New Delhi: For the fifth time, Pakistan on Monday night put Mumbai terror attack mastermind and Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) supremo Hafiz Saeed under house arrest, amidst reports that Islamabad could be in the international doghouse again over concerns about money laundering and terror financing.
As per Pakistani media reports, a senior Pakistani interior ministry official wrote a letter, dated January 29, to the Punjab home secretary that Saeed and four others belonging to the JuD had been placed under “preventative detention”. “The matter is most urgent,” said the letter, signed by Aurangzeb Haque, additional secretary, Ministry of Interior.
A day later, on Monday night (January 30), Pakistan Punjab police landed at the headquarters of the JuD and placed Saeed under house arrest. JuD flags have been removed from the area by provincial authorities.
According to reports, Saeed was taken from a Lahore mosque to his residence, which was then declare as a sub-jail. He has been detained under section Section 11-EEE(1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.
Dawn claimed that the district intelligence committee has suggested to the Pakistan government put the JuD chief’s name in the fourth schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Indian sources confirmed that Saeed had been put under house arrest. The Ministry of External Affairs issued an official response on Tuesday, January 31, saying Saeed’s detention was not enough and Pakistan needed to do more to tackle terrorism.
“Exercises such as yesterday’s orders against Hafiz Saeed and others have been carried out by Pakistan in the past also. Only a credible crack down on the mastermind of the Mumbai terrorist attack and terrorist organizations involved in cross border terrorism would be proof of Pakistan’s sincerity,” the statement read.
Our response to the preventive detention of Hafiz Saeed and others in Pakistan pic.twitter.com/hhGJXFfyc1
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) January 31, 2017
The first official reaction from Pakistan after the arrest came on Tuesday from director general of Inter-Services Public Relations, Major General Asif Ghafoor. “This is a policy decision that the state took in national interest. Lots of institutions will have to do their jobs,” he said at a press briefing in Islamabad.
He, however, denied any foreign pressure was behind the arrest of the JuD chief.
Last year, there had been an initial confirmation from Pakistani government officials that Hizbul Mujahideen’s Masood Azhar had been taken into custody, but this was later denied.
The News’s Monday edition had carried a front-page article which stated that Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Jalil Abbas Jilani, had been told in a meeting with the US state department on January 11 to take a strong stance against the JuD.
Washington’s threat was not related directly to the Mumbai attacks but instead to the latest report of the Asia Pacific Group (APG) on money laundering, which had “some key objections” regarding the “financial traffic of JuD”, according to The News.
US officials said that Pakistan was likely to be referred by the Financial Action Task Force to the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) process, which reviews and issues public warnings about the risk of financial transactions with identified countries.
Pakistan had to submit a report regarding the objections raised by the APG by January 31. The ICRG’s next plenary is in February, after which it will issue a statement publicly naming nations it deems as ‘high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions’. Pakistan had been part of this watchlist since 2008, but was removed in February 2015.
The News said that there were meetings between the Pakistan finance minister Ishaq Dar and National Security Adviser Nasir Janjua to discuss the matter, with the civilian government passing the buck of a “ban” to the security establishment.
The letter from the Pakistani federal ministry official to the Pakistan Punjab government had also mentioned that a notice had been issued on January 27 placing the JuD and its charity subsidiary, Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), on the “watch list” and included them in the list of organisations in the second schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Islamabad’s grapevine had been buzzing about imminent action against JuD for nearly a month. In fact, the JuD issued a press release on January 14 stating that it was adopting a new name – Tehreek-e-Azadi-Kashmir. Although Saeed connected the change in name to the decision to mark 2017 as the year of Kashmir, the organisation has in the past changed its name whenever it came under intense pressure.
Further, the Pakistani newspaper The Nation carried a report on January 16 that the federal government had started “serious consultations” to ban FIF. However, the Nation report made no reference to any specific US pressure or the imminent ICRG action.
Earlier on Monday, Pakistani interior minister Chaudhary Nisar Khan had said that the Jamaat had been “under observation since 2010-11”. “It is also listed under the UNSC resolutions. After listing, every member state has to undertake some obligations, which we had not been able to implement… so we are taking these steps under those obligations,” Khan said, adding that a decision on banning JuD would be taken in “one or two days”.
Even after he was arrested, Saeed released a video message in which he claimed that that he was taken into custody “under external pressure” as the new US President Donald Trump “wanted to have a deep friendship to (Narendra) Modi”.
Geo News claimed that “credible sources” had revealed “that Chinese government had conveyed Pakistan to rein in JuD Ameer Hafiz Saeed and Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar”. This was apparently in the run-up to a visit to Pakistan by a delegation led by the Chinese commission on terrorism to Pakistan.
However, neither explanation gives a satisfactory justification for the urgency expressed in the letter of the federal interior ministry official or its timing.
Not the first time
Pakistan has previously also adopted a catch-and-release technique with Saeed – taking him into custody when there was clamour for his arrest and releasing him a few months later, under court orders.
The Lashkar-e-Tayyaba chief was first arrested in May 2002, after the Kaluchak terror attack, in which 31 people were killed, including families of Indian army personnel. He was later put under house arrest, but released by November that year.
Then, he was picked up after the 2006 Mumbai train bomb. He was under house arrest twice from early August to October that year, till the Lahore high court ordered his release.
After the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the listing of the JuD by the UN as a terror organisation, Saeed was held under house arrest from December 2008 to June 2009. The Lahore high court deemed his arrest invalid on technical grounds.
Three month later, he was back under house arrest in September 2009, but only for a short stint. In October 2009, the Lahore high court quashed all cases against him, asserting that no charges can be filed against Saeed as his organisation was not banned as per the anti-terror law.
In April 2012, the US announced a bounty of $10 million for information leading to the Saeed’s arrest and conviction. In 2014, the JuD was designated a “foreign terrorist organisation” by the US state department.
Action against Saeed had been one of India’s perennial demands, but the JuD supremo had instead begun to pop up more frequently at public rallies organised by an umbrella group of Islamist organisations.
After clashes broke out in Kashmir following the death of Hizbul-e-Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani, Saeed seemed to have become more visible after a relatively dormant period. His last public speech was on January 12 is Faisalabad, where he claimed that “Kashmiri Mujahideen are giving a befitting reply to India at Akhnoor, Uri and other places”.
Following a series of terror attacks over 2015 and 2016, India has virtually slammed the door on any bilateral dialogue, which led to the cancellation of the SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2016 on the principle that “terror and talks can’t go together”.
With Saeed’s previous house arrest stints usually turning into short stays, it is unlikely India will soften its position immediately.
Note: This article has been updated with the Indian response to Hafiz Saeed’s detention and Pakistan’s official response.