When smoke gets in your eyes

Pakistan has an interesting way of dealing with terrorists.

First, it “means business”, but points out that action will “take time”. Then, it “arrests” him – or at least, “verbally” tells the culprit to stay put at his residence, No: 116E, Mohalla Johar in Lahore City in this instance. Verbally, too, the detainee is told there is no problem if he wants to lighten the tedium of such harsh incarceration by attending the occasional party.

During this time, various apologists make considerable noise about how the arrest du jour shows that Pakistan is taking severe action against terrorists.

And then, in a Hitchcockian twist, the detainee is released. [Déjà vu all over again – this is the second time Hafiz Saeed has been arrested and released after 26/11].

It is only following the release that we learn he wasn’t charged with terrorism-related offences after all [though during the ‘trial’, news reports presented a totally different picture – so now you know why these hearings are always held in-camera].

Saeed was merely charged with making speeches that could possibly incite violence [you know, like a Pakistani version of Varun Gandhi] and with trying to raise funds for what Islamabad says is a perfectly legitimate organization.

The word “legitimate” is used loosely here. Check this out, from the story of Saeed’s release:

He was also accused of appealing for funds for a banned group. Mr. Saeed currently leads Jamat-ud-Dawa, an Islamic charity widely viewed as a front for Lashkar-e-Tayeba.

His lawyer, A. K. Dogar, said he had argued that the government had not banned Jamat-ud-Dawa and therefore it was legal to solicit donations for it. “The court accepted my contention,” he was quoted by news media as saying outside the court.

An absolutely valid argument, and one with considerable legal force. The question it begs is: why did Pakistan not ban the Jamat?

Islamabad wanted to – or at least, it said so. It said, too, that it could not take action until the UN told it to [Why Islamabad required the United Nations to green light action against a terrorist outfit on its own soil is a question best left unasked].

“After the designation by the Indian government of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa under 1267, the (Pakistani) government upon receiving this instruction shall proscribe the JuD and take under (sic!) consequential action as required including the freezing of assets,” he [Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations Abdullah Hussain Haroon] said.

That was on December 10.

A day later, on December 11, the United Nations Security Council put it official seal on the contention of India and the United States that the Jamat-ud-Dawa is merely the Lashkar-e-Tayeba by another name [a deft bait and switch operation carried out in 2002 under the nose of then President Pervez Musharraf, when the UNSC named Lashkar-e-Tayeba a terrorist organization].

Even China, which had on three previous occasions blocked India’s bid to have the J-u-D proscribed, finally stopped objecting in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks and voted in favor of putting J-u-D on the proscribed list. Pakistan certainly cannot claim it didn’t know about this, as the fact of the ban was no secret – in fact, within hours of the ban, a J-u-D leader reacted with a press statement that can be summed up in two terse words: F**k off.

So that’s the story: The J-u-D was proscribed in December. Pakistan said it would ban the J-u-D in December. Immediately after the UNSC resolution, Pakistan acted [Note that the word ‘act’ has more than one meaning]:

It placed Hafiz Saeed under house arrest, as the New York Times describes; it froze the J-u-D’s assets in true horse, stable door style, as the WSJ reported;  and if the outfit remained open for business, well…

Pakistan has made no secret of why it took these ‘stern’ actions.

Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar on Friday said the government acted against Jamaat-ud-Dawah in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution in order to prevent the country from being declared a terrorist state. “We are part of the international community and cannot afford confrontation with the whole world.”

Now, 10 months later and with the danger of being labeled a terrorist state averted, the courts say there is no problem with Hafiz Saeed proselytizing for the J-u-D because hey, the organization is not banned after all.

So what then were those proclamations of ‘action’ all about?

From the story of Saeed’s release:

India has given Pakistan evidence, based on its intelligence and the testimony of the sole surviving gunman, that it says showed that Mr. Saeed provided detailed instructions to the militants who carried out the attack. But Pakistan says there is not enough evidence to charge him.

