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Monday, December 10, 2018
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Not surprising, Pak does a u-turn on Hafiz Saeed
The Punjab government’s recent decision to withdraw terrorism charges against terrorist mastermind and the main accused in the Mumbai terror attack of 2008, Hafiz Saeed, has only exposed* Pakistan’s nefarious alliance and patronage of terrorist groups. This should give the Trump administration some food for thought given its new-found sympathy for Pakistan.
But the Punjab government’s decision has not surprised anyone who knew even little about Pakistan’s relationship with Hafiz Saeed and other terrorist leaders. A point which needs reiteration is that the provincial government is headed by the beleaguered former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif. His government, despite the positions taken by his elder brother in international forums on terrorism, has been quite indulgent of terrorist groups. In fact, the Shahbaz Sharif government has been going out its way to protect Hafiz Saeed and his terrorist empire. A few months after the Mumbai attack, it was his government which granted a few million rupees to Saeed’s terrorist outfit as ``grant-in aid for charity``.
In Pakistan, nothing as straight-forward as it seems. The state patronage of Saeed and his terrorist group is only one part of the story. The second part is how these terrorist groups are used by one part of the state, that is the civilian political leadership, and the other part, the army, to settle scores and make points. Saeed and his outfit enjoys the patronage of both the groups and hence he remains infallible. So what is the new game in town?
It is not difficult to look at the straws in the wind to make a reasonably accurate assumption. The foremost point is that the army is now virtually in control of the administration and other organs of the state. The political leadership, in the form of a truncated PMLN, are merely strawmen to maintain the façade of a democracy. The real rulers sit in GHQ. The second point is that the army is not keen on getting Nawaz Sharif back in the saddle before the next election which is due next year. It is doing, and will do, everything possible to keep Sharif out in the cold on some real or trumped charge till the elections are held without him. This is how the Generals plan to destruct the sole mainstream party.
A critical part of this plan is to pit their own ``bull`` in the ring—guys like Hafiz Saeed. The Generals hope that if they can make Imran Khan a ``big `` leader, it is not really difficult to make Saeed into another of their muppets in the political arena. Saeed is of course ready to do the bidding---he loses nothing but the tag of being a terrorist. With the Generals’ blessing, he has already floated a political party, Milli Muslim League, with a very sophisticated social media presence and an equally suave outreach programme. Even the slogans are different.
Although the Election Commission has, for now, refused to register the party, Saeed is confident that it is a matter of time before he can run a fully-registered, legitimate political party. He has no dearth of funds or patronage. He is sure of attracting members of other political parties once the elections are round the corner. His confidence is not misplaced.
The Punjab government’s decision to exonerate him of terrorism charges proves the point. And once the Supreme Court takes on record the Punjab government’s recommendation, Saeed and his men would be freed of terrorism charges, and free to enter the political mainstream. The results of the recent Lahore by-elections, won by Sharif’s wife, showed that Saeed’s candidate, contesting as an independent, came third in terms of votes polled. It was no mean achievement for a political novice. The second place was taken by another extremist outfit, created to honour the killer of former Punjab governor, Salman Taseer.
There is a third twist in the tale here which is more dangerous. Is this a deal between the Sharif family and the Generals? In a country like Pakistan, it is quite possible. The deal could be a simple quid pro quo---get Saeed and his men out of the loop in exchange for `soft` handling of the elder Sharif. Sharif and family are embroiled in a major corruption scandal which, if taken to its logical conclusion, will firmly put a lid on the family’s political fortunes. This is something which the Sharif family is not keen to give up, so easily. So if the Generals were to go soft on Nawaz Sharif if the younger brother were to let go of Saeed and his outfit, the family could manage to wrest its position, lie low for a while and then bounce back.
But whatever might be the compulsions of the Sharif family, the pardoning of a terrorist mastermind like Hafiz Saeed is unethical, cowardice and dangerous, an act which undermines not only the safety of millions in the sub-continent but also the very prestige of Pakistan. The Sharifs are aware that such a step would in no way help the country which they,every now and then, vow to protect, and uphold its prestige. They are wittingly or otherwise playing into the hands of the Generals who have had no qualms, in the past, in abandoning the nation’s interests for theirs. In fact, in the overall interest of their country, and their party, the Sharifs should have held up against the Generals and not succumb to be part of the army’s ambitious plan to manage the political discourse in Pakistan.
By letting Hafiz Saeed go scot free, the Sharifs have not only done immense harm to their party’s fortunes but to the country as well.

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