Countering Hafiz Saeed: From Bullets to Ballot?
Hafiz Saeed is planning to rename his organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) as Milli Muslim League Pakistan and launch a new political party in Pakistan on the country’s Independence Day August 14.
The news would have been ordinary and not drawn much media attention worldwide except for the fact that Hafiz Saeed is a UN-designated international terrorist. He carries a bounty of $ 10 million announced by the United States (US) for masterminding the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which 164 civilians, including 6 American citizens, were killed.
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is a co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) and the chief or Amir of JuD, which operates from Pakistan and has had sanctions placed against it as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations. Saeed is also listed on the NIA’s ‘Most Wanted list’ and LET is a banned terrorist organisation in India. The US, Britain, the European Union, Russia and Australia have also banned LET. When LET was banned in Pakistan, the political arm of the group, JuD, was not initially banned despite it being recognsed by the UN Security Council as a LET front. JuD was also banned subsequently. However, JuD continues to work openly as LET’s charitable wing in Pakistan.
Saeed enjoys the patronage of the Pakistani Deep State, ISI in particular. He is treated by the ISI as a “strategic asset” and, despite being in custody in Pakistan since January 31, he continues to enjoy privileges and holds regular meetings with his colleagues and followers and continues to plan and direct terrorist attacks in India.
He is rabidly anti-Indian and regularly spews venom against India and US in hysterical speeches across Pakistan. He is quoted as saying, “There cannot be any peace while India remains intact. Cut them, cut them so much that they kneel before you and ask for mercy.” Imagine such a man becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan!
Though it is an internal matter of Pakistan, India can ill afford to turn a blind eye to the machinations of ISI. India therefore reminded Pakistan it was under international obligation to curb Saeed’s activities and ensure that he was not allowed to operate freely.
Former MEA spokesperson Gopal Baglay said, “A man who is known to trade in bullets was now seeking to hide behind the ballot. A person whose hands are stained with blood of innocent lives is using ballot ink to hide them. This is a matter of concern.” He further stated, “Saeed was an internationally designated terrorist under the UN 1267 provisions. It is Pakistan’s obligation, obviously, to make sure that such individuals and organisations are not able to enjoy the freedom to conduct terrorist activities. Pakistan must also ensure that international sanctions on these individuals and organisations are enforced 100%.”
Is Pakistan shying away from its international obligations? The answer is yes. It appears the ISI is interested in propping him up as a proxy PM so that the Army continues to enjoy supremacy in Pakistan’s unique governance model without attached accountabilities and fulfil its single point agenda of “hate-India.”
There is a convergence of thought processes as both Saeed and the ISI consider India as an existential threat. The ISI will be happy and willing to have a person like him in Islamabad. It is taking shelter behind the cloak of democracy under the pretext that contesting elections is a fundamental right of any citizen. Interestingly, he is under house arrest but has not been convicted by any court in Pakistan. That may debar him from contesting elections. Parliamentary elections are due in Pakistan next summer.
Saeed continues to remain a popular public figure and philanthropist in Pakistan. He enjoys public support and has acquired enough wealth to contest elections. There have been public rallies expressing solidarity with him. Popular Pakistani actor and self-proclaimed political commentator Hamza Abbasi has come out in open support of Saeed on social media, with thousands liking his post about Saeed’s ‘high character’.
There are media reports of Hindus from Tharparkar, Sindh, having supported Saeed. They say, “While Saeed may be a terrorist for Americans and Indians, he is a philanthropist for us, the Hindu community. Saeed and his men have led relief efforts in the poverty-stricken district of Thar, where a significant Hindu population resides.”
Anam Zakaria, a popular Pakistani author had this to say: “How significant or deeply felt these expressions of solidarity are remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Saeed’s party has been effective in usurping the vacuum left by the state, meeting citizens’ needs where the government has been both unable and unwilling to do so. While the Pakistani state seems to be trying to rectify its mistakes and curb such actors in order to improve its international status, it does not help that the frustrated and deprived citizens of Pakistan have started to find relief in the very elements responsible for creating havoc and instability in the country in the first place.
Countering the influence of Saeed will require not just state action against all manifestations of militancy, including those who target India, but also the augmenting of the Pakistani state’s capacity to provide proper services to citizens.”
Fed up with the failure of the current regime, the people of Pakistan may forget the bullets and reward Saeed’s philanthropy through the medium of the ballot.
The implications for India are obvious. If at all Saeed or his protégé manages to capture the high chair in Islamabad, any chances of improving relations with Pakistan would have to be dumped. Saeed is also an advocate of Punjabi being made the national language replacing Urdu. Implosion of Pakistan will be a foregone conclusion since Saeed believes in Punjabi supremacy and the Pakhtuns and Baloch will never accept it.
This is the worst case scenario for both India and US.