Pressure from several quarters, including the US and China, led to Pakistan taking steps to curtail the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed but it is still not clear if the move was part of a larger crackdown on his jihadi network.
Late on Monday night, a large police team surrounded Jamaat-ud-Dawah’s headquarters at Jamia Masjid al-Qadsia in the bustling Chowburji area of Lahore as Saeed was holding a meeting with his aides. Orders issued by the federal interior ministry had directed the home department of Punjab province to place Saeed and four of his aides in “preventive detention”.
Reports have quoted officials as saying that Saeed will be held at his residence at Johar Town area of Lahore for three months. There were also reports of a police contingent being deployed at the JuD’s ‘markaz’ (centre) at Muridke on the outskirts of Lahore.
In many ways, the actions were strongly reminiscent of the actions taken by Pakistan in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, which Saeed was accused of masterminding. At the time, authorities had taken over JuD’s offices and centres and Saeed and several key aides were placed under house arrest.
But within six months, Saeed was freed on the orders of the Lahore high court, which cited a lack of evidence against him. Though the US offered a $10 million bounty for Saeed in April 2012, the move did not crimp his activities – he continued to address rallies while the JuD and its front organisations continued their fund-raising and recruitment.
Some in Islamabad believe the action taken on Monday was simply aimed at relieving growing pressure on Pakistan from the US and even China to crack down on wanted terrorists and to fulfil international obligations, including sanctions imposed by the Al Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee of the UN Security Council.
Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had hinted at these pressures when he told reporters on Monday afternoon that action would be taken to fulfil international obligations regarding the JuD. “The organisation has been under observation since 2010-11. Since it has also been listed by the UN Security Council (sanctions committee), we are bound to take some steps and we are taking those steps to fulfil our obligations,” he said.
A security analyst in Islamabad, who did not want to be named, said China too had nudged Pakistan on the need to act against wanted terrorists. “Apart from the pressure publicly exerted by Washington, Beijing has been quietly pushing Islamabad to act against these people. This could possibly have been a bigger factor in Monday’s developments,” the analyst told Hindustan Times.
There were also reports that the US used a recent report by the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), an associate body of the Financial Action Task Force, that referred to the activities and financing of the JuD to push for action against Saeed.
But questions remain about Pakistan’s ultimate goal and real intentions in taking action against the JuD and its chief. For one, the order issued on January 29 by Pakistan’s interior ministry for action against JuD and its front, the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, states these organizations have been listed in the Second Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
This means there has been no real change in the status of the two organisations – they will only be on an official “watch list” – and there is still no ban on them. The FIF will be on the watch list for only six months, though the period can be subsequently extended.
Two, the interior ministry’s orders offered no evidence against Saeed and the others detained or the two organisations. They also did not cite specific violations of the law and only contained vague references that the actions of the organisations “may be concerned in terrorism”.
Under these circumstances, Saeed’s lawyers – among the best in Lahore – will face no problems in approaching the courts and getting the detention order revoked.
“The government has moved in the right direction but it remains to be seen if this action will be sustained or Saeed is free and back to his activities within weeks or months,” the security analyst said.