Is it mere wishful thinking – or time to say Khuda Hafiz to Hafiz Saeed?
A number of Indian news sites carried a Press Trust of India report on February 21 stating that Pakistan had cancelled the licences of 44 weapons issued to the co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba and the chief of Jama’at-ud-Da’wah Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and other members of his organisations.
The PTI report cited a Punjab (Pakistan) home department notification as having cancelled the licenses for security reasons and mentioned action being taken against two of Saeed’s organisations, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation.
The strange thing was that none of the major Pakistani papers like the Dawn or the Express Tribune have reported the licence ban, neither can it be found on the Pakistan Punjab government website.
So the news can either be taken with a pinch of salt, or, it could be assumed that the Pakistani authorities have indeed acted as the PTI report indicates, but are being discreet about the decision which, if true, would have shaken Saeed.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba founder has long believed in ensuring his own security. But if the guns have been taken away, he must be feeling quite vulnerable, unless the authorities have stepped in with their own security which they would, in any case, have to provide, if indeed it is true that he is under house arrest.
The cancellation of licences report comes on the heels of the Pakistan Punjab government’s decision to put Saeed and four of his colleagues under house arrest in Lahore for a period of 90 days on January 30. In addition, the jihadi leader and many of his associates belonging to the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation have been put on the Exit Control List barring them from leaving Pakistan.
There had been a bit of a stir when Pakistan’s defence minister Khwaja Asif declared at the Munich Security Conference earlier this week that “Saeed could pose a serious threat to the society” and had hence been placed under house arrest in the country’s “larger interest”.
Saeed’s arrest provoked the predictable uproar from the Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a grouping of religious extremists of which he is a vice president. But the action under the fourth schedule of the country’s Anti Terrorist act very clearly signaled an acknowledgement of his being linked to terrorism in some way.
There has been a great deal of speculation as to the Pakistani action. Some say that it is token action to assuage the Pakistani public opinion which has been shaken by a spate of eight terror attacks this month killing more than 100 people. The latest attack on one of the leading Sufi shrines at Sehwan has shaken the entire country.
Others speculate that anticipating a tough United States administration under new President Donald Trump, Pakistan is trimming its sails in advance. Asif, in his Munich speech, claimed that Pakistan was in the frontline of countries fighting terrorism and even criticised the West for its alleged isolationist policies.
The statement by Pakistan Army Spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor that the decision was taken in “national interest” indicates that the government’s goals are quite narrow. There is speculation that the Pakistan Army, which has a new chief, is concerned about the spread of Jama’at-ud-Da’wah activities to other countries. Perhaps equally important is the growing influence of the outfit in Pakistan itself. The Jama’at-ud-Da’wah and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation run efficient social service networks, and Saeed has been trying to stoke Punjabi nationalism to expand his political footprint.
There is even a strand of opinion suggesting that the Chinese may be tiring of the opprobrium they have to face in supporting Pakistan’s favourite terrorists. However, the Chinese have more fish to fry in the region than pressure Pakistan on Saeed. Apart from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, they have to worry about stabilising northern Pakistan, which includes a portion of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, to prevent the jihadi virus escaping north to Xinjiang. Second, they have an interest in stabilising Afghanistan to part their larger central Asian policy and insulate Xinjiang from the jihadi virus, in particular the Islamic State, given that scores of Uighyur fighters are believed to be fighting alongside the IS in Syria and Iraq.
As far as India is considered, it is watching on with bemused interest. It, of course, has great interest in what Saeed does and what happens to him. Unfortunately, it has been unable to actually lay his hands on him and try him for the murder of 166 persons in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 and other acts of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. So it is dependent on Pakistani actions. And those actions have not been particularly heartening.
Yet, if the cancellation of the arms licences report is indeed true, there does appear to be a new development. Because the one thing that Hafiz Saeed will worry about will be the possibility of getting picked up by Indian or American intelligence agencies and having to face the music for his malign past.
This commentary was published in scroll.in