Should we put Pakistan at stake for Hafiz Saeed?

Published in the Daily Times on April 10th 2012







There are many fellow travellers I am not proud of sharing my green Pakistani passport with but I am particularly not proud of sharing this passport with Hafiz Saeed. His organisation is a declared terrorist outfit by the United Nations Security Council. He is a source of embarrassment to every Pakistani who wants to see Pakistan’s economy thrive and who prays for reclamation by this country of its rightful place in the international community. Who would want to do business with a country where a renowned hatemonger is given state shelter?

Even more disturbing is that the Pakistan government does not agree with the charge and continues to support and protect Saeed’s movements in the country, where he holds rallies under the Difa-e-Pakistan Council umbrella and preaches hatred for fellow Pakistanis who disagree with his totalitarian vision of a theocracy.

Born in 1950, Saeed is the head of the Jama’at-ud-Da’wah (JuD), a charity organisation that is considered a front for Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), which is as stated above a banned outfit. The bounty politics and the diplomatic maneouvring by the Indian lobby in the US are of no consequence to me as a Pakistani. Here is what I know: time and again, the LeT and JuD have taken to the streets. In response to the caricature controversy in Denmark, this organisation systematically burnt down a great part of the Mall Road, Lahore. Last month, the JuD is said to have spearheaded a movement to ban the right to worship of a peaceful community in Rawalpindi. Is there no accountability for acts of terror aimed at citizens of this country let alone violence aimed at other nations?

Saeed’s hate speeches at mass rallies, which have gained prominence, include inciting violence against the “enemies of Pakistan”, even though on a television show on Geo TV, he has denied that he supports terrorism. His popularity has grown since the US announced a bounty of $ 10 million on his head. He is being hailed as a defiant hero instead of being held accountable for what he did.

The bounty was a long time coming. The statements against Saeed had been mounting. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and adviser to Barack Obama on Afghanistan and Pakistan in an interview to the Daily Telegraph said that the evidence showed that Osama bin Laden played a key role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people died, including four Americans. There is also proof that both Hafiz Saeed and Osama bin Laden communicated through a courier until bin Laden died.

Saeed does not shy away from this association. It was he who led the funeral prayers for Osama bin Laden after the Americans eliminated him in a strike in Abbottabad on May 4, 2011, to the embarrassment of the ISI. He cried while he read the prayers for the world’s most wanted terrorist and called him a “martyr” and a “fellow Muslim brother”.

Meanwhile Saeed mocks the bounty, clearly emboldened by the Pakistan government’s appeasement of the ISI that supports him. “I am here, I am visible. America should give that reward money to me,” he added, “I will be in Lahore tomorrow. America can contact me whenever it wants to.”

The problem is not just that Saeed continues to spread ideology advocating terrorism despite the bounty, but that the government thinks he is important enough to take a stand for, against both the US and India. This is the same government that backed off after the murder of Salmaan Taseer, and rather than crack down on the Blasphemy law, it let flowers be garlanded on the murderer. This constant soft peddling runs the risk of Pakistan being perceived as a nation that has no capacity to act on its own. In this case, it may again be shamed if the US undertakes a unilateral strike against Saeed as it did for Osama.

The phrase ‘due process’ has been thrown around quite a bit. This is quite ironic. Our courts, which have repeatedly trampled on due process rights of its citizens, are willing to use this principle to defend someone who openly advocates violence and terrorism. Our selective application of legal principles has a Machiavellian tone to it. This country, which has hauled up dissidents and patriots alike for far lesser a slight, is incapable of jailing Saeed because of due process. The whole idea is a joke.

By deliberately sending the world a message that someone so clearly connected to violence in a very direct and deliberate manner, running a group on the fringe, has more freedom in this country than a normal citizen is not very dignified.

We do not need Hafiz Saeed with his dubious background to be the one to champion the cause of the rights of the Kashmiris, or the drone attacks — we have our politicians for that. By not sending a ‘we are on the same page’ message to the US on this one, the government is fueling the right wing sentiments in Pakistan that view Saeed as a religious scholar and not a terrorist. The state radio refers to him as “Professor Hafiz Saeed”.

We also threaten the gradual progress, especially on trade, made with India, when we fail to carry out a joint investigation into the allegations against Saeed. His recent vitriolic remarks against India came at a time when President Zardari was due to visit India for a personal trip. This visit would help in thawing the diplomatic channels given that the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, is travelling with him and that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to hold a lunch in the visiting delegation’s honour.

The bounty on Saeed’s head is a direct result of Pakistan’s inaction; it can now either enter wholeheartedly into a world of international isolation and defy cooperation on this issue, or act like a responsible country and work effectively to put Saeed behind bars.

The types of Hafiz Saeed are not good for Pakistan’s image, for its economy and consequently for the poor people of this country. How long are you going to feed them a diet of misplaced zeal, misguided sense of honour and a sheer misreading of the events of our time? Tell them the truth. Let them figure out if they really want the dystopia that people like Hafiz Saeed want it to be or whether they stand for something different. My bet is on the latter.

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