Failing to understand the motives of Pakistan’s Imran Khan government, the US President Donald Trump could not contain his excitement over LeT founder, Hafiz Saeed’s apparent eye wash of an arrest that he resorted to tweeting about him, implying a US influence in the arrest. Trump stated, “After a ten year search, the so-called “mastermind” of the Mumbai Terror attacks has been arrested in Pakistan. Great pressure has been exerted over the last two years to find him!”
The tweet is ill informed on so many levels that it would be an insult to humanity to not point the irregularities out. First of all, this is Hafiz Saeed’s eighth arrest. Following the December 2001 Parliament terror attack, he has been put under house arrest multiple times, and released after a few months at max. Sometimes he has been released without having any charges framed against him. In other instances, the court quashed cases against him, as the Lahore High Court had during his last arrest in 2009 in light of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, declaring Hafiz Saeed’s house arrest as “unconstitutional”.
Moreover, Donald Trump appears to be under the false impression that Hafiz Saeed has been in hiding; the only logical explanation to his tweet which stated that pressure had been exerted to “find him”. The truth of the matter is that Saeed was well under the sun, even going as far as to found political parties and attempt to contest Pakistan elections through them. In the past, when US had put a $10 million bounty on Saeed’s head, he had mocked the government by stating that he is living his life in the open and that if Washington wanted to contact him, they knew where he was. The US President also referred to Hafiz Saeed as a mastermind in the Mumbai terror attacks, but only in quotes, adding an unconvincing tone to the tweet. Hafiz Saeed also has American blood on his hands as six US citizens died in the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, therefore, a little sensitivity and sagacity on the part of President Trump would not have hurt anybody.
Nevertheless, to say that the arrest is irrelevant would be an understatement. Pakistan’s seemingly selfless gesture of goodwill is fraught with underhand motives as there is a larger political move at play.
This move is imperative, given Pakistan’s grey listing by the FATF for involvements in terror financing. After Pakistan missed its May deadline, they have been given time until October to complete its action plan, otherwise the country may be black listed. If black listed, none of the FATF member countries can extend monetary help towards Pakistan and moreover, all the monetary transactions involving the country will be thoroughly monitored, making it a tedious affair and greatly doubting the Pakistani banks’ credibility.
However, the fact that the move has come barely four days ahead of Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s US visit, is most significant as it immediately gives away the true intentions of the Imran Khan government and that is to mislead Donald Trump and the United States. In order to be removed from the FATF’s grey list, Pakistan needs the support of at least 15 member nations, nations from which US is the most powerful. Given Pakistan’s debt ridden economy, it is essential that they remove the FATF ‘grey list’ tag but instead of that, they seem to be progressing towards further black listing as the country fails to stop funding terror and take action against terrorists. Therefore, the sudden arrest of Hafiz Saeed, one that India has been demanding for a decade, is just Pakistan attempting to establish trust with USA for their economic benefits. It is largely predicted that Hafiz Saeed’s arrest is only temporary, and meant only for Donald Trump to take note of, as Imran Khan expects some concessions from the former ally.
The visit is significant as it is Imran Khan’s first visit to USA after taking on his role as Prime Minister of Pakistan. Hafiz Saeed’s arrest is essentially an attempt on the part of Pakistan to try and strengthen bilateral ties between the two countries as their leaders meet, as a respite to Pakistan’s debt ridden economy. During the visit beginning on 21st July, Khan will be meeting Trump on 22nd. Apart from meeting the president, Khan will be hosting a road show for all his supporters in Washington. Pakistan intends to ensure that the event is filled with talks on Pakistan, celebration of the country and the PM, with Pakistan’s national anthem and celebratory songs being played alongside. With free an open attendance, Khan hopes to woo Trump and win investments for his country, as Pakistan’s economy is ailing while it takes fire from world nations for failing to act against terrorism being exported out from the country.
