Can Pakistan get its act together and break free of Hafiz Saeed? – by Anas Abbas

After Ramazan’s abstinence, patience and struggle, Eid heralds new beginnings and an atmosphere of bonhomie.

In Quetta, you go for Eid prayers at the mosque in your new clothes amid hundreds of other men. You count your blessings by sinking into prayer and going down in sajda to Allah. But as soon as you leave the mosque, there is a hail of bullets and your white clothes are stained with scarlet.

In Islamabad, a suicide bomber tries to kill you inside the mosque, but he is gunned down by a brave security guard. There is blood and mayhem in Pakistan on Eid. How ironic then, that in Lahore, Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, leads a crowd of a thousand for Eid prayers at the famous Gaddafi stadium, hours after the Jamat-ud-Dawah chief tweeted that “time is near when those oppressed in Kashmir, Palestine and Burma will celebrate Eid in the air of freedom.” This preacher of suicide bombing, Hafiz Saeed, has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan ever since the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

Hafiz Saeed has reinvented himself, and everyone seems to be fooled: PTI image

Hafiz Saeed has reinvented himself, and everyone seems to be fooled: PTI image

Hafiz Saeed has strong terrorist credentials, but over the last five years he has,  as aptly described by analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, reinvented himself as a Santa Claus of Pakistan.

During this time,  Saeed has become a TV celebrity cum televangelist, openly boasting of his so called ‘charity’ organization, Jamat ud Dawa, which is involved in relief work as well as anti-India and conspiracy rhetoric. He does not openly preach jihad on TV, but his anti-India stance appeals to the mind inclined towards radicalism.

The reality is that ‘’the rebranding of Hafiz Saeed’’ comprises of assertions of peace and relief work. But this Hafiz Saeed should not be taken as a reality. Actually, he is the same man who readies jihadis against India and legitimized the attack on India’s Red Fort to Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain. Saeed was the main link post 9/11 for al Qaeda who not only provided food and safe houses to families of fighters, but also arranged passports, air tickets and documents to Arab countries, as reported by slain journalist Saleem Shehzad, who was murdered by ISI after he reported the extensive Al Qaeda infiltration in Pakistan Navy.

He is the same Hafiz Saeed who, before Mumbai attacks, openly preached that “suicide bombing is the best form of jihad.” He is the same Hafiz Saeed whose organization’s Jamat ud Dawa’s main propaganda paper Ghazwa not only praised and legitimized 9/11, but also declared the aggressors as heroes.

But after Mumbai attacks, when JD was banned internationally and Pakistan was pressurized to neutralize Saeed by arresting him, he temporarily went underground and his extremist websites were taken down. He remained underground for some time until the Mumbai attacks hysteria cooled down and then came back rebranded as the head of an ostensible pacifist movement which preached humanitarian relief. But this is all a façade.

His agenda remains the same as before the Mumbai attacks, but his strategy and tactics have changed.

The palliative nature of the movement comprises of a three pronged strategy. In the course of my research, I have personally met and studied few JD active volunteers and learned about their strategy. First they rope you in with the misconception that it is a humanitarian organization and recruit volunteers. At the second stage, they fill you with hatred against India and make you realize the awful situation of Muslims all over the world at the hands of non-Muslims, thereby legitimizing sympathy for terrorism. The third stage is execution where they make you realize that as a Muslim it is your duty to wage jihad.

After his rebranding, Hafiz Saeed’s support base has increased in Pakistan and even educated people are donating to his organization because they consider it a charitable foundation.

International media, like CNN, has started recognizing Jamat ud Dawa’s work as a charitable organization. It is the same Hafiz Saeed who is a major stumbling block in the Indo-Pak peace process.

Since 26/11, Pakistan has not taken any step to assuage India’s concerns regarding Hafiz Saeed. Instead, it got Saeed released through sham court trials and now he is roaming around so freely in Pakistan that not only he is able to lead Eid prayers in Pakistan’s popular Gaddafi Stadium, he is also giving his typical anti-India khutbaas after prayers. Instead of restricting Hafiz Saeed’s movements Pakistan has given him freedom to do as he likes.

India should not cling to the hope that Pakistan will press any charges against Saeed, no matter what evidence India presents or even based on the strength of his terrorist credentials. The reason being that Hafiz Saeed has entrenched himself in Pakistani society as the head of a humanitarian relief organization.

No matter how strong the proof which India presents before Pakistan, Pakistani institutions are so polarized and undemocratic that they will never share this information about Hafiz Saeed with the general public. Instead, they will present Saeed as an innocent man falsely accused by India. Sadly, elements in Pakistani media, lawyers and civil society are also involved in supporting the Pakistan state in order to promote Hafiz Saeed’s Santa Claus image.

