Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Jamaat-ud-Dawa head and alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is once again a free man. On November 22, a three-member bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered to end his 10-month-long house detention when the government failed to present evidence to justify his detention.
Pakistan police put him under house arrest in January 2017. His detention order came after the US and India mounted pressure on Pakistan to take action against Saeed for masterminding the Mumbai attacks in 2008. He was detained under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) for being a threat to public safety.
“Prosecution failed to prove anything against Hafiz Saeed. There were very frivolous charges against him for collecting animal hides and getting donations for his relief work,” says Saeed’s council A.K. Dogar. “His arrest has always been made on international pressure and without any solid evidence.”
On the other hand, Sattar Sahil, a provincial prosecutor, who has been pursuing the case before the court for the last 10 months, says that the team of prosecutors told the court that they have intelligence reports about threat to his life, and that is why he needs to be put under house arrest. “The government also took the plea that according to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267, if we did not take action against him there can be some international restrictions on Pakistan.” He said his detention was under international obligations too but the court turned down all pleas.
Muhammad Javaid Kasuri, a federal prosecutor in this case, affirms Saeed’s detention was based on international obligations and intelligence reports of threats to his life.
“You cannot keep somebody in custody for indefinite period without any tangible proof,” says Islamabad-based writer and analyst Imtiaz Gul.
He feels there are many disadvantages of Saeed’s acquittal because he is an internationally designated terrorist. “And if whatever happens to him in the country is perceived as being state-sponsored then it adds to the negative image of Pakistan and raises questions on Pakistan’s stated commitment to counter terrorism — and that is the biggest worry.”
Talking about the perception of the state behind him, he says, “this adds to the negative image of Pakistan because if we publicly say that there is no coordination or partnership with non-state actors and, somehow somebody can disproof that claim, then obviously it discredits Pakistan.”
The US in an official statement has shown deep concern on Saeed’s acquittal, stating his organisation was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including American citizens that died in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The US State Department urged Pakistan to make sure that he is actually charged for his crimes.
France has also conveyed resentment to Pakistan over the release of Saeed.
Following his release, in a meeting with a select group of journalists, Saeed expressed intention to support his party’s newly-created political wing, the Milli Muslim League (MML).
Former military dictator Pervez Musharraf, who heads the All Pakistan Muslim League, in a televised interview expressed “love” and “affection” for Hafiz Saeed and his groups JuD and LeT. “They are not terrorists and we should tell [this to] America and the world.”
This form of love and affection coming from Musharraf, who banned LeT and JuD during his rule under the US pressure, is rather amusing.
Gul is clear that the state support to such groups is because of Kashmir – “We don’t know to what extent they get direct support from the state but certainly there is an appeasement.”
There could be a conscious effort by the security establishment to make groups like the JuD a part of mainstream politics, and “this way it can dilute their ambitious political designs,” says Imtiaz Gul. “Also, once such groups become part of mainstream they can also become easily discredited as a result of their non-performance.”
He asks, “do we allow these people to free float and paddle their ideology where they deem fit or you try to create some mechanism in which you subject them to the rule of law?” and then he explains that this mindset is a reality in Pakistan — “It is the job of the government and intelligentsia to explain this bitter reality to the world. We don’t like them but can we dismiss them altogether. They are in millions.”
Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi says there is a lot of ambiguity in Pakistan about the policy towards the militant groups that focus on Kashmir. “They usually enjoy more freedom than other militant groups. This makes it difficult for the government to control them.”
“These groups and their leaders make use of this opportunity to spread out which then deters the government from taking action against them,” says Rizvi.
The Jan 2017 arrest was not Saeed’s first. He was put under house arrest in 2006 after Indian authorities sought his extradition, alleging that his group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was involved in the Mumbai train bombing that killed 186 in 2006. After the lapse of three months, the Punjab government freed him on the court order. He was detained again in December 2008 after the Mumbai attacks, and was freed by the Lahore High Court in 2009 for having no proof against him.
Saeed founded the JuD in mid-1980s and the LeT in early 1990s. A relief group, Falah-e-Insaniat (FIF), has sprung out of the JuD which actively works in the country. The LeT was placed under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 in May 2005, which requires freezing all assets and accounts of designated individuals and entities.
Later, the names of Hafiz Saeed and his party leaders were also placed on UNSCR 1267.
In April 2012, the US also announced a bounty of $10 million on Saeed, for his alleged role in the Mumbai attacks that took at least 164 lives.
Soon after the arrest Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor told the media that Saeed’s house arrest was a “policy decision”, and denied any foreign pressure was behind it.
Saeed, however, said US President Donald Trump had prompted his detention. He blamed Trump’s “friendship” with Indian PM Narendra Modi for his house arrest.
The JuD, after Saeed’s recent acquittal, has petitioned the UN to get his name struck off the list of terrorists named under UNSCR 1267.