Hafiz Saeed : What Made Pakistan Turn Its Anti-Terrorism Loudspeaker On?

In another surprise development, Pakistan’s defence minister Khawaja Asif on Sunday termed Hafiz Saeed as a ‘threat to the society’. Khawaja Asif made this statement at an international security conference in Munich, Germany. By orders of the Government of Pakistan on January 30, 2017, Hafiz Saeed was placed under house arrest. Shortly after, his name, along with 37 others, got added to the Exit Control List. The Exit Control List bars Hafiz Saeed from leaving the country. A few hours after the Defence Minister’s statement, the government also cancelled licences of weapons owned by Hafiz Saeed and other members of Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

Ever since Saeed’s house arrest on January 30, there have been quite a few unexpected developments. Detaining him seemed all the government would do. However, a statement by the defence minister against the most loved anti-India campaigner of Pakistan has certainly created a stir. Internationally, this turns out to be a sign that Pakistan is actively opposing terror. However, this has not be the same scenario domestically. After the defence minister’s statement, JuD supporters protested in the streets of Pakistan while calling Khawaja Asif an ‘Indian mouthpiece’.

Why the sudden detention?

India has been demanding the extradition of Hafiz Saeed ever since the 2008 Mumbai Terror attacks. New Delhi has already provided evidence proving that Hafiz Saeed masterminded the 26/11 attacks. However, Hafiz Saeed is an influential man in Pakistan. Through his rallies and demonstrations, he delivers speeches that provoke anti-India sentiments in the public. He has been quite successful at converting a major chunk of these anti-India sentiments to militancy in the Kashmir region. In order to keep the violence continued in Kashmir, Pakistan has been protecting Hafiz Saeed from international forces. One might believe it’s a part of a long running tradition (Remember Osama bin Laden?), but I believe it to be more of a hobby than tradition. So why did Pakistan suddenly change its policy and detain their Golden Boy?

If you believe that Pakistan detained Hafiz Saeed to progress its diplomatic relations with India, I think you would also believe that they never knew about Osama bin Laden living right next door to the army camp. So what I am really saying is, Pakistan obviously did not do this to please India. A third party might have pressured Pakistan to do so. There are only two such states that could pressurise Pakistan into this.

United States

The coronation, sorry, inauguration of Donald Trump as POTUS was probably a wake-up call for Pakistan. Unlike Obama, Trump directly opposed Pakistan and Islamic terrorism. Hence, with Trump being president, it was clear to Pakistan that they might face some serious action soon. Trump did deliver on his promises by bringing in the hugely controversial Immigration Ban. Trump also hinted that Pakistan might be soon added to the list. This probably provoked Pakistani authorities to act quickly. They needed to show that they were actually on the frontlines in the War on Terror. Hence, restricting a known terrorist’s movements was the perfect scenario.

Notably, the detention of Hafiz Saeed made “in the national interest of Pakistan”. Nowhere in the statement does it say that Saeed is a terrorist or is guilty of carrying out attacks on foreign soil.

It is believed that National Interest here means the interest of the public with regards to “safety“. However, it just might mean interest of the sections of public that wish to travel to the States without so many restrictions.

Also, Trump was seen being close to New Delhi rather than Islamabad. Saeed’s detention might just be a way to woo Washington towards Islamabad. This might help Islamabad secure funds in the name of combating terrorism, like it used to before the Osama fiasco. It might also prevent New Delhi from securing US as an ally.

However, Donald Trump has been busy churning out executive orders ever since his coronation inauguration. It seems unlikely that US would have directly pressurised Pakistan to do this. So did Pakistan detain Hafiz Saeed, on its own, just because of that fear? Or was there someone else involved?

China

No points for guessing the other country suspected of pressurising Pakistan (I already put the name up there). They might have a couple of reasons to get Saeed detained.

First, China’s ambitious CPEC Project, which connects the ports of Karachi & Gwadar to China’s Xinjiang province. India has been opposing the economic corridor as it includes construction quite close to the Line of Control in PoK. So, China might want to keep in check anything that might provoke the two neighbours into another diplomatic war. China would not want to delay the construction of the corridor due to small diplomatic tiffs.

Second, China has been tightening Pakistan to tackle the terror threat in a better way for a while now. The militants threaten the Chinese investments and workers in its northern border areas. To assure China on this ground, Pakistan might have thought it best to detain a top terrorist leader.

However, China has more benefits in letting Hafiz Saeed roam free rather than keep him imprisoned. Hafiz Saeed, as explained above, has been launching separatist movements in Kashmir. While Pakistan is the direct beneficiary of this, China is a close second. In fact, with Indian forces out of Kashmir, China might just get a larger portion of the territory. In the UN, China has blocked every Indian move proposing to declare Hafiz Saeed a terrorist.

Also, India does not have a lot of support in its argument against CPEC. So, it seems unlikely that Beijing would put relations with Hafiz Saeed under risk just to ensure peace in CPEC. The same reason could be applied to the second assumption stated above. China can easily counter the terror threats in its northern regions. It’s just a lot of risk for benefits as small as these.

The Domestic Pressure

A suicide blast that left 18 dead occurred in Lahore on February 13 2017. A few days later, on February 16, a massive blast at a sufi shrine in Sindh killed 50 while injured over a 100 people. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Pakistani public was in an uproar. The world looked to Nawaz Sharif, expecting him to take some action against terrorism in the wake of these attacks. You are expected to do something other than give out condolences, if your country gets bombed twice in a week. All the restrictions on Hafiz Saeed seem to be that ‘something’. So this step seems like something to keep the aam aadmi of Pakistan satisfied. It affirms a belief that the government is actually anti-terrorist and not pro-terrorist.

This seems like the most plausible explanation. The USA is busy with its own huge set of problems and China has no visible benefits in getting Hafiz Saaed detained. Hence, it seems that Nawaz Sharif detained Saeed of his own will to garner confidence from the public, in view of the upcoming elections.

Actual Arrest or Just a Show?

Some might believe that Pakistan has finally opened its eyes and started a war against terrorism. Case in point, the Indian MEA who termed this step as ‘first logical step towards justice’. The additional restrictions and statements against Saeed might push this argument further.

However, in my opinion, this is all just a farce. Hafiz Saeed was put under house arrest after the 26/11 attacks. However, he has been spreading anti-India thoughts freely since his release in 2009. It seems unlikely that a government that is practically controlled by terrorist outfits would turn around so easily and suddenly. The actions against Saeed seem to be a ruse to deceive multiple parties. Nawaz Sharif aims to deceive the Pakistani Public to get as much support as he can for the upcoming elections next year. He also aims to deceive the USA and get its ‘Favourite Pet’ spot back. Hafiz Saeed’s house arrest expires in May and this might be enough time to accomplish these deceptions.

As for Hafiz Saeed, he might get some of his rights back sooner than May, like the licences of his weapons. As for the house arrest, I don’t believe that would stop him from continuing his operations. Just before his house arrest, Hafiz Saeed said the following :

If someone thinks that placing me under house arrest will help check the freedom movement in Kashmir, he is living in a fool’s paradise. My arrest will give a fresh impetus to the Kashmiris’ struggle against India.

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