Hafiz Saeed and the usual suspects
Remember those scenes from that timeless film classic Casablanca when if anything happened—say a crime was committed—the police captain, Louis Renault,whose performance in that film is unforgettable, would say, “Round up the usual suspects”? It’s from there that this phrase ‘the usual suspects’ has become popular in the English language.
When Pakistan comes under international pressure on the question of terrorism our response is no different from that of Captain Renault. We too round up the usual suspects and in this list no one figures more prominently than the chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. To assuage or fend off American pressure Pakistan routinely places Hafiz Saeed in preventive detention. So it has been this time.
Pak-American relations have soured. They are certainly not what they were at the height of America’s involvement in Afghanistan. This involvement counts for the longest war in American history. It’s also been a very expensive war with America spending nearly a trillion dollars to achieve victory, or a semblance of it, in a country often described as ‘the graveyard of empires’. And because the Taliban far from being defeated are stronger than ever, and everyone except perhaps India realizes that there can be no peace in Afghanistan without the Taliban being partners in a peace settlement, official America is not amused and it is hunting for scapegoats to account for this colossal failure.
Pakistan is in a funny position. For any kind of western adventure in Afghanistan we are the essential bag-carriers. But when failure happens, as we see now, we become the scapegoats. First we carry the bags; then we carry the blame. When we are the bag-carriers and our services are indispensable, our Indian friends keep their lips pursed and bide their time. When we become scapegoats, the Americans, the very Americans who’ve used our services and destroyed our roads, accuse of double-dealing: running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, etc. And our Indian friends become the lead voices in the chorus.
The Trump administration is still in the process of sorting out its various self-created messes. It has yet to fix its radar on Pakistan. But our civilian and military circles, expecting the worst, have displayed signs of early and perhaps premature panic. To show their resolve against terrorism they have rounded up the usual suspects, headed by Hafiz Saeed.
Questioned about this during a media briefing, the DG ISPR, the army’s media wing, said, “This is a policy decision that the state took in the national interest.” High-sounding words—policy decision, national interest—but do our national security champions realize that when they take such steps, the one, unambiguous message they send is that, yes, Pakistan has a terrorism problem and people like Hafiz Saeed are central to this problem?
In other words, by such actions they lodge an FIR, an indictment, against Pakistan itself. For it amounts to saying that Hafiz Saeed and Jamaat-ud-Dawah are guilty as charged…that, yes, there is something to the Indian accusation that Hafiz Saeed is the godfather of cross-border terrorism.
Not only this. The Indian charge that Pakistan-based outfits were behind the Uri and Pathankot attacks is lent credence. The blame is then confined not to Hafiz Saeed alone. The Americans believe, and the Indians say this all the time, that for the Pak army Hafiz Saeed and others like him are its proxies for use against India. Any spotlight on Hafiz Saeed thus falls on the army too—guilt by association, so to speak. So what do we gain from these impulsive and panicky reactions? The Americans are not impressed because they’ve seen them before and our Indian friends only shout the louder that Pakistan is again trying to fool opinion.
Both our countries, India and Pakistan, have been involved in the cross-border game. Both have tried to exploit each other’s vulnerabilities and weak spots. But in the court of world opinion we come out as the losers. Greater stock is put in Indian charges against us than in our protestations of innocence. Why is this so? Partly this is a failure of policy. We have weak leaders and they’ve not shown themselves too good at addressing the world’s concerns and countering the perceptions conveyed so assiduously by India. Partly it is because India commands a greater presence on the world stage.
Hasn’t India flirted with Altaf Hussain and provided him with funds? Isn’t India involved in the unrest in Balochistan? Doesn’t India reach out to anti-Pakistan Taliban elements holed up in Afghanistan?
But we’ve failed to make a strong case about these issues. Is it because our leaders are weighed down by other things and have other things on their mind? To make matters worse, civil and military relations are not what they should be. Think of this: which government leaks against its own military? Differences in approach there can always be and such things happen all over the world. But these are discussed behind closed doors. Ministers and advisers don’t go around leaking stories to eager newsmen as has happened here.
A few things, however, can be underlined. The time for cross-border adventurism is past. Of that there should be no doubt. But this realization, if it is to mean anything, must sink in on both sides. Pakistan shouldn’t try anything on its own. But if India continues to fish in troubled waters where Pakistan is concerned, then Pakistani leaders shouldn’t shy away from exposing Indian designs for what they are.
Unnecessary jingoism Pakistan should avoid. It serves no purpose. And Pakistani leaders, both civil and military, should stop sounding that tired refrain that our defence is impregnable. If it is there is no need to proclaim this virtue all the time. It should speak for itself. But where India is in the wrong, Pakistani leaders should show no hesitation in speaking out.
Indeed, our Panama-infected leaders sometimes give the impression that they would rather not speak about India, their reticence in this regard feeding an impression of national weakness.
But most important of all, regardless of what stance the Trump administration adopts regarding Pakistan, our civil and military leaders should show some courage and vision. While eschewing anything stupid—for, as already said, the era of cross-border adventurism is over—they should also learn not to be frightened of ghosts and imaginary dangers.
Hafiz Saeed is one of our more sensible clerics. His Islam is a moderate Islam. He is not a Takfiri and he is not a Salafi although he has a soft corner for Saudi Arabia…but then so many clerics have the same orientation probably because, although I say this with hesitation, there is nothing as effective as checkbook diplomacy.
He speaks out strongly on Kashmir, which of course riles our Indian friends. Indians like Pakistanis who speak of our common bonds. They don’t like Pakistanis who mention Kashmir in their conversation. But should that be a reason for us to treat Hafiz Saeed in a manner that answers to American and Indian perceptions?