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Hafiz Saeed release: Pakistan moving from state sponsor of terror to state run by terrorists

The failure of the Pakistani government to press a charge against Hafiz Saeed signifies Nawaz Sharif’s decline and the court judgment reflects the military’s ascension

editorials Updated: Nov 24, 2017 16:27 IST
Hindustan Times
LeT,Terror,Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed gestures outside a court in Lahore, Pakistan, November 22(AP)

It is no surprise that a Pakistani court has allowed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Saeed to walk the streets again. From the start, his detention was little more than an eyewash by the Pakistani administration in response to the fierce global criticism of LeT’s role in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. Saeed was never formally charged with any terror crimes; his detention was based on minor public order rules. The judges argued that if Islamabad would not charge Saeed with a crime, then it was time to end his four-year long detention.

While there is speculation about whether Saeed’s release was linked to a lack of pressure from Washington, it is more likely that his release is the outcome of a changed domestic political landscape in Pakistan. LeT is the terrorist group most closely associated with the Pakistani military, so any serious action against Saeed was unlikely. The battle over his detention helped highlight Pakistan’s state sponsorship of terror to the rest of the world and promoted a broader, long-term policy of isolating Pakistan within the international community. That policy has been successful: Islamabad still has friends, but a lot fewer than in the past.

What precipitated Saeed’s release is the ongoing power struggle between former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the military establishment. One could almost say the failure of the government to press a charge against Saeed signifies Sharif’s decline. The judgment is just as much a reflection of the military’s heightened power. Part of the military’s strategy is promoting a cluster of political parties to undermine Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). These have included a party built around former cricketer, Imran Khan, but today also include a political party structured around LeT. With Pakistani general elections scheduled for next year, it was necessary for Saeed to be released so that the LeT chief could effect the transition from a pretend prisoner to an authentic politician.

While Saeed’s release is reprehensible, it should be recognised that his conviction on terror charges would have meant a fundamental shift in the mindset of the Pakistani military establishment. His release indicates that if there is any change, it is only for the worse. Rawalpindi’s generals seem to have concluded that it makes sense for the future of their country to bring Saeed and his murderous cohorts into the political mainstream. Pakistan may now cease being a state sponsor of terrorism and instead become a state run by terrorists.

First Published: Nov 24, 2017 16:05 IST