As not only India but the whole world solemnly marked the 9th anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the LHC’s decision was keenly awaited by the international community. But clearly the provincial and federal government agencies in Pakistan did not realise the criticality of their actions (or the lack of these) with their failure to bring sufficient evidence against Saeed for his involvement in any terrorist activity. This even as the authorities had 10 months to investigate and muster up the evidence. Yet, there are no cases against him, no charges against him have been proved and neither is the government interested in opening up cases.
This has become the hallmark of the Pakistani political establishment. Whenever there is acute international pressure to take some action against the regional, globally-designated or sectarian terrorist groups operating from the soil of Pakistan, law-enforcement agencies and the ‘most efficient’ security establishment in Pakistan - instead of initiating serious investigations - will initiate the farcical crackdown to appease the international community, wait for the things to calm down and then let loose these groups again. As it is evident for another terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) led by Maulana Masood Azhar, which is lying low in the aftermath of the terrorist attack at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot. But its regular activities like recruitment, publication and relief activities through its frontal organisations are going on unaffected.
In the case of Hafiz Saeed, his strident rhetoric began immediately after coming out free, when he claimed that his release was a slap on the face of India and that Kashmir would soon be free.
Saeed’s release comes at a time when Pakistan’s polity is in mess with most mainstream political parties on the back foot with charges of corruption, nepotism, factional politics and persistent pressure from the Pak Army. The federal government of by the Pakistan Muslim League led by ousted Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, (PML-N) has become almost lame duck, waiting to announce the general elections, while the opposition parties Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek–e-Insaaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan, are slugging it out without any attention to the real issues that Pakistanis want them to pay such as healthcare, education, electricity, urban and rural transport etc. The recent protests by the TLY in the last week of November and the way in which the civilian government capitulated to the demands of the extremists, has demonstrated whose writ runs on the streets of Pakistan.
This is particularly true of the Punjab province, where the PML-N and PPP look weakest in their conditions with no prospects of the PTI to capture the province, despite its impressive show in the NA-120 seat of Lahore in September. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) figures, the PML-N lost 11 per cent of the vote while the PTI gained three per cent over the 2013 results.
Hafiz Saeed’s release is to be seen in the backdrop of this weakened position of the established mainstream parties, which sets the stage for rise of a rightwing extremists and religious parties such as one propped by Saeed’s LeT and Jammaat-ud-Daawa (JuD) cadres, taking advantage of the extensive charity network of the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF). If the latest media reports are indicative, the FIF has already established connections with the militant outfits in the troubled Rakhine province of Myanmar and extended its network amongst the hapless Rohingya refugees who are prone to radical and terrorist propaganda given the atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar Army.
Back in Pakistan, former military dictator Parvez Musharraf, already sensing an opportunity, has announced that he is open to join hands with Saeed. Yet, the fate of Musharraf’s own party, All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) remains uncertain despite forming an alliance of like-minded parties. So, with this kind of impetus being given to Hafiz Saeed, it is natural that the international community should be prepared to see a much more explicit role for the extremist groups and parties who will openly espouse their vitriolic propaganda as they enter the electoral arena and attempt to outdo their other right-wing extremist competitors.
While the international community is well aware of these games by Pakistan, there has not been a sustained pressure to force Pakistan’s moves. A recently passed bill - National Defence Authorisation Act, 2018, the US Congress asks Pakistan to take demonstrable action against the Haqqani Network, which the US says still has hideouts in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and uses them for launching attacks inside Afghanistan. But the earlier draft version of the bill also had the LeT along with the Haqqani Network, meaning Pakistan had to take demonstrable action against both the entities.
While the US is right in considering the threat posed by the Haqqani Network to its interests, its approach towards the LeT is inexplicable because the ecosystem in Pakistan which breeds whether the LeT or Haqqani Network remains same with same set of terror ideologues and scholars espousing extremism, mosques and training camps in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. More importantly both groups continue to follow the instructions as given by the Pakistan’s ‘deep state’, which does not consider the US as an ally, but has its eyes set on China - the new benefactor. Only one hope remains now - when the edifice of Pakistan’s state institutions are crumbling – this is the judiciary in Pakistan. Though the higher judiciary in Pakistan in last few years has sometimes exhibited exemplary courage to uphold the rule of law and not the threat of street power and while the political executive remained pusillanimous and Armed Forces arrogant and adamant, it would remain to see how long and how far the judiciary would be able to exert itself against this Mullah-Military nexus.