In fact, those Pakistani journalists or activists who bring forward Hafiz Saeed’s past records or links are either harassed by the Army or killed like Saleem Shehzad. Ever since the Mumbai attacks, the Indo-Pak peace process has been decimated and now if there is any chance of a revival of that peace process, it can only happen if Pakistan takes a substantive initiative in favor of India e.g apprehending Hafiz Saeed and neutralizing his network. However, Pakistan is so dysfunctional and influenced by conspiracy theory mindset that assuming that it will take any confidence building measures is farfetched.

The best example of this is that since 9/11 to the present day, approximately 50,000 people have died in terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil and it has suffered an economic loss of 80 billion dollars. Despite this, even now Pakistan courts and state have been unable to punish any influential terrorist. There is no consensus in Pakistan as to who is responsible for the genocide in the country despite the fact that purported organizations are gleefully taking responsibility for attacks.

The Pakistan India peace process has always been as fragile as a wine glass and has suffered setbacks when some elements in Pakistan have deliberately initiated attacks in India or Pakistan Army has conducted a covert infiltration operation.

As Pakistani retired Air Marshall Asghar Khan said, it was Pakistan who started all four wars with India and India has never been the aggressor. After the Mumbai attacks, there have been many ongoing diplomatic, civil society and media campaigns in which the work of Aman ki Asha is highly commendable.

It is possible that the efforts of those people who are working for peace in these two countries may result in some temporary peace process, but it will be short lived because of the likelihood of another attack emanating from Pakistan. The same story will be repeated as in the Mumbai attacks with Pakistan prevaricating and then stringing India along with hopes of an investigation. It is unrealistic to expect that any peace will result.

Image from IBNlive

Image from IBNlive

Extremist elements in Pakistani society have become so well entrenched that whenever the government declares any peace process there is such a negative reaction from the domestic media that the government backs off. As we saw in the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status that Pakistan was going to confer on India, the reaction was so extreme that it forced the state to back off from that measure. Pakistan wanting to export electricity from India also caused a stinging reaction from Pakistani society. On the one hand, there are the extremist elements which do not let the peace process take off, and on the other hand there is the Pakistani liberal elite which plays the part of a spin doctor who glosses over the Hafiz Saeed issue and puts the onus on India to negotiate with Pakistan, no matter what the circumstances.

The leading culprit of this liberal elite is the Pakistani Jinnah Institute which is being chaired by Sherry Rehman who recently conducted a project academically legitimizing the Pak totalitarian policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan. This class of liberal elite, like Sherry Rehman and another renowned Pakistani journalist Naseem Zehra, do not expose Hafiz Saeed and instead promote the conspiracy theory mindset by saying that India has conducted all the attacks on its’ own soil, terming it as false flag operations and a way of blaming Pakistan.

Basically, Sherry Rehman and Naseem Zehra try to link the Hafiz Saeed in tit for tat contest with the horrific Gujarat riots which happened under the leadership of India’s controversial Narendra Modi which is a highly absurd analogy because Gujrat riots were an indigenous issue of India’s. It is indeed surprising that Pakistan is so worried about Indian Muslims when in its own country minorities are in a bad shape and Shia genocide has continued for 20 years.

Peace is the need of the hour for both India and Pakistan. India has economic competition with China and peace with Pakistan is essential for not only trade relations with Pakistan but also because through Pakistan it will gain a trade route through Central Asia.

For Pakistan, it is even more important because already home grown terrorism has destroyed the country and now it does not need IMF bailouts but peace and trade with India. But the onus is on the Pakistan government; how far is it willing to go to save their country? Commenting on social media and signing petitions will not usher in peace between Pakistan and India because the reality is completely opposite.

It may seem to be a revolutionary point of view for those Indians and Pakistanis who keep stressing that both sides should initiate peace process, but the reality is that Pakistan should be the one to take the first step in order to make the peace process successful. This is exactly what happened in 2004 when Musharraf banned jihadi organizations after American pressure and the Indo Pak peace process was conducted successfully through back channels.

It’s high time that Pakistan media exposes the real Hafiz Saeed, pressurizes the state to take action against him and tell its public the the true reason why Hafiz Saeed was acquitted of all charges in 2009 by the Pakistani Lahore High Court was not because that courts were not convinced of his active links with Al Qaeda but because the judges was of the opinion that Hafiz Saeed’s having links with Al Qaeda was no offence under the law of the Pakistani land since Pakistan had not tagged Al Qaeda as a terrorist group yet.

Only then will Pakistan would be able to formulate a robust counter terrorism strategy and will be able to successfully pass anti-terrorism legislations that are very much required to punish terrorists and their sympathisers.

Anas Abbas is an investigative Counter Terrorism Analyst. He blogs at and tweets at @Anas_Abbas1.

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