Two interesting developments in Pakistan, possibly linked, offer some hope that sections of that country’s leadership understand India’s and the world’s concerns about Hafiz Saeed and may want to address them. He is the leader of the Jamat-ud-Dawa, a group that fronts for the Lashkar-e-Taiba. In the nationalist mythology of Pakistan, LeT is a defunct group that ceased to exist after it was banned in 2002; JuD is a charity organisation that educates children and offers free health services; and Hafiz Saeed is a harmless preacher-teacher-philanthropist. Much of this mythology was derived from the Pakistan security establishment’s patronage of Mr. Saeed and LeT for the jihad in Kashmir. Forced by the United States to act against LeT and other jihadi organisations after 9/11, General Pervez Musharraf reluctantly banned the group in 2002. But Hafiz Saeed’s re-emergence as the leader of JuD indicated that he continued to enjoy some state indulgence. In recent days, a few red lines around him have been breached. First, on September 16, police in the Punjab province registered two cases against him in Faisalabad for glorifying and soliciting funds for jihad, unconnected to the Mumbai attacks. Since 2002, he has been a veteran of house arrests, including after the Mumbai attacks. But this is the first time Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act has been used against him. At the risk of being accused of bending to Indian pressure, Interior Minister Rehman Malik even announced that Mr. Saeed was under investigation for the 26/11 attacks.

From this there is no need to jump to the conclusion that justice is at last being done. Going by the reported contents of the two First Information Reports, the case against Mr. Saeed seems weak. He has not been arrested yet. The invoked section of the law is meant for organisations proscribed under the terrorism Act, and it is not clear if JuD has been banned at all. The question is whether the FIRs and the announcement that Mr. Saeed is under investigation also for his alleged role in the Mumbai attacks will go any further. Ahead of the Sharm-el-Sheikh summit, the Pakistan government went to the Supreme Court against the Lahore High Court’s order releasing the JuD leader from house arrest. But nothing came of it. Similarly, the recent actions against Mr. Saeed have come just before the foreign secretaries and foreign ministers of India and Pakistan are to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. But despite the doubts, and given the known constraints on Pakistan’s elected leadership when it comes to touching some holy cows, it would be premature to dismiss these small steps as meaningless. New Delhi’s cautious welcome was the right response.


Sharm el Sheikh revisited September 23, 2009

Hafiz Saeed files plea to quash casesSeptember 24, 2009

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