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Pakistan’s Jihadi corps and its Commander

New Delhi : For the Pakistani establishment, Hafiz Muhammed Saeed is no mere mortal. He is their Most Favoured Jihadi. The association between Hafiz Saeed and the Pakistani establishment is now over 30 years old and the bond has only grown stronger.

Besides, Saeed is an amenable and loyal jihadi. Unlike the other India-specific jihadi Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, whose jihadis tried to assassinate General Musharraf, Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Tayyaba are not just Caliphate’s soldiers, they are also Rawalpindi’s main jihadi strike corps for the Kashmir theatre. He is no pawn; he is more like the versatile Queen on the chessboard, he can be moved in any direction any time as many times as necessary.

Added to that, he can be made to say and do things against archenemy India as and when desired. Ghazwa-e-Hind is his clarion call. Gradually over time, Saeed’s Khaki Masters had successfully built, Jamaat-ut-Dawa, the political arm of the Lashkar- e-Tayyaba as a charity and welfare organisation.

The bonds are so strong that last year the Pakistani rulers had contemplated mainstreaming Saeed and in effect, mainstreaming jihad by letting him form a political party that would contest elections scheduled later in 2018. He was expected to garner quite a few votes and attain respectability in the western eyes as a ‘reformed’ jihadi.

It would seem that arrangements are being made ahead of the forthcoming elections to have truly amenable persons who are able to say what is expected of them or do as told. The idea was also to save Saeed from further action by an angry US President but it ended up appearing as the most audacious move by the Generals of Pakistan. The idea that Hafiz Saeed would then represent Pakistan or its government could be accepted with a shudder or as reflecting the true reality of modern Pakistan.

Currently however, Hafiz Saeed has been in a bit of a bother. The earlier practice of locking him but actually granting him sanctuary under the pretext of arrest because of his activities, does not seem to be working very well. In the past, whenever faced with pressure from the west or the UN to act against terrorism, Pakistanis have obfuscated and prevaricated. A few cosmetic actions are taken, the issue is gets lost or forgotten in the fog of a global war on terror or the organisation is allowed to resurface in another incarnation.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Donald Trump assumed office as President on January 21, 2017 and Pakistani authorities placed Hafiz Saeed under house arrest on January 30. The Nawaz Sharif government was showing its sincerity in tackling terror to the new president and cited the listing by the UNSC Sanctions Committee in 2011. The Pakistan Interior Minister Choudhry Nisar Ali announced loftily that Pakistan was fulfilling its obligations. As in the past, the JuD reappeared in a new name – TehreekAzadi Jammu and Kashmir (TAJK – Movement for Freedom of Kashmir).

Earlier, Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Tayyabahad been banned on January 14, 2002, two days after the famous General Musharraf speech promising support to US-led war on terror. The party had renamed itself Jamaat-ut-Dawa and later functioned under the name of its charity, Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation.

In May 2008, the United States Department of the Treasury designated Hafiz Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224. The US action in May 2008 did not deter the LeT and its masters from carrying out the terror attack in Mumbai in November 2008. It said LeT and several of its front organisations, leaders, and operatives remain under both State Department and Treasury Department sanctions. Since 2012, the United States has offered a $10 million reward for information bringing Saeed to justice.UNSC Resolution 1267 in December 2008 following the November 2008 Mumbai attack individually designated Saeed as a terrorist.

This time the U.S. government has not taken kindly to the various measures that the Pakistan government has taken. The US government viewed the release of Hafiz Saeed in November and the plans to let him organise a new political party with grave misgivings. The United States reacted sharply when it announced on April 2 that it had designated Milli Muslim League (MML) as a foreign terrorist group because it was operating as a front for Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT) which is also on the U.S. terrorist list. Despite the listing or maybe because of it, the MML has asserted it will participate in the elections.

Another group allegedly linked to LeT and the newly formed, Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir, was also added to the U.S. terrorist list. It is well known that the United States has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Saeed. However, so far, Hafiz Saeed has faced no great hindrance in his activities; he has been addressing rallies and attending functions.

Despite various resolutions, particularly in the past decade or so, Pakistan was able to circumvent these largely because of an inability to pressure Pakistan adequately. Recent actions by Pakistan would suggest that the heat is being turned up. The decision of the Financial Action Task Force in February to put Pakistan on the grey list in June 2018 was a setback despite China and Saudi Arabia on the committee.

This forced a flutter of activity in Pakistan. 148 properties of JuD and FIF in the Punjab were seized and other properties in Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan as well as Pak Occupied Kashmir. Pakistan will have to prepare an action plan along with FATF to curb terror funding and money laundering. Pakistan’s past record on both terror financing and recruitment of jihadis has been deliberately abysmal and there is room for skepticism here.

The UNSC consolidated list of terrorist organisations and individuals released on April 3, features as many as 139 names. This galaxy includes include Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim and other personages like Ayman Al-Zawahiri along with his associates are suspected to be hiding somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions. Lashkar-e-Taiba’smedia person, YahyaMujahid and Hafiz Saeed’s deputies, Abdul Salaam and Zafar Iqbal, are also in the list. ZakiurRehmanLakhvi, the LeT chief of military operations who has also been associated with al Qaeda, was placed on the terror list and has an Interpol warrant issued against him, like the others.

Past U.S. presidents have threatened harsh action but never got around to following this threat. Large infusions of economic and military worked the other way. It merely strengthened the military. President Trump has so far been showing more determination not only on controlling terrorism but several other issues ranging from trade to nuclear matters. Maye this is for real this time, considering that in January 2018 the US suspended the US $ 1.3 billion military aid. It is not that his predecessors did not understand or did not know what was going on it was just that they had the wrong end of the argument.

They never pressed Pakistan on India-specific terrorists. Given that, Pakistan’s entire security and foreign policy hinged on the India threat. If they had pushed Pakistan on this front the Pakistanis would have been would have been morepliable on the Taliban front. Pushing Pakistan to deliver on the Taliban without pushing on the Indian front left the Pakistanis free to do what they really wanted to do all the time.

This time Pakistan may have miscalculated the extent of frustration in DC or US willingness to take harsh steps. The argument that Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state and hence US choices are limited only feeds into the Pakistani logic that it can continue to increase and improve its arsenal and simultaneously support terrorism. In their paper in February 2017, Lisa Curtis and Husain Haqqani (A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan-Enforcing Aid Conditions without Cutting Ties – Hudson Institute) argued that eight years of Obama’s presidency had been spent in trying to coax Pakistan through personal ties to change policy. Pakistan disregarded all these attempts both on the Afghanistan and India borders.

The US President has to make clear that if Pakistan wishes to be an ally it must behave like one and if it wants to be treated as a responsible member of the international community it must behave like one. Harbouring terrorists of various hues, promoting terrorism in the neighbourhood and wherever else are not what responsible states do and allies do not follow their own agendas contrary to agreed ones.

This message, that those responsible for these erroneous policies must pay a price, has never been effectively delivered in the past. Or will there be wiggle room for Pakistan, as in the past?

Mr. Vikram Sood is a former Secretary, R & AW, Government of India. (ANI)

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