The manner in which the Pakistani courts have dealt with the various arrests of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba founder Hafiz Mohammed Saeed look somewhat farcical. But what is interesting in the latest case is that the Pakistani government counsel sought to justify his detention on the grounds that Saeed’s activities could harm relations with a neighbouring country. This, we could argue, implies that Islamabad has accepted that the Lashkar chief is indeed involved in terrorist activities against India, even though it is making its case very tentatively. This may be a temporary measure, or it could be the beginning of a process through which his activities are permanently curtailed.
The Pakistani judiciary’s take on terrorism seems to be as schizophrenic as that of the executive. On the one hand it seeks to claim the judicial high ground by freeing a person detained under a draconian ordinance, even though he happens to have a history as the leader of a terrorist organisation. On the other hand, it refuses to act against the allegedly illegal renditions of al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists to the United States.
The Pakistani system, without butter melting in its mouth, claims that Saeed is merely the head of a charity, the Jammat-ud-Dawa. Yet earlier this year, the US, after careful scrutiny, had placed the Jamaat on its list of terrorist organisations. Saeed’s malevolent utterances against Hindus and the terrorist attacks organised by the group in India have not ended. Yet, like the Pakistani government that has treated Saeed with kid gloves and made him serve the short periods of detention in state guest houses, the courts have been incredibly soft on him. When Saeed was arrested in April, he was freed by a court order declaring his detention illegal; the story was repeated in August. This time the courts have freed him saying his detention order was made under foreign pressure. Perhaps it is best to wait and watch before we can pass a definitive judgment on the Pakistani establishment’s current stand on terrorism.