Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pakistan Releases 26/11 Accused

In a setback to the 26/11 probe, banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who had been under house arrest for nearly six months for his suspected role in the Mumbai terror attacks, has been set free by the Lahore High Court. A close aide of 59-year-old Saeed, Col Nazir Mohammad (retd), also held in connection with the same attacks, too, was set free.

Notably, Saeed was put under house arrest on December 11, 2008 after the UN Security Council banned JuD, declaring it a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is blamed by India for the November 26 Mumbai attacks. He and Colonel (retd) Nazeer Ahmed, another JuD leader who was held in the crackdown, challenged their detention in the Lahore High Court. Originally there were four petitioners but two were released by a detention review board in May.

India, which made two demands of Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attacks — prosecute and punish the perpetrators; dismantle the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistani soil — was closely monitoring the case as a test of Islamabad’s intentions on both questions.

Five LeT activists, including Zakiur Rehman Lakhwi and Zarar Shah, are currently being tried by an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi for alleged involvement in the Mumbai attacks.

India has handed over three sets of dossiers on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and also responded to the clarifications sought by Islamabad. In the dossier handed over in January this year, New Delhi had given the statement of Mohammed Ajmal Iman Kasab, the lone arrested terrorist in 26/11 attack, in which he described the role of the JuD chief.

Pakistan’s Dual Standard
The difference in Pakistan's words and actions has once again come to the fore. The Indian Government provided all necessary information about the terror attack on Mumbai to Pakistan, but Pakistan is accusing that Saeed has been released due to India's carelessness. Agreeing with India's argument, the United Nations had passed Resolution 1267 in December 2008, imposing a ban on the LeT and the JuD.

Since its birth, the LeT has emerged as one of the most dangerous terrorist organisations in the sub-continent. With its headquarters in Muridke, which is 45 km from Lahore, and six main militant training camps across Pakistan, the LeT has orchestrated numerous terrorist strikes in India, including the attack on Parliament House Complex in December 2001, the Mumbai train bombings in 2006 and the 26/11 fidayeen attack on Mumbai last November. Although proscribed as a terrorist organisation in 2001, the LeT continues its jihad with impunity. After the ban the LeT morphed into the JuD in 2002.

It is surprising that Pakistan cannot get its judiciary to agree to the arguments that were accepted by the world organization. In this situation, its claim of joining the global war against terrorism appears to be merely making mockery of the world opinion.

The Lahore High Court had extended Saeed's house arrest by two more months on May 6. What happened in the meantime that an order was passed releasing him only after 27 days? More than 45 persons were killed in an explosion near the Lahore High Court on May 27. Saeed was going to be produced in the court that day. It was suspected that the explosion was a part of the conspiracy to secure his release, but the government stated that the explosion was in retaliation to its military campaign in Swat. The Taliban held 400 students and teachers of a military school hostage in North Waziristan on June 1. Is Saeed's release part of the solution to resolve this crisis? If this is true, it proves the links between the Taliban and the JuD. After his release, Saeed clearly gave this indication by demanding withdrawal of the Army from Swat.

Surprising Aspect of Case
Undoubtedly, there was an element of concert with the rest of the Pakistani establishment. Following the action in Swat — the Pakistani Army has been taken kicking and screaming into the battleground against its domestic Taliban — Islamabad’s Generals may have concluded that the Americans will not pressure them on Saeed and the LeT. That is why Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani chose to deliver a speech attacking India for disrupting the so-called peace process and demanded negotiations on Jammu & Kashmir. His silence on the outrageous Saeed verdict, on the freeing of a truly evil man, was eloquent. The surprising aspect is that at such serious juncture, Gilani has tried to divert attention from the issue by suddenly singing the Kashmir tune.

Gilani is also advocating resumption of the composite dialogue process with India while confirming moral, diplomatic, and political support to the terrorists on the Kashmir issue. Just eight months ago, President Asif Ali Zardari had accepted that the extremists active in Kashmir are terrorists. Had it been decided then that Zardari would say something and Gilani would say exactly the opposite, so that they could please all parties?

Who is Saeed?
Born in 1950 to a Pakistani Punjabi family in Sargodha, Saeed till date maintains that neither he nor the JuD has any links with the LeT or any other terrorist organisation. His family, originally from India, migrated from Shimla to Lahore at the time of partition. Growing up in fundamentalist environment, Saeed took to Islamic studies at a young age.

Saeed has been in and out of arrest and detention over the last seven years for his involvement in terrorist activities. In December 2001, the Pakistani authorities detained Saeed for his links with the attack on the Indian Parliament House. He was held until March 31, 2002; arrested again on May 15; and, was placed under house arrest on October 31 of the same year. After the July 2006 Mumbai train bombings, the Provincial Government of Pakistani Punjab arrested him on August 9 of that year and kept him under house arrest. But he was released on August 28, 2006 after a Lahore High Court order. He was arrested again on the same day by the Provincial Government and was kept in the Canal Rest House in Sheikhupura. He was finally released on the instructions of the Lahore High Court on October 17, 2006.

Message for US
Nevertheless, the real message from Lahore and Islamabad is for the US, for President Barack Obama and his team of wide-eyed Pakistan enthusiasts. There are severe limits to treating Pakistan as a normal country, with functional state institutions and systems. Its Army is a mix of mercenary and jihadi tendencies — oscillating between exaggerating operations to claim American dollars and seeing the Taliban as an auxiliary.

What is the point in raising the UN resolutions, which remain dead as dodo? Is this the way to have a “constructive and purposeful” dialogue with India? At least now Pakistani rulers should become wiser.

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