Story behind the story of Hafiz Saeed’s arrest

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan 

The ninth time arrest of internationally known terrorist Hafiz Saeed of JuD was described by the Indian media as Pakistan’s attempt at hoodwinking the international community—especially the Americans– with its “cosmetic” steps against terror groups on the eve of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Washington along with his Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa. This view is endorsed by the Indian External Affairs Ministry as well. However, Imran Khan’s heavy weight advisor on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan has discounted the impression created by India that it is an exercise in hoodwinking the Americans and others and that decision to nab Hafiz Saeed is part of Khan’s new strategy to rope in the extremist elements to improve Pakistan’s bargaining position with India and other countries.

US President Donald J. Trump gives Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Pakistani delegation tour of the White House on 22nd July, 2019.

Notwithstanding Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan’s explanation and Indian propaganda, it is no doubt a fact that Hafiz Saeed’s arrest did have a lot to do with IK’s Washington Yatra. Hafizjee’s arrest provoked a prompt tweet from no less than President Trump who described his nabbing as a big success for his efforts. Indeed, Hafiz Saeed’s case has been very important from American point of view as well Pakistan where he was top of the order proxy warrior in the eyes of the Establishment.    In his last Friday sermon before his arrest Hafiz Saeed gave reasons why he was going to be arrested just on the eve of Prime Minister Khan’s official visit to Washington.

According to him he, his JuD and other like-minded groups who jointly fought with the erstwhile Soviet Union to get it out of Afghanistan and were found by the Americans as most favourable and tenacious proxy fighters for their war against Communist Russia as fodders for their guns. Hafiz Saeed recalled how on his single hundreds of jihadi fighters would collect to offer their fighting services for the Holy Jihad. He reminded his Jumma audience how he and others like him in the holy cause established their network of madaris around the Pak-Afghan border to sustain ready supply of volunteers for the Jihad.

In the post Soviet withdrawal scenario from Afghanistan all these groups both in Afghanistan and Pakistan got banded together for fighting an anti- American, Anti NATO jihad shoulder to shoulder with Taliban  According to Hafiz Saeed, in this anti American jihadi Alliances Iranian trained volunteers or Pasdarans have joined in support of their holy war against Washington. According to him    assistance in men that United States used to get from Pakistan to fight the Soviets, has now joined JuD and other Jihadi forces fighting their battle against American occupation of Afghanistan.

  Reliable  sources close to Hafiz Saeed claim that now America has forced Pakistan Law enforcers to arrest him and his group members to please the Americans who are believed to be seeking Hafiz Saeed services and JuD volunteers to wage a proxy war on their behalf with Iran.

In his last Friday sermon before his arrest Hafiz Saeed also revealed that Americans have inducted Daesh warriors in Afghanistan to help them fight Taliban. Americans want that Daesh in Afghanistan should create Syria like conditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hafiz Saeed also disclosed that at the behest of his Pakistani handlers he had reined in his Jihadi fighters from carrying on fresh attacks on Indian soldiers in Kashmir till such time when General Bajwa gets disappointed in Imran Khan’s efforts to bring India to restart the composite dialogue.

Hafiz Saeed’s arrest became more significant since it was welcomed by President Trump who claimed his success in his arrest in his tweet that after so many years of his efforts Pakistan has finally found Hafiz Saeed and arrested him.  Ignorance being bliss for him President Trump did not know how many times in the past too Hafiz Saeed was arrested, tried in court and then released for want of credible evidence against him.  

His arrest on the eve of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US was described as very timely development. It would wipe Trump’s tears since Hafiz Saeed, leader of the banned Jamaatud Dawa is a UN- and US-designated global terrorist. Obviously it can be rightly said that it is an exercise to placate the Americans. It seemed to be a casual exercise by Punjab’s counterterrorism police when he was nabbed on his way from Lahore to Gujranwala to obtain bail in a terror-financing case.

Whatever one wants to attribute to it, Imran Khan perhaps did not waste time to read various messages he received from President Trump when he said that Pakistan should do more to eliminate terrorism and stop cross border terrorism both in East and West, he decided to take out the sustenance plug to various groups starting with Jhangvi of Maulana Masood Azhar. He took steps to ameliorate American opinion  to dispel the perception of Pakistani Establishment running with the Taliban hares and hunting with the American hounds. 

