FEEL­ING THE HEAT

India Today - - INSIDE - By Wa­ja­hat S. Khan Is­lam­abad

The real story be­hind Pak­istan’s sud­den house ar­rest of 26/11 master­mind Hafiz Saeed

Pak­istan army spokesper­son Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor has said Pak­istan’s de­ci­sion to ar­rest Hafiz Saeed, leader of a ‘phi­lan­thropic’ or­gan­i­sa­tion with es­tab­lished mil­i­tant cre­den­tials and sus­pected links to the Mum­bai ter­ror at­tacks of 2008, is based on a new “na­tional pol­icy and for the na­tional in­ter­est”.

Saeed, who has a $10 mil­lion bounty placed on his head by the United States, is of­ten cited by In­dia as the “master­mind” of the Mum­bai ter­ror at­tacks, which re­sulted in the deaths of 166 peo­ple, in­clud­ing sev­eral Amer­i­cans. He has been ap­pre­hended at least four times be­tween 2002 and 2009, but was let go af­ter a few months in de­ten­tion. The pop­u­lar ji­hadist can still at­tract large crowds with his anti-Amer­ica and anti-In­dia di­a­tribes.

But mil­i­tary in­sid­ers are say­ing that Saeed’s house ar­rest in La­hore on Jan­uary 30 has to do with a fast chang­ing lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment, in­clud­ing the new Don­ald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in the US and a change of guard in the pow­er­ful Pak­istan army. Sig­nif­i­cantly, Saeed has been de­tained un­der the stricter Pak­istan Anti-Ter­ror Act.

Gen­eral Qa­mar Javed Ba­jwa, Pak­istan’s new chief of army staff, has a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing re­li­giously pro­gres­sive and pro-demo­cratic. His boss, Prime Min­is­ter

Nawaz Sharif, has been try­ing to normalise re­la­tions with In­dia since com­ing to power in 2013, but has been side­tracked by ter­ror at­tacks trace­able to Pak­istan and grow­ing un­rest in the In­dian-ad­min­is­tered por­tion of Kash­mir. Days be­fore he ap­pointed Ba­jwa in Novem­ber 2016, Sharif told me, “The con­tra­dic­tory pol­icy of du­al­ity—sup­port for some mil­i­tants and go­ing against oth­ers—will soon be fin­ished.”

Thus, the ar­rest of Saeed, a Qu­ranic ex­pert with ex­treme views about jihad with In­dia and a man who has his­tor­i­cally en­joyed state pro­tec­tion, is be­ing linked to the chang­ing fac­tors at home and abroad. “Re­cent in­di­ca­tors from our friends, the US and China, are that he has to go,” said a se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, on con­di­tion of anonymity, on the side­lines of a rare mil­i­tary brief­ing held at the army head­quar­ters in Rawalpindi on Jan­uary 31, less than 24 hours af­ter Saeed’s ar­rest. “The UN, the Amer­i­cans etc. have been ask­ing ques­tions about how the state has not been able to control this man.”

Maj. Gen. Ghafoor added that the new army chief ’s re­solve to im­prove Pak­istan’s se­cu­rity is clear. “If Pak­istan im­proves, and the army chief goes to his grave, he would think it’s still worth it,” he says. “For Gen. Ba­jwa, in­di­vid­u­als are less im­por­tant than the state. Na­tional in­ter­est must pre­vail.” As for pres­sure from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­ing a cause for the ar­rest, he says, “There are all sorts of pres­sures from within the global sys­tem. We don’t live in a vac­uum. A ma­jor de­ci­sion like this one was not made ran­domly.”

“Of course, the Pak­ista­nis will re­act to a chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” says She­hzad Chaudhry, a for­mer air force of­fi­cer and pop­u­lar TV an­a­lyst. “This ar­rest is a win-win de­ci­sion. The Chi­nese, our best friends, are go­ing to be happy, for we don’t have to em­bar­rass them any more. The Amer­i­cans will be happy that we’ve fi­nally heard them out. The In­di­ans will lose a ma­jor ex­cuse to com­plain about us to the rest of the world. And Mr Saeed will un­der­stand that when it comes to him or Pak­istan, Pak­istan will be the ob­vi­ous choice.”

Cover by BANDEEP SINGH

Hafiz Saeed be­ing taken away by the po­lice in La­hore

Po­lice bar­ri­cade the road to Saeed’s house in La­hore

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