By Samuel Baid
For the past 10 years member countries of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and India have been impatiently waiting for Pakistan’s promised action against the Pakistan-based perpetrators of the November 2008 four-day carnage that killed 166 people and destroyed property worth crores of rupees in Mumbai. The UNSC in December 2008 listed Pakistani Hafiz Saeed as a terrorist behind this carnage and directed the Pakistan government to take action against him and his entities. Saeed heads Jamaat-ud-Dawa(JuD), the front of his creation Hafiz Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which with a section of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan staged this carnage. In 2002, the LeT was banned by President Gen Pervez Musharraf for terrorist activities under United States pressure.
Those who understand the psyche of large section of the people in Pakistan’s most powerful province, Punjab, and the Civil government–military-Islamist negative equation, might have kept their fingers crossed when the civilian government, then led by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), readily agreed to take action against the Pakistani culprits. But what was to follow was signalled by the Lahore High Court’s remark that the UNSC should first fulfil its commitments on Kashmir. That was a clear indication that the civilian government cannot genuinely comply with the UNSC’s order.
Saeed was put under house arrest after the UNSC’s order to the Pakistan government but released by the Lahore High Court in 2009 for what it called lack of evidence. A government official said he would be tried if India provided some strong evidence. LeT commander Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi and six others were charged with the execution of the Mumbai carnage. But all this looked like an eyewash to create an impression that Pakistan was all set to punish the guilty of the Mumbai carnage through its courts but India was not cooperating by providing strong evidence against them. The government claims Pakistan’s courts are “independent” who go by strong evidence-as if the listing of Saeed and his entities was a flippant act of the UNSC. India has provided dossiers to Pakistan to prove these people’s guilt. But the Pakistani courts have made up their mind not to accept any evidence against the Army / ISI protégés at any cost. It is like China, which for the sake of its all-weather friend (Pakistan), will veto any UNSC resolution designating Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) Chief Moulana Masood Azhar as a terrorists.
As an excuse for not trying them, Pakistan says it cannot go ahead with the trial of Lakhvi and six others by a special anti-terrorism court unless India sends 24 Indian witnesses to Pakistan to depose before this court and for cross-examination. Pakistan has made the non-availability of these witnesses as an excuse for not going ahead with the trial. But Pakistan itself hampers the trial by keep changing the judges so that none of them can reach the root of the 2008 crime in Mumbai. The same way witnesses are changed. It seems Pakistan had begun making preparations for hoodwinking the UNSC sanctions monitoring team a year in advance of its arrival in Islamabad on January 25-26, 2018 to assess this country’s compliance with UNSC’s order of December 2008. The preparations included the house arrest of Hafiz Saeed and his associates under the fourth schedule of the Anti-terrorism Act (ATA) on January 30, 2017. The Army supported this action before the subsequent detentions of Saeed and others to the Mumbai carnage. An ISI major had told LeT’s then operative David Coleman Headley that detentions for this Mumbai act would be only superficial. Headley told this to a Mumbai court through video link from the States. True, Saeed’s and his associates detentions were superficial and an eyewash. During his so-called detention he was free to meet and communicate with anybody, to give interviews and even address public meetings by telephone.
During nine months of his last detention he donned a mainstream politician garb by launching a political party Muslim League (MML). Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said in a televised interview there was no case against Hafiz Saeed “Sahib”. But his government would not allow the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to register the MML for its terrorism background. Abbasi’s government also opposed Saeed’s release from the house arrest by telling a three-member review board that he spread terrorism in the name of jihad. Country’s Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir told the Annual Security Conference in Munich in February last year that Saeed could pose a serious threat to the society. Those who committed terrorism in the name of religion were criminals, he exhorted. In September last year Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said in New York that Hafiz Saeed, the Haqqani network and the LeT were all liabilities for Pakistan.
In the run-up to the UNSC sanction monitoring team’s visit (January 25-26) the Pakistan government hurriedly announced same steps to create an impression that it was serious in complying with the order of the UNSC 1267 sanctions monitoring committee to take action against Saeed for his affiliation with LeT which a designated foreign terror organisation. Notice the undue hurry in which the Pakistan government began to act in the first week of January just about 20 days before the arrival of the UNSC committee. On January 6 the government issued an advertisement for newspapers warning people of imprisonment or fine if they made donations to terrorist individuals or organisations. It named 72 such individual and organisations. It included the name of Saeed his charity wing Falah-e-Insaniyat’s Foundation (FiF) for organising the Mumbai Carnage in 2008. Media houses were advised not to do business with these individuals and organisations, meaning not accepting their ads. It is amusing after getting that ads in newspapers Prime Minister Abbasi said his government would not act against Hafiz Saeed “Sahib” because there was no case against him in Pakistan. Just about three days before the arrival of the UNSC team, his government did not allow it to have a direct access to Saeed. But the very next day Abbasi told a foreign news agency that his government would take over the control of JUD’s charity organisations. He didn’t say when.
The UNSC team’s arrival in Islamabad on January 25 when the government, like a lost damsel, was plucking the petals of a rose to decide whether Saeed was terrorist or not. One can imagine Pakistan’s nervousness and embarrassment while facing an inspection team from the UNSC.
The UNSC committee had arrived in Islamabad with an undisclosed agenda but it was clear it would report back to the 1267 Committee how far Pakistan has complied with its about 10-year old order. It cannot be said for sure what UNSC Monitoring Committee gathered during its two-day stay in Pakistan about this country’s compliance with the UNSC’s order in respect of the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai carnage, but it must have surely seen that these perpetrators enjoy a safe haven in Pakistan. Reports from Islamabad say that committee members did not talk to the media. The media depended on Foreign Office spokesmen Mohammad Faisal’s briefing. He said Pakistan apprised the committee of steps taken in compliance with the UNSC’s sanction regime. It also told the committee of Pakistan’s perspective of terrorist acts in the region. DAWN, which reported this, wrote it was believed that organisations and 36 people, on 1267 sanction list, operated from Pakistan. Incidentally, the UNSC team did not come to Pakistan to learn about this country’s perspective of terrorist acts in the region but about its compliance with the UNSC’s order.
What we see now that on the one hand reputed security expert like Muhammad Amir Rana is warning the civilian government that, ‘Banned militant groups are continuously giving Pakistan’s diplomatic stress’ and reputed columnists like Khaled Ahmed cautions that, ‘The strongman (Hafiz Saeed), thought to have a private army of over 200,000 warriors on call, was too strong to even be asked to tone down his brazenly uncivilised jihadi rhetoric’; but on the other hand Hafiz Saeed, the ‘innocent philanthropist’, is spewing venom and instigating hatred against India on a daily basis and challenging the authorities to arrest him again. It seems that Pakistan has mastered the art of subverting specific UNSC sanctions, which is not only against a global terrorist hosted by it but also implies the involvement of its ‘deep state’.