Why Pak released Hafiz Saeed?

Harsha Kakar

The release of Hafiz Saeed, from house arrest, just days before the 26/11 anniversary, had India up in arms, with the Indian foreign office adversely commenting on it. Though such an action by Pak was expected and hence the Indian government was not surprised,however it was the irony of the timing which impacted India. Pak resorted to release him in desperation, knowing it would impact future Indo-Pak relations, though they presently only seem to be heading downhill.
Hafiz Saeed was placed under house arrest days after Donald Trump was sworn in as the President of the US. His anti-Pak comments on support to terror groups was the trigger for Pak to act. It had to prove sincerity and the easiest way to do so was to place an international terrorist, with a bounty of USD 10 million, behind bars. He was released days after the US delinked the LeT from the Haqqani network, as a pre-condition for Pak to receive US aid. The US action of de-linking LeTwas aimed at securing its troops in Afghanistan, as the US knew Pak cannot act against the LeT and it also has no role in Afghanistan, however it gave Pak the excuse it was seeking.
It was evident that the Pak govt had arrested Hafiz Saeed only to gain a few brownie points from the US. All through his ten months under house arrest, there was never any shred of evidence produced in court, despite India having handed fifteen dossiers to Pak, highlighting the misdeeds of Hafiz Saeed and linking him to the Parliament attack and 26/11. Further, at the last hearing in the same court, the Punjab government had stated that Saeed was a security threat and should not be released, however, once the de-linking was announced, he was no longer a security threat. This further proved that the house arrest was neither genuine nor was Pak keen to prosecute him.
It also appears that the Pak army had a significant role to play in pushing for his release. Presently in Pak, the army and the courts are working in tandem. The sacking of Nawaz Sharif was on the excuse of the Panama papers, while the reality was that he was questioning the deep state on its policies against its neighbours. No other individual has either been investigated nor charged on the Panama papers in Pakistan to date.
The deep state even went to the extent of encouraging Saeed to form a political party, Milli Muslim League, to challenge main stream parties, which was forcibly disallowed by the present government. It may not be able to disallow it for long, if the deep state insists. It is well known that he is protected by the army and has a strong security element. For the Pak army, he is a strategic asset, which it cannot afford to lose.
The deep state has been facing immense reverses in Kashmir and with winters fast approaching, it needed to regain lost ground prior to the closure of passes.The LeT leadership in the valley has been almost wiped out and with security forces gaining the upper hand, infiltrations are almost nil. Peace has nearly returned, evident with the appointment of an interlocutor by the government.
Hence, drastic action would need to be taken before Indian security forces eradicate militancy from the valley. Their final hope is Hafiz Saeed, who could incite youth to join in larger numbers and be motivated enough to recreate the earlier tempo. Therefore, he needed to become a public figure, addressing masses, seeking supporters and rekindling confidence within the ranks of abattered LeT. For this he needed freedom to move and thus become visible.
For India, his release, ironic because of its proximity to 26/11, is a message that Pak would never act against its supporters. Further, it proves that the decision of the Indian government to refuse any offer for talks from Pak is correct and justified. If it has never brought even a shred of evidence against the individual throughout ten months and declares him as no security threat the moment the US delinked the LeT, then talks would imply nothing.
Another interesting lesson which emerges is that it was pressure from the US which compelled Pak to place him under house arrest, while reducing pressure brought forth his release. The US has begun re-insisting on his arrest and prosecution. However, such insistence would imply nothing, unless LeT is relinked with the Haqqani network. Hence, India must impress upon the US that re-linking the LeT to the Haqqani network is a precondition for enhancing support in Afghanistan. Another factor is possible waning of US influence over Pak.
While the deep state may seek to again rekindle its LeT operations in the valley, the chances of that happening appears remote. Immense water has flowed under the Jhelum in the past ten months. Money to support violence has vanished, the Hurriyat is under intense pressure due to NIA and ED raids and many of its members are behind bars. Inputs on presence of militants are flowing in from all quarters, indicating a changing mindset amongst the local population, enablingsecurity forces to regain the initiative. The interlocutor has been meeting multiple groups across the valley, who would have never ventured forward earlier. Thus, banking on Hafiz Saeed may not give them the tempo they so desperately seek.
The odds are against Pak and its proxy terror groups to succeed. They may attempt to strike a major army base in or around the valley or attack soft targets, solely to gain some mileage. Hafiz Saeed would also need to prove his gratitude to the deep state for his release, hence would launch his cannon fodder militants on such suicidal missions. Ultimately the lesson for India is the duplicity of Pak, seeking talks on one hand and releasing an international criminal on the other.
(The author is a retired Major
General of the Indian Army)


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