Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) is once again in the eye of the storm and faces an uncertain future following the arrest of its chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and his four associates on January 30.
Saeed’s arrest is not a surprise move, given that for the past several months, a number of senior government officials had been hinting that a crackdown on the JuD remains on the cards. On December 27, a senior government official told a group of journalists that “dismantling” the JuD remains one of the top items on the agenda on which a broad consensus among the concerned institutions has already been made.
The JuD’s rank-and-file believe this crackdown is the result of intense foreign pressure, rather than to address domestic compulsions of maintaining law and order in the country. Official sources admit that the government took action against Saeed and his associates to give a positive signal to the new US administration and preempt any possible moves against Islamabad.
They also maintain that the arrest of Saeed would deprive India of one of its main propaganda tools, which New Delhi has been using against Pakistan at every international forum by accusing Islamabad of harbouring and protecting militant groups.
India accuses Saeed and his JuD of masterminding the November 2008 attack in Mumbai – its main port city and commercial hub – as well as targeting Indian troops in Occupied Kashmir.
However, Islamabad says that New Delhi has yet to share any concrete evidence to substantiate its allegations.
While Saeed’s Islamic advocacy group, JuD and the social-welfare front Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) or Welfare of the Humanity Foundation, have been placed under observation (Schedule II as it is termed in official jargon), this crackdown again exposes deep fissures within Pakistani society and offers some complicated policy challenges for the government and State institutions.
The move to arrest Saeed has only a few enthusiastic supporters among the general public, in which a small segment of the liberal elite and a section of the English-language press are in the forefront, driven mainly by their anathema for all things right-wing.
But ordinary Pakistanis, including those who support right-wing religious and political parties, do not see Saeed and his followers as terrorists or posing any threat to Pakistan. The broad national consensus which the government and State institutions achieved when taking on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), its affiliates, Al-Qaeda and their likes, is missing in the case of Saeed.
Saeed and his followers do not have any cases pertaining to terrorism, violence or hate-speech against them in Pakistani courts. Despite their hardline political and religious views, the JuD has not violated Pakistani law or the Constitution
He and his supporters had announced dissociation from the militant Lashkar-e-Tayyaba in 2002 – days before it was banned by the former military-led government.
Saeed and his followers do not have any cases pertaining to terrorism, violence or hate-speech against them in Pakistani courts. Despite their hardline political and religious views, the JuD has not violated Pakistani law or the Constitution. This fact alone places them apart from those militant groups and individuals who are targets under the National Action Plan.
Saeed’s JuD has no militant face within or outside Pakistan. In the absence of any charges against Saeed and his men, it would be difficult for Pakistani courts to charge and convict him. The State institutions, which have declared “zero-tolerance” for non-state armed groups and militias and rightly want to assert the State-writ, cannot put JuD in this category.
The JuD and its social welfare front, FIF, have created tremendous goodwill among the masses by their efforts to help victims of natural calamities and disasters, as well as by their social work in far-flung and remote parts of Pakistan.
The JuD has openly supported the State crackdown on terrorist groups, which misused the sacred name of Islam to carry out attacks against innocent Pakistanis through various acts of terror and publicly challenged the narrative of terrorists. The JuD has issued edicts, declaring suicide bombings and taking innocent lives against the principles of Islam.
But the main factor in JuD’s favour is its role in raising the cause of Kashmir and highlighting Indian State-sponsored terrorism against the Kashmiri people.
Given these facts, it would be impossible for the government to suddenly paint Saeed and his followers as black and justify a blanket ban on their activities, though New Delhi, Washington and a small segment of the Pakistani liberal elite may want to push Islamabad in this direction.
But any foreign-driven crackdown on the JuD would create more problems for the State and undermine its sensible policy of allowing pro-Pakistan radical and militant Islamists to reintegrate into society and join the national mainstream. It would also be a blow to the efforts to bring militants of yesteryears back into the fold of normal life through sustained monitoring, engagement and rehabilitation programmes.
Pakistan has a national security imperative to avoid opening new fronts against organisations that are prepared to integrate. Most security agencies in the world would avoid arresting or eliminating the leadership of genuine or suspected militant groups, if they aim to integrate their workers and supporters into the national mainstream.
In the absence of central leadership, such radical groups can split into countless anonymous, unregulated cells that have the potential to create havoc and carry out acts of violence and terror. Therefore, prudent security officials would rather deal with one major known organisation rather than pushing it into faceless, nameless cells that pose bigger and graver security challenges for any government.
But any foreign-driven crackdown on the JuD would create more problems for the State and undermine its sensible policy of allowing pro-Pakistan radical and militant Islamists to reintegrate into society and join the national mainstream
The JuD leadership and workers have always taken pride in being staunch Pakistanis. Any foreign-directed crackdown on its leadership or cadre would be counter-productive. It would be advisable for the State to ensure the JuD stays within the ambit of the law and integrates into the mainstream.
The State must guarantee that Pakistani soil is not being used for fomenting terrorism against any other country. But while Pakistan must implement this policy, it must not dilute its responsibility of telling the world that the indigenous freedom movement against the Indian occupation in Kashmir cannot be equated with terrorism.
Violence begets violence. Indian state terrorism in Kashmir has forced Kashmiris to resist, react and retaliate in all possible ways. The world cannot deny Kashmiris the right to fight back and carry on their struggle against the illegal Indian occupation. Indians are trying to divert the world attention from the indigenous freedom movement by raising the spectre of terrorism and blaming Pakistan. Islamabad has to expose India rather than opening internal fronts at foreign behest.
Pakistan has a national obligation and duty to extend all possible political, diplomatic and moral support to Kashmiris. This must continue. The core issue between Pakistan and India is Kashmir and not terrorism or militancy. Islamabad has to explain this to the world more tenaciously and forcefully. The brinkmanship of Narendra Modi and his like cannot change the reality of Kashmir. Pakistan must hold its ground.