The ends that Pakistan is aiming at with the strategy of Hafiz Saeed’s arrest to fool USA do not end here. The basic agenda in the meeting is going to be two fold. One is going to be regarding talks on economic and trade cooperation; and two, the agenda is going to centre on US’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. USA, under Trump administration, is keen to withdraw its troops from the war distraught Afghanistan after reaching a political agreement between the Taliban and Afghanistan government. The decision is in furtherance to Trump’s “America First” policy. Pakistan on its part is overly keen to facilitate the withdrawal. Pakistan’s Army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor stated that US should leave “as friend of the region, not as a failure.” On the surface, it may seem that both USA and Pakistan have common intentions for the country but that’s anything but the truth. Pakistan’s association with the Taliban and the Islamic republic helping them terrorize Afghanistan is an open secret, one that Pakistan vehemently denies. Afghanistan’s civilian government holds less than 60 per cent of Afghan territory while Taliban has direct or indirect control in almost 40 per cent of the country.
The fact that Pakistan funded and provided sanctuary to Taliban fighters and leaders post 2001, is the reason as to why the group remains strong today. Due to Pakistan’s support, US has been unable to militarily defeat the Taliban. One of the biggest reasons for the souring of US-Pakistan ties was that Pakistan funded the Taliban and allowed Taliban terrorists to breed on its side of the Afghanistan border due to which several US soldiers in Afghanistan were slain by these terrorists. Pakistan also misused, to fund terror, the massive amount in aid given by USA for decades, and hence the aid was cancelled by the Trump administration.
Now, if US exits Afghanistan, Pakistan will once again enjoy power over the region. They back the Taliban, and the withdrawal of US soldiers who have ensured a great extent of peace in the region while fighting Taliban, will ensure an expansion in Taliban’s involvement in Afghanistan’s politics. This strategic alliance with Taliban will ensure Pakistan’s influence over Afghanistan, as they had before 2001 and thus Indian influence will be minimized in the region. With this, Pakistan can also continue with terror financing. Pakistan will emerge victorious and decades of hard work including the reconstruction and developmental work undertaken in Afghanistan by India will be deemed irrelevant and largely undone, and will bring another dark era in the country.
However, all attempts are being taken by Pakistan to negate these facts. With the arrest of Hafiz Saeed and the visit to US, Imran Khan attempts to establish trust with the US. With this, Pakistan will finally be able to carry out their nefarious activities once again without the international community breathing down its neck.
Trump, it seems, has overlooked all this and is keen on enlisting Pakistan’s help in facilitating the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, a move that has been disapproved by the Afghan government. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s government is unhappy with Pakistan’s interference. It believes that it will weaken its position and will leave it out of the future political setup in Afghanistan. This is why, Kabul is stressing that peace negotiations should be Afghan-led.
Recently, Pakistan has been on its best behavior. It has arrested Hafiz Saeed and even agreed on the Kartarpur conditions put up by India. On India’s objection, Islamabad removed Khalistani supporter Gopal Singh Chawla from Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, who is known to be a close aide of Hafiz Saeed. Previously, Pakistan had put an end to funding of organizations which claimed to be NGOs but were actually spreading anti-India agenda. They operate in Jammu and Kashmir, UK and US; funded by the Pakistan High Commission in London. However, these sudden actions have all been after Pakistan was designated in FATF’s grey list. These attempts, along with Hafiz Saeed’s arrest, to portray that the country is against terror are all a façade to to maneuver around India’s push to unmask Pakistan on the diplomatic front. Falling for it would cost India, the United States and the world dearly.
Pakistan is clearly choosing its fights and the needs to improve its highly skewered diplomatic clout, as well as to dominate in Afghanistan are major priorities. By taking such small steps to “curb terrorism”, Pakistan is essentially opening a doorway to international trust and economic support, which they will later use in furtherance to their nefarious activities. As for Hafiz Saeed, getting arrested and subsequently being let off has become more of a habit. His arrest during the tumultuous times is going to earn Pakistan some brownie points and may also be aimed to deter any anti-terror surgical strikes that India has recently developed a passion for. With India keeping close watch and calling out every move of the terror sponsoring country, the world has taken notice of Pakistan’s sinister intent. However, instead of making sincere efforts to mend ways and shed its nexus with Islamic terror, Pakistan has chosen to throw dust in the eyes of the world to get away with its crimes.