Hafiz Saeed is Pakistan’s Bhindranwale
The Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan met and bid adieu in New York without promise of a future date or resumption of the stalled composite dialogue. So much so that S M Krishna rejected reactivation of back channel talks that had worked so well till before Mumbai happened.
The January 6, 2004 Islamabad joint statement by Pervez Musharraf and A B Vajpayee and the largely successful ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) were a product of the dialogue away from the prying eyes of the media. The back channel continued after the 2004 regime change in India and saw the two sides agree on a slew of confidence building measures including the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service and the Munabao-Khokhrapar train link between Rajasthan and Sindh.
Krishna engaged with Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi for nearly 100 minutes before predicating resumption of talks on concrete action against perpetrators of Mumbai, notably the Jamaat-ud-Dawaa’s Hafiz Saeed, who, in my view, is the Bhindranwale of Pakistan.
I’m not for a moment condoning the Pakistani intransigence on Saeed who, for good or bad, has become a test case for its seriousness in fighting terror on the eastern borders with India. At the same time, I’m aware of our government’s predicament in handling Bhindranwale, who roamed the streets of Delhi with his band of armed followers as the government grappled with ways to contain militancy in Punjab. The consequences of the belated, hugely controversial Operation Bluestar were fatal: large scale alienation of the proud and patriotic Sikh community; major spurt in wanton killings; assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own security guards and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
Indira was a tall leader and politically too astute not to know the consequences of sending troops into the highly revered Sikh shrine. But when she had to act, she did. There’s no leader today in the whole of South Asia to match her courage.
In fact, the beginning of Musharraf’s end (over the Judges’ issue) was his decision to send commandoes into Islamabad’s Lal Masjid. Benazir Bhutto was killed in a bomb-pistol assault primarily for her open challenge to extremist forces. Conspiracy theorists believe Nawaz Sharif’s life is in as much danger from the Taliban and their Al Qaeda partners who despise popular rule and popular leaders.
Like Bhindranwale, Saeed combines his mass following with religious fervor and a cause (Kashmir) that’s anti-India. He cannot be taken out or incarcerated and tried without a complete consensus between the political class and the civil-military establishment who’ll have to jointly bear the violent fallout from any such action in the crucial Punjab province.
Pakistan’s worst kept secret is the government’s lack of political will and resources to open another anti-terror front when the battle is far from over in the northwest. It’s significant to note that Punjab hasn’t had a major terrorist attack ever since the Lahore High Court let Saeed walk free.
The JuD leader’s boys are now doing ‘patriotic duty’ by training anti-Taliban lashkars (village armies) in the NWFP. His utility for Pakistan explains the futility of India’s campaign.