Trump Administration’s strong statements against Hafiz Saeed’s release and the demand to arrest him and make him face trial look like some kind of camouflage because the US knows it well that Pakistan is unlikely to heed to any request on Hafiz Saeed. Not when Islamabad is under siege from religious extremists who have risen in country-wide protests against the government.
The Lahore High Court’s order on Saeed’s release came close on the heels of a US Congress decision to delink India-centric terror groups in Pakistan with the likes of Haqqani Network which attack US and Afghanistan targets. Washington has warned that failure to re-arrest Saeed and trying him on serious criminal charges would adversely affect US-Pakistan ties and also Pakistan’s already soiled image. But haven’t we heard that before?
The 64-year-old Hafiz Saeed is one of the most valuable ‘assets’ of Pakistan Army in its endless proxy war against India. He has been in and out of ‘house arrest’ seven times. The courts attribute his release to lack of evidence of his involvement in terror acts. His release witnesses great celebrations—and the usual menacing rhetoric against India.
Frankly, it is difficult to disagree with the growing view that the US is unwilling to take steps that can have a telling effect on Pakistan. Because, the US has and will continue to shut its eyes and close its ears to India-centric Pakistani groups but will send its drones to destroy the ‘bad’ terrorists if they take out American or Afghan targets. Pakistanis of all shades may spew poison against the US; yet, at the end of the day the US admits that it needs Pakistan to sort out the Afghan problem.
Hafiz Saeed’s rabble rousing and calls for killing Indians enjoys not only wide public support in Pakistan but the state also encourages him by letting him roam freely to poison Pakistani minds against India, over and above what the State does. It will appear that Pakistan is yet to come out of its medieval mindset where preaching hatred and violence against ‘kafirs’ (infidels) is not considered a crime and the propagator is guaranteed freedom to ply his despicable trade across the country.
The upshot of this perversion is that Hafiz Saeed will never face criminal charges and has life-long guarantee to freely preach his reprehensible, regressive and toxic beliefs. There is simply no question of his being arrested or re-arrested, as the US has demanded. He could well be planning another terror attack on India.
It has been over nine years since the Mumbai attacks and Pakistani courts have not been presented any ‘proof’ of his involvement in those terror attacks when almost all the evidence that will satisfy the court to start his trial is within Pakistan. Hafiz Saeed is recognised all over the world as the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks. It suits the Pakistani government to blame India for not ‘cooperating’ in probing Hafiz Saeed’s role in 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
The US surely knows that Pakistan will not let Hafiz Saeed be tried and sentenced in a court of law. If the US was really keen to see him tried and prosecuted in Pakistan, the US Congress would not have ignored the threat that India faces from terror groups like LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed based in Pakistan when it recently reworked the military aid programme to Pakistan. The stipulation that Pakistan is acting against all terror groups is now restricted to groups like the Haqqani network.
This change in the US policy has come in concert with the Pakistani establishment toning down their vicious anti-US propaganda. Pakistan has finally realised that it cannot survive and thrive on chest-thumping and bad mouthing the US. There are limits to what China can do for Pakistan; it cannot help Pakistan improve its global image.
As it has done often in the past, Pakistan is deceiving the US into believing that it has started to act against all terror groups, particularly the US-centric Haqqani network. Pakistan does not mind the US using drones to attack and kill members of the Haqqani network based inside its territory. It is a country which has ‘sold’ terrorists in order to ingratiate itself with Washington, as stated by the former dictator Pervez Musharraf in his autobiography. It will be unwise to imagine that the end of the Haqqani network will stop Pakistan from trying to lord over Afghanistan.
It may sound farfetched but India could legitimately ask the US to use drones for attacking Hafiz Saeed’s vast terror empire in Pakistan when the US justifies using all methods to attack US-centric terror groups inside Pakistan. Of course, that will never happen because the US is not willing to deal with India-centric terror networks in Pakistan the same way as the anti-US groups. Certainly, killing or harming Hafiz Saeed or his men by the US will raise a huge anti-US and even anti-government storm inside Pakistan. It will strengthen fanatical extremists groups and weaken the civilian government. The Army-Mullah combination will take absolute control of the rogue nuclear-armed nation.
We may not expect the Americans to go the whole hog against the likes of Hafiz Saeed but surely the US has to move more decisively against Pakistan instead of merely issuing ‘strong’ statements. The US could perhaps begin by shutting off all aid to Pakistan, causing a crippling effect on the land of the pure. The US can, if it wants, ‘do more’ to force Pakistan abandon its terror path.