Pak’s Eye Wash


The US administration under Donald Trump is not ready to give a long rope to Pakistan

Picture: Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Azhar Masood with Hafiz Saeed; Donald Trump with Rex Tilerson

By Shankar Kumar

After putting Lashkar-e-Taiba founder and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed and some members of his organization under house arrest in January, Pakistan has cancelled licenses of 44 weapons issued to this mastermind of the 26/11 attack.  Besides, the country’s Interior Ministry has forwarded a letter (containing list of Saeed and his JuD associates) to all provincial governments and the Federal Investigation Agency, preventing them from leaving the country. Although such developments took place because of mounting pressure from the international community, including India and the US, but they are more of gimmick than a reality and this is what Pakistani journalist Najma Sethi also admits.

Joining one-on-one talk at Pakistan’s highly watched news television, Geo TV on February 21, Najma Sethi said, “Pakistan is a nuclear state; it can’t succumb to any dictate. For some time it lies low, sometime it talks straight and does what suits its interest. Pakistan took $20 billion from the US, but has it done anything at the biddings of Washington? But then you have to understand that in the US, it is now a regime which is led by Donald Trump. He is not what Obama used to be or Bush (George W Bush) was. Therefore, Pakistan cannot ignore him. Keeping Hafiz saab under house arrest appears to be a tactical decision.” But India appears to be amused with the development.

Even though the country is still in wait and watch state, it is happy to see that the US under Trump is not ready to give a long rope to Pakistan. It is not going to incentivize Islamabad unless the latter takes firm action terrorist groups. Last year, the US under Barack Obama administration withheld $800 million in military aid to Pakistan. Sale of F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad have already been blocked. A bill is pending in US Congress to declare Pakistan as a terrorist state. And recently, for the first time, the US, supported by the UK and France, pushed a proposal to declare Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Azhar Masood as terrorist only to face China wall at the UN Security Council. Yet what pushed Pakistan to show that it is against terrorists and that jehadis like Hafiz Saeed are no more the country’s strategic assets is the fear that the Trump administration may put Pakistan under a new list of countries banned for US visas.

The newly elected President banned immigration from Islamic countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya. Some internal factors like Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif’s retirement and his place being taken over by General Qamar Javed Bajwa and latter’s skeptical view about the JuD and its activity–are also cited as reasons behind action against Hafiz Saeed.  In this regard, Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor’s statement is a case in point. He said that Saeed’s detention has the backing of the military and that it was a policy decision taken in national interest. Further stirring the political pot in Pakistan, Defence Minister Khwaja Asif declared the JuD chief as a “serious threat” to the nation at a security conference in Munich. Considered to be close to the Pakistan’s military, Khwaja Asif also said that “Saeed has been placed under house arrest in the country’s larger interest.”

However, experts see it merely as “eyewash.” Saeed has been arrested several times and released subsequently in the past. Following the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001 and consequent international uproar, Saeed was arrested in 2001, but was released in March 2002 when the pressure abated. He was arrested again in May and released in October 2002. After Mumbai train blasts, he was imprisoned in August 2006, but released in October 2006. After the UN placed the JuD under 1267 list, the JuD founder was again put under house arrest in December 2008. He was released by the Lahore High Court in June 2009.

In the same year, he was again arrested and the Lahore High Court again set him free, quashing all cases against him. This drama has not yet stopped. A two-member bench of the Lahore High Court headed by Justice Sardar Shamim recently issued a notice to Pakistan’s Punjab province government and the Central government to respond as to why the JuD and his five aides have been detained. Interestingly, only for 90 days, Saeed has been put under house arrest. That means, all this enactment of drama has been undertaken to assuage American anger and that of local people, who are equally at pains to see increasing incidents of terrorism-related violence and bloodbath across the country.

There is a murmur in India’s diplomatic and strategic community that China could have also pressured Pakistan into detaining the mastermind of the 26/11 attack in Mumbai as soon after the JuD chief’s detention, China sent its’ Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping, who looks after external security affairs and terrorism to Pakistan. China is concerned about spate of terrorists’ attack in Xinjiang region, where six attackers were killed in two separate incidents in January in Hotan, an area close to the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. China is in possession of documentary proof, showing Pakistan-based terrorists having close links with separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which is blamed for violence and killings in Xinjiang region.

At the same time China is also worried about the safety of its $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. It fears that continued terrorists’ activity in the PoK and Pakistan’s other parts could jeopardize its CPEC project and with this the country’s One-Belt-One-Road scheme, connecting China to South Asia, Central Asia and Europe. Incidentally, while Beijing tacitly pushed Islamabad into detaining Hafiz Saeed, it has continuously blocked India and recently, the US-led proposal to declare Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Azhar Masood as international terrorist. That means, on the JeM chief issue, both China and Pakistan would continue to be on the same page so long as the former continues to be a factor of destabilization in India. Although the JuD chief is also an anti-India force, but since he is close to the Uyghur insurgents, China has no love lost for him.

Nevertheless, Pakistan continues to be a pain in the neck of India’s South Asia’s neighbourhood first strategy. Even as Islamabad faces diplomatic isolation in the region, it has not stopped encouraging terrorists from crossing the Line of Control and attacking Indian interests. However, signs emerging from Pakistan suggest that days are not far away when it would be left with no choice while becoming a failed state.