Less than a week after the Pakistani government placed Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed under “preventive detention” and launched a crackdown on the JuD, the latter is back in action, albeit under a new name, the Tehreek Azadi Jammu and Kashmir (TAJK — Movement for Freedom of Jammu and Kashmir).
The JuD made its public debut with a new name on February 5, when leaders of the JuD and its charity wing, the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), marched under the banner of the TAJK at rallies to mark ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day.’ Among those who addressed the rally at Lahore was Abdul Rehman Makki, Saeed’s brother-in-law and the deputy chief of the JuD.
Saeed was put under house arrest on January 30. Thirty-eight of his associates were taken into custody too. They have been put on an exit control list that bars them from leaving Pakistan. Besides, Pakistani authorities raided JuD offices and shut down centers that were collecting ‘donations’ to finance its anti-India ‘jihad.’
Barely had the dust from the crackdown settled than a rebranded JuD made its appearance. As in the past, its leaders are delivering speeches that are peppered with anti-India rants and JuD activists are back to openly soliciting donations.
The Pakistan-based Saeed is among India’s most wanted terrorists. He is known to have close links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and is believed to have masterminded a string of terror attacks in India, including that on the Indian Parliament building in December 2001, the Mumbai train bombings in July 2006 and the multiple attacks in Mumbai in November 2008.
This is not the first time that Saeed’s organization has undergone a name change to escape action. Since its founding in 1990, the organization went by the name Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Then in December 2001, in the wake of the LeT attack on India’s parliament, the US designated it as a foreign terrorist organization. Pakistan followed a couple of months later by banning the outfit.
The LeT responded by quickly rebranding itself as a charity organization and calling itself the JuD. But this rebranding was at best cosmetic as the JUD and LeT continued to operate together and out of the same offices. Their membership too overlapped. Indeed, India has long-argued that the JuD is a front of the LeT.
The JuD’s latest name-change is aimed at beating its inclusion on Pakistan’s terrorism watch list and likely action by the United States. Indeed, in the weeks prior to his detention, as rumors of an imminent crackdown on the JuD swirled in Pakistan, Saeed is said to have decided on the name change. It is likely that he was tipped off by his patrons in the ISI and would have shifted the JuD’s funds to new bank accounts to escape any freeze of its assets.
India’s response to Saeed’s arrest has been cautious. It has demanded a “credible crack down” on “terrorist organizations involved in cross border terrorism” as proof of Pakistan’s sincerity” in fighting terrorism. Its skepticism over the genuineness of the Pakistani crackdown on the JuD is understandable.
After all, past crackdowns by the Pakistan government on the terror outfit have not yielded any substantial result as they were undertaken half-heartedly. Under international pressure, it has detained Saeed several times in the past, only to release him within months, even weeks later, when the pressure eased somewhat.
“Not once did he ever face actual criminal prosecution,” observes noted journalist and terrorism analyst, Praveen Swami, in Indian Express.
There is little reason for India to believe that Saeed’s current arrest will be any different from the previous ones.
The Pakistan government has said that the crackdown on the JuD is a “policy decision” taken under the National Action Plan, a strategy that was put in place following the December 2014 terror attack on a school in Peshawar. It has also dismissed reports that the decision to arrest Saeed and others was made under external pressure.
However, few in India are convinced that the decision was prompted by a policy change or a change in the mindset of the Pakistani Establishment, which for decades has viewed terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy.
It is widely believed that it was pressure from the US or China or both that pushed Pakistan to act against Saeed and the JuD.
Does this mean that Saeed will walk free again when the international pressure on Pakistan eases in a few months? It seems likely.
In the past Pakistan often claimed that it did not have the evidence to prosecute the JuD chief. India, it alleged, had not provided it with evidence to do so, a claim that successive governments in New Delhi strongly refuted, arguing that they had shared this evidence with several countries, including the US.
This time too, Pakistan is chanting the same refrain. Following Saeed’s arrest, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry called on India to come up with “concrete evidence” to enable it to prosecute the JuD chief. The political will to prosecute him is missing.
A familiar charade of ‘cracking down on terrorism’ is unfolding in Pakistan.