Hafiz Saeed house arrest: No reason to rejoice, Pakistan's dumbest charade fools no one

'Charade', noun, refers to an absurd pretence intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance. 'Dumb charade' is a game in which one player uses pantomime to act out a phrase or words for other players to guess. 'Dumbest charade' (not in dictionary) is to carry out an absurd pretence and then expect the world to believe it.

No prizes for guessing the category in which Pakistan's latest move to place UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed under 'house arrest' falls. The two-act drama, staged by The Royal Pakistan Company, has bypassed its sell-by date and is now running at empty global theatres after countless reruns. The script is hackneyed and the ending obvious.

 Hafiz Saeed house arrest: No reason to rejoice, Pakistans dumbest charade fools no one

Hafiz Saeed. File photo. AFP.

To have an idea of the 'severity' of the 'preventive detention' under which Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) frontman and Mumbai attacks mastermind Saeed has been held along with his four accomplices — Abdullah Ubaid, Zafar Iqbal, Abdul Rehman Abid and Qazi Kashif Niazi of Multan —  take a look at what The New York Times had reported back in December 2008 when this play was enacted for the first time. Just as now, Saeed had then been 'confined' by Lahore police in his residence after the United Nations Security Council had declared JuD as a terrorist organisation and a front group for the banned outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba.

NYT's Richard A Oppel Jr and Salman Masood, in this 2008 report under the headline: 'With House Arrest Pakistan Curbs, Lightly, a Leader Tied to Mumbai Attackers', wrote: "In Mr. Saeed’s leafy neighborhood, it was a decidedly more relaxed scene. Several dozen policemen ringed the area around his home, standing casually with rifles and enforcing a house arrest that seemed more of a forced vacation. Two heavily bearded workers from Jamaat-ud Dawa arrived with food, and the police raised the barricades and allowed them through, choosing not to inspect their Suzuki truck."

The report goes on to state how one policeman rushed at them when the NYT journalists arrived at the spot to claim that "Saeed was confined in his home" and has been "banned" from stepping outside. "Almost on cue," says the report, Saeed emerged from a "mosque across the street" and strolled back home. The cop tried to first blatantly deny that it was the JuD chief, and then gave in.

And if anyone had even the slightest of doubts about Pakistan's real intention, Saeed — who roams around with the US government bounty of $10 million on his head for numerous terror attacks on Indian soil, including the 26/11 attacks — was promptly let off in June 2009 just six months after the 'house arrest' by a Pakistan high court citing "lack of evidence". The case against him was suspended. Under the US pressure, Pakistan's federal and provincial governments did make half-hearted appeals a year later against the terrorist's release but the Supreme Court dismissed these appeals due to "lack of proof" despite several Indian dossiers.

A deep sense of déjà vu pervades the latest charade.

Media reports from Pakistan indicate a large police contingent apparently gheraoed JuD headquarters in Lahore's Chauburji Chowk where Saeed was busy in a meeting with his aides. Citing an order from Pakistan's federal interior ministry, cops took him and four others into 'protective custody'. Pakistan-based newspaper Dawn, quoting a handout, reported that Hafiz and his associated have been 'arrested' for three months while The JuD and its affiliate Falah-i-Insaaniat Foundation "have been included in the second schedule and will be placed on the government’s watch list for six months under Section (1) 11EEE of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997."

Interestingly, for a man about to be detained, Saeed still found enough time to organise an 'impromptu' news conference outside a mosque and accused Pakistan government of acting at the behest of India.

"I have received the (detention) orders of the government of Pakistan. I believe this is not against me but is an attempt to sabotage the freedom movement of Kashmir. This (action) is part of the international conspiracy. The government is helpless before the pressure of Trump and Modi… (It’s on) Modi’s insistence and Trump’s instigation," Pakistan-based newspaper The Nation has reported.

Notwithstanding these machinations of mountebanks, the question that arises is why did the Nawaz Sharif government (or more specifically the GHQ at Rawalpindi) feel compelled to re-enact the sordid drama? There is a feeling, betrayed by Pakistan interior ministry's reaction to Saeed's arrest, that Islamabad is feeling a little hot under the collar ever since Trump administration slapped a ban on immigration of citizens from seven countries. Pakistan isn't part of the 'blacklist' yet but White House has hinted that an extension in the future may include Pakistan.

In an interview to CBS on 29 January, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the list of countries apart from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen "could grow".

"You can point to other countries that have similar problems like Pakistan and others — perhaps we need to take it further,” he said. “But for now, immediate steps, pulling the Band-Aid off, is to do further vetting for people traveling in and out of those countries."

Almost on cue, Pakistan's interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan suddenly remembered that the government must fulfill some "obligations" to JuD.

“The organisation (JuD) has been ‘under observation’ since 2010-11. Since it has also been listed by the UN Security Council (Sanctions Committee), we are bound to take some steps. We are taking those steps to fulfill our obligations,” he said on Monday.

Quoting a "security analyst in Islamabad," Hindustan Times reports that "Apart from the pressure publicly exerted by Washington, Beijing, too, has been quietly pushing Islamabad to act against these people" and that Monday's action is the result of these pressures.

It is interesting that China would urge Pakistan to take action against the JuD chief even as it repeatedly stonewalls New Delhi's efforts to blacklist Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar. Be that as it may, India should have no illusions about the nature of this comedy show.

At best, it may provide a small opportunity for a thaw in India-Pakistan relationship which showed some positive signs following Rawalpindi's decision to release Chandu Babulal Chavan this month, the Indian jawan who had inadvertently crossed over to the Pakistan side of the LoC. This is not a victory in the fight against terror, not even a small consolation. It is Pakistan's move to release some international pressure.

Expect Hafiz to be reinstated in full glory shortly.

Updated Date: Jan 31, 2017 15:27:07 IST