Is Hafiz Saeed expendable for Pakistan?

Pakistan’s Lahore court decision to release Hafiz Seed recently from his house arrest has attracted international criticism of the national regime creating a situation for national policy at home.

Washington has seen the release of Saeed as an act of noncompliance with its conviction to deseed all terrorist elements from its soil, threatening Pakistan of consequences. In Islamabad though preparations are in the making of how this issue is to be discussed with US Defence Secretary James Mattis’ during his visit in the first week of December, we can expect little in terms of seeing a verdict against Seed soon.

Saeed, accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that took 166 lives, including those of 6 American citizens, was dubbed by Indian media as a butcher of innocent smiles. He declined any part in Mumbai attacks imploring the British media, “do I look like one (biggest and most evil terrorist) to you?”

Saeed, 68, founded the militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), in 1990. After it was banned globally he revived a Jamaat-ud-Dawa as its tributary in 2002. Washington has placed a $10 million reward for information leading to Saeed’s prosecution. While the former is a militant organisation allegedly operating in Kashmir, the latter claims to perform as an Islamic welfare organisation.

Pakistani court claims that the h release Saeed was imminent in the light of insufficient evidence. Saeed has faced detention in 2001, 2006 and 2008 on accusations of attacks Indian Parliament, straining international relationships and Mumbai attacks. At no time charges were proved against him. New Delhi’s strong case against him is supported by allies in Washington but Pakistan claims that New Delhi has failed to provide any evidence against the suspect that could incriminate him.

Pakistan is seeing the international implications of Saeed release with a different lens. This time the policy shift is to use a disadvantageous event to its benefit. Pakistan will reaffirm its stand against providing sanctuary to any terrorist faction and reiterate its conviction to bring Saeed to justice once enough evidence is found for his prosecution. Washington will see demands of ceasing to exert pressure on Pakistan to appease India. The policy will seek Washington to change its “do more” demand from Islamabad to a more balanced relationship with New Delhi and Islamabad.

That said Saeed remains a contested figure in Pakistan. Despite the fact that in a recent reevaluation U.S. shed the condition from the national Defence Authorisation that Pakistan use military operations to quell the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the accusations of a compliance between LeT and its tributaries with the Pakistani establishment exist. In an interview with the media, General Musharraf was seen vehemently adoring Saeed, glorifying him as a hero against the injustices in the neighbouring Kashmir. This is conflicting because in the past the country’s leadership chose to distance themselves from characters like Saeed.

However Islamabad chooses to broker a deal with Washington, it is important that the stance on Saeed is clear at home. During his recent house arrest, Jamaat-ud-Dawa formed Milli Muslim League and contested the bye-elections in Lahore and Peshawar. Saeed could openly partake in the national elections. If that is to be the case, Islamabad would need to build a strong case to defy its friend and allies in Washington who have imposed sanctions on LeT and its front organisations, leaders and operatives since 2012.

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