Check out the highlighted bit. Without going into details, Home Minister P Chidambaram in an interview with Barkha Dutt discussed the nature of evidence India had built against Saeed.

Firstly we know when Kasab first met Hafiz  and where. We know what Hafiz Saeed told the trainees. We know at least a couple of places where the training took place. And that  Hafeez Saeed visited these camps. We know that it was Hafiz Saeed who gave names to buddy pairs. The final farewell call was made by Hafiz and Hafiz Saeed even tested Kasab and others on their training achievements. A terrorist actively, and demonstrably, involved in 26/11 testified that Hafiz Saeed played a role in prepping him and his mates for the attack. The testimony, and other details, has been passed on to Pakistan.

Further, the sole surviving terrorist involved in 26/11 testified to the meetings he and his team had with Saeed.

The dossier quotes from Kasab’s confessional statement before the Mumbai’s additional chief metropolitan magistrate in which he claims to have first met Hafiz Saeed in December 2007 at a 21-day training camp.

According to Kasab’s statement, he subsequently met Hafiz Saeed at other training sessions in Chelabandi, Sevai Nallah and a place called ‘Baitul Mujahideen’ where he ‘selected trainees and supervised their training’.

According to Kasab’s testimony, after the completion of training Hafiz Saeed formed five pairs of 10 fighters for carrying out attacks in Mumbai and gave the attackers operational instructions, including the hijacking of a boat and the timing of the attack.

He is said to have specified targets on a large screen in a ‘media control room at the training camp’.

Fahim Ansari, who was originally arrested on Feb 9 last year in connection with the Rampur camp attack case, also claimed in his statement that Hafiz Saeed had visited the training camp and exhorted the trainees to launch a ‘Jihad against India’.

It would be understandable – on a relative scale – if the courts had deemed that the evidence presented was not enough to convict Saeed. What is inexplicable is that the evidence is not even deemed enough to charge the man.

It’s a strange place, Pakistan. A land where you can get 14 years in jail if you make jokes about Mr Ten Percent President Asif Ali Zardari, but where you can walk free if you plot the killing of hundreds in a foreign land. [While on jokes, it is good to see that the sense of humor of the average Pakistani is not dead yet – check out this absolutely Onion-esque ‘news report’].

None of this should come as a surprise – the only truism about Pakistan’s “actions” against terrorists is that it is all smoke and mirrors. The state will act only when it has no other option; the action will last only as long as the perceived threat remains [vide Ahmed Mukthar’s honest, and disarmingly naïve, explanation cited earlier on why Islamabad acted against the J-u-D]; the moment the coast is clear, the terrorists will be freed either by the courts or by some other mysterious means.

Consider two recent incidents. On March 3, 2009 a suicide attack was launched on the Sri Lankan cricket team as the team bus approached the gates of Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium. And earlier this month, on October 10, armed gunmen stormed the holy of Pakistan’s holies – the heavily fortified military headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Pakistan says its military officials have arrested one Aqeel, aka Doctor Usman, who led the raid on the army HQ. Authorities say, further, that they believe Doctor Usman was likely linked to the attack against the Lankan cricket team.

I’m no lawyer, but I’ll defend this Doctor Usman for free – and guarantee to get him out. Here’s how:

On October 25, 2008, authorities ‘arrested’ four people in connection with the September 20, 2008 bombing of the Islamabad Marriott. One of them was Doctor Usman.

He could not have been part of the attack on the Lankan national team in March, because even five months later, on August 11, he was still in custody — it was on that date that the Anti-Terrorism Court completed its hearing into the Marriott bombing case.

And on September 22, 2009, the ATC rejected Doctor Usman’s plea for acquittal in that case.

Thus, your honor, my client could not have attacked the army GHQ last weekend even though he was actually captured on the premises, because he was demonstrably in ATC custody at the time. Or did someone fudge the books and let him out? If so, why is that person or persons not charged with complicity in the army HQ attack?

The problem with the smoke Islamabad keeps blowing in its farcical ‘war on terror’ is that it is increasingly getting into its own eyes.