrorism is a form of war, make no mistake.

This "in again, out again" policy that passes for justice in Pakistan has to end and end quickly. Perhaps the government should put up a "suggestions page" on the website of the National Investigation Agency so that citizens can vent their spleen against the terrorist kingpin. If nothing else, it will give the generals a few sleepless nights.

Updated Date: Nov 24, 2017 20:22:21 IST