Pakistan: A call to the UN Secretary-General even as mainstreaming of UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed gathers pace
Two revealing incidents, details of which emerged within the last few days, have once again shown up Pakistan’s ceaseless underhand efforts at mainstreaming and strengthening the United Nations (UN)- designated terrorist leader Hafiz Saeed and his outfit the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), with whom the Pakistani military establishment is known to have umbilical links.
The first incident betrayed the establishment’s desire to bestow upon Saeed, the mastermind of the gruesome 2008 Mumbai attacks, a far-reaching and legitimate public voice. Saeed was, therefore, recently accorded the infinitely more complex task of attempting to refine his skills in the sophisticated art of use of the pen as a weapon, as against the butchery of the unwieldy gun that he has so far been used to and appears to draw most satisfaction from.
Saeed’s newly acquired role as a columnist for an Urdu language publication Daily Dunya needs to be viewed in conjunction with the political space granted to him and his cohorts in the parliamentary elections held earlier this year, as brought out in EFSAS commentary of 13-07-2018. These reflect integral steps in the establishment’s broader goal of mainstreaming Saeed and his outfit. Unlike leaders of other terrorist outfits worldwide, Saeed would now no longer require to propagate jihad through some obscure site hidden in the depths of the web.
The first columns that Saeed contributed recently to Daily Dunya related to topics oft-trodden on by him to spew venom on neighbouring India and promote terrorist violence against it – the dismemberment of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, and the Kashmir-issue. While there is little noteworthy in these specific columns, allowing a terrorist print-space that is scoured by thousands of impressionable young minds is fraught with danger. It is striking that such space has been allocated to Saeed despite a Pakistani court’s order to the country’s media regulatory authority to ensure that even Saeed's picture does not appear in the media. This not only demonstrates the total apathy that the establishment has towards the country’s judiciary when it comes to the interests of its strategic terrorist assets, but also the Pakistani government’s lack of willingness or ability in dealing with the establishment. Saeed has, after all, been designated as a global terrorist by the UN since 2008, and carries a $10 million American bounty on his head.
The second incident that was reported extensively in the media over the last week pertained to a two-minute long mobile phone-shot video clip that was circulated widely over social media. It showed Pakistan’s Interior Minister Shehryar Afridi sitting with members of the Milli Muslim League (MML), the LeT affiliated party, and pledging “full support” to Hafiz Saeed while also reassuring that the MML would be protected by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party. Responding to concerns expressed by the MML delegation on the United States (US) designating the party as a terrorist organization, and on its difficulties with registration, Afridi is seen telling the MML members, “Allah willing, as long as we are in the National Assembly, we will support Hafiz Saeed and anyone who follows the righteous path. This is our faith”, adding that “you should come and join us in the Assembly and see whether we are on the right path or not... We are not even worth the dirt on your feet”.
Hafiz Saeed had launched the MML as a political party in August 2017, with the stated purpose of contesting the parliamentary and provincial elections. The US responded in April this year by placing the MML on its list of foreign terror organizations on account of its links with the LeT.
Afridi’s unequivocal and undeniable pledge of support to a UN-designated terrorist has been viewed by experts as a firm affirmation of the Pakistan government’s pro-terror credentials. It has, therefore, expectedly raised quite a storm. Afridi sought to wriggle out of the corner that he had squeezed himself and Prime Minister Imran Khan into by claiming that the video was “two years old”, and questioning its release “at a time crucial for the entire country”. His claims were, however, belied by facts – the MML did not even exist two years ago, and the US sanctions on the party were imposed only in April this year.
Right-thinking members of the Pakistani intelligentsia expressed disbelief and indignation at Afridi’s outrageous comments. Lieutenant-General Talat Masood, a former secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Defense Production, said, “The government needs to urgently clarify its position. Because nobody believes Pakistan now. People know exactly what is happening in the country. The State needs to stop deceiving itself and its people”. He attributed the impunity enjoyed by Saeed and the LeT to the protection provided to them by the military establishment, adding that “the military has its own policy which is dominant. Whether the video is from before the election or now, it is the military that is dictating the mainstreaming policy”.
Already on the ‘grey list’ of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that monitors the funding of terrorist groups, Pakistan faces a real threat of relegation to the FATF’s ‘black list’ alongside North Korea and Iran if it not only lingers with gross inaction against funding of terror groups, but also continues assuring UN-designated terrorists of the full backing of the Pakistani State. Just two months ago, a team from the Asia-Pacific Group of the FATF conveyed its frustration at Pakistan’s lack of seriousness in curbing financial support for terrorist outfits. Afridi’s appalling comments, therefore, will definitely figure at the FATF review meeting that is scheduled to be held in January next year. Lieutenant-General Masood opined that “this will be taken very seriously by the FATF. It will also depend on how the US is looking at the matter. It could get nasty for Pakistan”.
Amidst these serious lapses of the Pakistani government in its wheeling and dealing with Hafiz Saeed, the third conference of the ‘South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights’ (SAATH) was held last week in Washington D.C. The group comprises dissident Pakistanis, most living in self-exile. Taking cognizance of the military establishment’s risky parleys into the grey and murky world of mainstreaming of terrorist entities, the conference urged Pakistan to "choke funding and support" for militant groups that operated openly in Pakistan. It also called for stringent action against extremist organizations such as LeT and its offshoot the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and others.
Hafiz Saeed, in his aforementioned columns, expectedly urged the Pakistani government to take up the cause of the Kashmiris. Almost as if on cue and in deference to Saeed’s wishes, Prime Minister Imran Khan on 20 December made a telephone call to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres during which he raised the Kashmir-issue. Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, confirmed that Khan had indeed made such a call. He said, "It's only normal that the Secretary-General speak to Heads of Governments and Heads of State and, as I said, I can confirm that the call took place and that the Prime Minister raised the issue of Kashmir... Our position on Kashmir has been reiterated". He did not reveal further details of the conversation.
The Indian External Affairs Ministry described the recent actions and statements emanating from Pakistan on Kashmir as a demonstration of the country’s "insincerity and duplicity". While India must continue to prioritize upholding human rights in Jammu & Kashmir whether Imran Khan tries to mischievously rake up the issue internationally or not, its description of Pakistan’s acts and utterances is apt. There is an ostrich-like reluctance on the part of Pakistan to acknowledge its culpability in practically all the violence that plagues Jammu & Kashmir. If the Pakistani military establishment and its proxies such as Hafiz Saeed are removed from the equation, the Indian State would have little need or justification for deploying troops in Jammu & Kashmir. Since violence would not then define the narrative of the region, the potential for human rights violations would be infinitesimal.
Given this reality, it is nothing but duplicitous of Imran Khan to canvass the cause of the human rights of Kashmiris with the UN Secretary-General on the one hand, and unblinkingly pledge his unqualified support, through his Interior Minister, to the terrorist leader most directly and extensively responsible for human rights violation of Kashmiris, on the other.
If Imran Khan were really serious about Jammu & Kashmir, or about human rights, he would recognize that placing telephone calls to the Pakistani Army Chief Qamar Bajwa to direct him to desist from mainstreaming Hafiz Saeed, to his Interior Minister Afridi to chide him for his atrocious statements and order him to act against Hafiz Saeed, and to his Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry to nip in the bud the literary aspirations of wannabe columnist Hafiz Saeed, would be more appropriate and meaningful, more result-oriented, and combined would cost much less than a call to the UN Secretary-General.