Khan has been trying to dispel the impression that he has elements within his government who want to play foul. Indeed, his Interior Minister, a retired Brigadier of ISI, who has remained allegedly in cahoots with various extremist groups, continues to be a suspect in Washington after he was found harbouring Daniel Pearl kidnapper Omar Saeed Sheikh.  Khan cannot do much about him as Brigadier (r) Ijaz Shah is a nominee of military in his government with the key portfolio of Interior that gives him overbearing power over intelligence apparatus and law enforcers. 

Whatever, Khan by arresting Hafiz Saeed and others like Masood Azhar have been successful in creating a favourable perception for himself that he means business. His launching of anti terror group operations with over two dozen cases of terror financing filed earlier this month against JuD’s top leaders has sent the message that he is going after them. Indeed, everyone is keeping an eye on further Pakistan moves, particularly in relations to actions closely directed towards JuD and Jaish-e-Mohammed. IK is also conscious of the fact that because of their previous close affinity with Intelligence government has been accused of treating the terrorists with kid-gloves. Imran Khan claims that he is opposed to selective justice for the treatment of extremists and their organisations

The latest turn of events has, indeed, scored a favourable point well with President Trump hailing the arrest of “the so-called Mumbai ‘mastermind’ after what he call– a ten-year-long search”. Sources close to PTI feel that since IK’s anti-terrorist moves have got him international dividends, he must continue to carry on to drive militants out of business and prosecute their members under the provisions of the Anti Terrorism Act. Otherwise, Hafiz Saeed’s arrest could be perceived as little more than an opportunistic move calibrated to coincide with his important state visit.

If the Prosecution cannot prove Hafiz Saeed’s involvement in terrorist activities, his detention would prove to be nothing more than what is popularly known as “protective custody” in which the arrested person is kept within his house, he does not go out, he can, however, meet any one he wants to.  Even IK’s Interior Minister Ijaz Shah has been talking of continuing countrywide crackdown initiated a few months ago by Imran Khan against militant groups — in which provincial administrations in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan sealed or took control of hundreds of madressahs, schools, mosques, etc run by these organisations — marked what appeared to be a definitive shift in the state’s approach. Brig Ijaz Shah confirmed this at a press conference recently when he said that ‘the policy pertaining to suspected militant organisations had undergone a change, for which the PTI government deserved credit.

One may recall that once US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it before the Congress that time has shown that such groups cannot be ‘managed’, nor their inherently violent proclivities turned on and off at will against one’s adversary. And that a time comes when snakes that you feed in your backyard bite your hand too. Indeed, that is the lesson Pakistan learnt for its role of raising Taliban and encouraging cross-border terrorism.

Now as per the information revealed by Hafiz Saeed that Daesh has been introduced by Washington in Afghanistan as Hafiz Saeed claims to create Syria like situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Assortment of those with ideological affinity could lead them to enable each other—directly or indirectly. This shall have to be stopped and nipped in the bud. Experts also want to prevail on Imran Khan to give up his notion of mainstreaming the extremists. According to them it be that as it may, now that the state has determined to eliminate such elements, it must shut off every avenue that militant outfits use to survive and proliferate. In Pakistan the practice so far has been that government bans an organisation one day, the very next day it adopts a new name and becomes operational under the cover of relief organisation. Obviously they are allowed very conveniently by law enforcers to circumvent the government ban on them.

Last but not the least, Hafiz Saeed is found to be extremely concerned by the fact that the PTI government and its Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood having failed to do their bit to give a new, modern, liberal look to the network of Madaris all over the country, finally were made to hand over the Madaris issue to Army Chief General Bajwa who has expressed his determination to either get rid of these bigoted educational outlets or to bring them in line with the national syllabus.  And finally, Hafiz Saeed while meeting his followers despite his arrest, conveys to them not to worry. ‘It is temporary flirtation of Pakistani leaders ‘to hoodwink the Americans. Once they secure their pound of flesh, business would be restored to back to usual’.’ Extremist elements believe that the government of Pakistan cannot lay off its claim on Indian held Kashmir and that ultimately Pakistan Army shall have to fall back on the proxy warriors to keep the issue alive and to continue to bleed India slowly to the pleasure of GHQ.

(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)