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Hafiz Saeed’s arrest

Updated July 21, 2019

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PRIME Minister Imran Khan’s departure for the US has been preceded by a most timely development: the arrest of Hafiz Saeed, leader of the banned Jamaatud Dawa and a UN- and US-designated global terrorist.

The cleric was apprehended on Wednesday by Punjab’s counterterrorism police while on his way from Lahore to Gujranwala to obtain bail in a terror-financing case.

There is a palpable sense that the government of late has moved its campaign against militant groups into high gear, with over two dozen cases of terror financing filed earlier this month against JuD’s top leaders. The world is watching Pakistan’s actions closely, particularly in connection with JuD and Jaish-e-Mohammed; any perceived kid-glove treatment of them will feed into global misgivings that the country has a selective policy vis-à-vis extremist organisations.

The latest turn of events has therefore gone down well, with President Donald Trump hailing the arrest of “the so-called Mumbai ‘mastermind’ after a ten-year-long search”.

Pakistan must continue to plough ahead to put militant groups out of business and prosecute their members under the provisions of the Anti Terrorism Act. Otherwise, Hafiz Saeed’s arrest could be perceived as little more than an opportunistic move calibrated to coincide with an important state visit.

Even more importantly, however, such a course correction has a critical bearing on Pakistan’s internal security and its future as a responsible member of the international community.

The countrywide crackdown against militant groups a few months ago — in which provincial administrations in Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan sealed or took control of hundreds of madressahs, schools, mosques, etc run by these organisations — marked what appeared to be a definitive shift in the state’s approach. Interior Minister retired Brig Ijaz Shah confirmed as much at a press conference on Thursday when he said the policy pertaining to suspected militant organisations had undergone a change, for which the PTI government deserved credit.

It is unfortunate that such a reversal did not come about some years earlier when fears were repeatedly expressed both in political circles and the media that appeasement of certain militant organisations carried inherent risks that would hurt Pakistan’s long-term interests.

History has shown that such groups cannot be ‘managed’, nor their inherently violent proclivities turned on and off at will.

Moreover, all extremists at some level — even those that are not pan-Islamist — share an ideological affinity which leads them to enable each other, even if indirectly. Be that as it may, now that the state has resolved to eliminate them, it must close off every avenue that militant outfits use to survive and proliferate. They should not, for example, be able to circumvent a ban on their activities by emerging with new names, helmed by the same toxic individuals as before. Nor must they be mainstreamed into electoral politics unless they unequivocally renounce violence. Anything less will be a temporary reprieve.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019