Thursday, June 04, 2009




    Why is anyone surprised that Hafiz Saeed, the chief of the international terrorist organisation Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), has been released by the Lahore High Court, ostensibly on grounds of lack of sufficient evidence proving his involvement in acts of terrorism? If anything, Hafiz Saeed's release conforms to a well-established pattern of behaviour on part of the Pakistani state especially when it comes to prosecuting terrorists who are closely associated with Pakistani intelligence agencies and have been very active and obedient in following the orders and instructions to export murder and mayhem in India and other parts of the world.

    As it now transpires, the entire case against Hafiz Saeed was, right from the beginning, nothing more than eyewash. After the international pressure that was mounted on Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks last November, it was no longer possible for Pakistan not to be seen to be taking some action against the perpetrators and planners of the mass murders in Mumbai. Only, the action taken was no different from what had been done numerous times in the past. The terrorists and their handlers were arrested with great fanfare and taken in from the front door, only to be let out from the back door, which often enough doubles up as the front door of the Pakistani courts.

    In a way, the oldest trick in the book of the police has been used to let the terrorists to get away scot free, but of course after putting up an elaborate charade in the law courts. The modus operandi is sickeningly familiar: first the terrorist is booked on very weak charges and then the case is made even weaker by presenting extremely flimsy evidence against the accused before the judges. Once the court acquits the accused, it is pretty much the end of the matter, as is evident from the rather disingenuous, if self-righteous, statement issued by Pakistan's foreign office spokesman: "It is best not to comment on a court judgement...Polemics and unfounded insinuations cannot advance the cause of justice in civilized societies. Legal processes cannot and must not be interfered with".

    It is of course quite another matter that the Pakistani authorities don't allow such legal niceties (or if you will legal fiction) to come in the way of taking action against people who are seen to be enemies of the state. To jog the memory of the Pakistani foreign office spokesman: just a couple of weeks back, three prominent Baloch political activists were picked up by the Pakistani intelligence agencies from the office of their lawyer and then brutally murdered, their bodies mutilated; there is also the case of hundreds of 'missing people' who were made to disappear because the authorities felt they posed a threat to the state of Pakistan and that it would be a waste of time and effort to use the due process of law to bring these people to book.

    Obviously, such extra-legal measures were never going to be used against Hafiz Saeed. He is, after all, a strategic asset of the Pakistani establishment. No surprise then that despite the Attorney General of Pakistan presenting 'secret documents' linking JuD with al Qaeda, the court ruled that "prima facie the government has no sufficient grounds to detain the petitioners [Hafiz Saeed and his associate, Col. (retd) Nazir Ahmed] for preventive measures".

Clearly, either the so-called 'secret documents' contained no real evidence or else the judges preferred to ignore the material contained in these documents. The latter case could be because of one of two reasons: first, the judges were cowed down by the firepower of the JuD; and second, many judges in Pakistan increasingly share an ideological affinity with the Islamists and this could have tilted their ruling in favour of Hafiz Saeed. But it is entirely possible that regardless of the ideological proclivities of the judges, the evidence presented could never hold in any court

    Given the extremely close relationship between the JuD and the Pakistan Army, it is unimaginable that the Pakistani authorities will ever produce any material evidence against the JuD leadership. After all, such evidence would tantamount to a mea culpa on part of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment that raised, nurtured and used organisations like the JuD and its military wing, Lashkar-e-Taiba, as instruments for attaining strategic objectives. Even if the military and intelligence establishment was to somehow whitewash its own role and present the case against the JuD/LeT, they cannot afford the possibility of people like Hafiz Saeed exposing the role played by the Pakistani state agencies in sponsoring and exporting terrorism in India, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and even the US and UK.

    Apart from the fear of exposure, there is another factor that must be bearing upon the Pakistani authorities as far as the JuD/LeT leadership is concerned – the emergence of this organisation as a virtual state within the state. The JuD has been steadily replacing the Pakistani state in the field of education, health, and other welfare activities. Its cadres have been more efficient and effective than the Pakistani state machinery in providing relief to people affected by both natural calamities (Kashmir earthquake and the floods in Balochistan) as well as man-made disasters like the displacement of nearly 3 million people during the military operations in Swat, Buner and Dir.

More worrisome is the army of jihadis that the LeT has raised over the years. In a path-breaking book, 'Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir', Pakistani journalist Arif Jamal reveals that nearly 200,000 militants have been trained in the LeT jihadi camps and that the infrastructure has expanded so much that even the ISI has lost track of its scale. According to Arif, the LeT has "a global agenda in which Kashmir is no more than a training ground". He writes that the LeT is an emerging threat, one that is even more powerful and dangerous than the al Qaeda. Add to this the fact that like Sufi Mohammad of Swat fame, Hafiz Saeed too considers parliament, democracy, and indeed, the constitution un-Islamic. It is therefore not difficult to imagine the danger that the JuD/LeT pose to the Pakistani state, more so since the LeT's power base lies in Pakistan's heartland – Punjab.

While the reluctance of the Pakistani state to dismantle and destroy the LeT/JuD arises partly from the fear of creating a civil war like situation in Punjab and partly because the military continues to see the LeT as a useful instrument against India (and also against the Taliban), it is clear that the longer the Pakistani state delays action against the LeT, the more difficult it will become to slay this monster. The problem is likely to get worse now that Pakistan's 'independent' judiciary has granted both legitimacy and respectability to the JuD to carry out its murderous business with impunity.

On its part, the Pakistani government confronts a ticklish problem: if despite being the head of an internationally proscribed terror outfit, Hafiz Saeed can be set free by the Pakistani judiciary, then either the court has acquitted Saeed wrongly, or else the ban on JuD has been imposed wrongly. Chances are that Pakistan will obfuscate this obvious contradiction by not lifting the ban but at the same time allowing the JuD to continue with its business. This will be the best of both worlds – the international community will be satisfied, while Hafiz Saeed will also be willing to play along.


    <1260 Words>                    4th June, 2009



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