By Samuel Baid

In Lahore, there is a repeat show of the drama, “House Arrest of Terrorist Hafiz Saeed”. Those who remember its earlier performances will remember it ended in a kind of tragic-comedy in Lahore High Court which refused to entertain evidence against him.  His backers are now trying to tell the people that it is a revised version.  This time, they claim the government is very serious about punishing him for the 2008 Mumbai carnage because of pressures from the new US President Donald Trump and China. But there has been no communication from the Trump Administration to Islamabad so far. In a typical Chinese rigmarole way, Lu Kang, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has denied any pressure on Islamabad.

To make Hafiz Saeed’s house arrest look really serious, head of the Military Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor told media persons in Rawalpindi that the decision to arrest Saeed was jointly taken by civilian and military leadership.  “This is a policy decision that the state took in national interest. Lots of institutions will have to do their jobs.” he said.  Are we to believe that the Army has undergone some kind of baptism and wants to say that by sacrificing Saeed it wants to advertise that it has given up its policy of cross-border terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy? If so, Pakistan is undergoing a revolutionary change in its India and Afghan policies and more than in its ideological foundations. Many Pakistani strategists hold the view that without enmity against India the state of Pakistan cannot survive.  That is why terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar have been patronised to keep the flame of animosity against India burning with religious zeal.

We are also given to understand that the Lahore High Court may not come to the rescue of Saeed this time. It has reportedly refused to hear Saeed’s appeal against his house arrest on the basis of objections of the court’s office. The court’s office had objected that a copy of the order of his house arrest was not attached to the appeal. Obviously this lapse can be corrected.  The appeal claims that the house arrest is made under pressure from the United States and that Saeed has nothing to do with terrorism. His arrest, says the appeal, is violative of the Constitution which guarantees that no citizen shall be put under house arrest without reason.

So far there is no publicly known pressure on Pakistan from the Trump Administration to control its terrorists.  But by now Pakistan must have realised it cannot hoodwink President Trump as it did other US Presidents in the past about 15 years.  Danger signals must have come to Pakistan during Trump’s electioneering when he named this country for sheltering terrorists.  About a week before the swearing-in of Donald Trump as the US President, his defence Secretary nominee Jones Mattis said in Washington that if confirmed he would tell Islamabad to expel or neutralise externally focused militant groups operating with impunity within Pakistan.

Very recently, a group of experts on South Asia in the US has recommended to President Trump’s new administration that it should adopt a hardening stance towards Pakistan if the country does not stop the use of terrorism against India and Afghanistan. They recommended a review of whether Pakistan fits the criteria for designation as “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and a ban on Pakistani military and ISI officials to travel to the US who are known to have facilitated acts of terrorism.

The experts group’s above recommendations are on echo of all the past opinions the US officials and media have been expressing about Pakistan’s involvement in global terrorism including terrorism against Afghanistan and India.  Pakistan did not bother about the past opinions of US officials and the media.  Comically there were some responses from Pakistan which said the US must not forget that Pakistan is a country with nuclear weapons. But after Donald Trump became the US President Pakistan seems to have tread continuously. Hence, there is the re-enactment of the drama of Saeed’s house arrest to hoodwink the US as always.

On the other hand, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson in a typical Chinese yes-no style has tried to deny any role in Saeed’s house arrest.  A section of the Pakistani Press reported that China had pressured Pakistan to arrest Saeed.  Asked about this, spokesperson Lu Kang said: “China supports Pakistan in independently formulating and implementing counter-terrorism measures and conducting international counter terrorism cooperation on the basis of mutual respect.”

We see that the Chinese spokesperson beat about the bush to avoid saying yes or no. But there is reason to believe that China might have told Pakistan to rein in Saeed and his gang not because the UN Security Council (UNSC) had designated him and others as terrorists in December 2008, for the terror attack in Mumbai carnage in November that year but because of his recent certain public statements embarrassing China. Last month Saeed’s organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), quoted him as accusing China and Russia of having a role in terrorism in Pakistan.  The JuD quickly withdrew this statement. In the revised version it said Saeed had asked the Pakistan government to put pressure on these countries and others to tell India to stop committing terrorism in Pakistan.

Whether or not China is satisfied with this correction, Saeed’s campaign for linking the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project to the “freedom” of Kashmir may be alarming at a time when the people of Pakistan are shedding their shyness of speaking against this project and China.

Though so many articles have already been written on Hafiz Saeed’s house arrest, it would never be a reiteration if we again revisit the history of JuD and Hafiz Saeed. As the UNSC designated it as a terrorist organisation in December 2008, in April 2012 the United States put a reward of 5 million on Saeed’s head. On January 3rd of this year Saeed and four of his associates were put under house arrest for an indefinite period and JuD’s charity organisation Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) was put on the terrorist watch list.  On February 2nd Saeed’s name was put on Exit Control List (ECL).

Pakistani media believe Saeed had advance information about his arrest.  As his old trick he attempted to change the name of JuD to an already existing organisation ‘Tehrik-e-Azadi Jammu Kashmir’ (TAJK) apparently to mobilise more support. And also paint a picture that he has been victimised for championing the ‘Kashmir cause’. And now there are almost regular demonstrations by various religious organisations and sectarian outfits demanding his release, though the general public opinion in Pakistan is appeared to be supporting the government’s decision whether taken under pressure or not.

However when Hafiz Saeed’s lawyer returns to the Lahore High Court with his amended appeal, the Court may order his release rejecting evidence against him as insufficient as before. That will be the end of the current drama.