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The biggest question about Hafiz Saeed’s house arrest isn’t why, but why now?

After all, we’ve been here before.

He was placed under house arrest in December 2008, just days after the Mumbai terror attacks that New Delhi and Washington believe he helped orchestrate. He was detained again in September 2009. In both cases, he was released in relatively short order.

In more recent years, he has essentially lived free in Lahore, holding rallies and hosting journalists, including those from the West.

So why did Pakistani authorities decide to once again place him under house arrest on Monday?

One Pakistani media report points to US pressure, contending that in the last days of the Obama administration, American officials warned Pakistan to rein in Saeed or risk sanctions.

Saeed himself, in a video released shortly after his detention, bizarrely claimed that Pakistan was obliged to act because of US President Donald Trump’s warm relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A Saeed spokesman made a similar claim.

Washington, of course, has pushed Pakistan to crack down on Saeed for years, and unsuccessfully so. So it beggars belief to assume that US pressure would suddenly and magically prompt Pakistan to detain Saeed—and particularly at a time when the US-Pakistan relationship appears to be entering a period of drift. Washington is shifting its engagement with New Delhi into overdrive, while Islamabad is cementing its failsafe partnership with Beijing.

It’s also folly to assume the Trump administration was actively pushing Pakistan to move on Saeed. Trump has been in office for less than two weeks, and beyond his rapid-fire issuance of executive orders, his presidency appears frenzied and disorganised—not to mention hamstrung by numerous unfilled senior diplomatic and national security posts.

Bottom line? The Trump administration has too much on its plate to be focusing laser-like on Pakistan.


If any external pressure compelled Pakistan to place Saeed under house arrest, it’s more likely to have come from Beijing than Washington.

In a telling yet underreported development several weeks ago, China’s former consul general in Kolkata published a blog post calling on Beijing to rethink its default policy of blocking Indian attempts to have JM leader Masood Azhar sanctioned by the UN.

This all makes good sense when we think about the high stakes of CPEC. For Beijing (as for Islamabad), rapid and sustained progress on this project is a core strategic imperative.

Hafiz Saeed doesn’t pose a direct threat to China, but so long as he walks free he poses a direct threat to India-Pakistan relations.

The last thing China wants as it pushes forward with CPEC is an India-Pakistan relationship on tenterhooks — not to mention on a war footing, as was the case for several weeks last year.


China has long leaned on Pakistan to tackle terror more robustly — and it’s arguably gotten results. Some have speculated that Beijing’s prodding played a role in Pakistan’s decision to launch the Zarb-i-Azb operation.

The anti-state militants targeted in that offensive had not only terrorised Pakistan; they’d also posed a threat to Chinese investments and workers in Pakistan. Chinese pressure may also have helped prompt Pakistan’s Red Mosque offensive.

In short, we should never underestimate China’s leverage in Pakistan, including its ability to get Pakistan to do things it often resists.

And yet the question still remains: Why now? If we assume China influenced Pakistan’s decision to detain Saeed, why didn’t Pakistan act weeks or months ago?

Enter President Trump’s executive order on immigration.

It’s doubtful Trump actively pressured Pakistan to rein in Hafiz Saeed, but it’s likely Pakistan’s detention of Saeed was done with Trump in mind.

We can read the house arrest, at least in part, as an effort by Pakistan to showcase its counterterrorism bonafides to the new US administration, and to dissuade Trump from adding Pakistan to the list of countries that can’t send their citizens to the United States for 90 days. Trump’s chief of staff has suggested Pakistan could be added to the list.

Of course, all this speculating could ultimately be immaterial and Saeed may be released relatively soon.

Unless, that is, China has the ability to get Pakistan to go beyond token gestures when it comes to addressing anti-India militancy, and unless Pakistan chooses to do some big-time signaling to Washington by keeping Saeed in detention for an extended period.

Alas, given Pakistan’s core strategic interests and the value the authorities seem to accord to Saeed as a key asset, I wouldn’t count on either scenario materialising anytime soon.


Author Image

Michael Kugelman is deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at michael.kugelman@wilsoncenter.org or on Twitter @michaelkugelman


The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (95) Closed



k .jatt Feb 01, 2017 02:03pm

100% correct t

Simon Says Feb 01, 2017 02:26pm

Thank You China Bhai ! :)

PakistaniAT Feb 01, 2017 02:39pm

We Pakistani know what to do and at what time. We do not need to be told by the Americans what to do when.

jA-Australia Feb 01, 2017 02:44pm

This article takes conspiracy theories to a whole new level. It's right up there with "outer space aliens did it". The American paranoia about China has seeped through in this article also.

Nb Feb 01, 2017 02:43pm

Astute analysis by Mr Kugelman on display. Agree 100%

BalaK Feb 01, 2017 02:51pm

Anyway situation is bad.

Last Word Feb 01, 2017 02:57pm

Pakistan needs to realise that adopting such cosmetic measures would serve no useful purpose. The govt should start winding up its proxies on topmost priority as they are no longer its assets and continuing with them would result in disastrous consequences for the whole of Pakistan.

Ric Feb 01, 2017 03:05pm

Terrorism in Kashmir region is not in favor of CPEC and China knows it..CPEC can only be a success if there is peace in the Kashmir region

truth Feb 01, 2017 03:05pm

Chinese are true business minded people. Their trade with India and USA is many times more than their trade with Pakistan.So they will not take unnecessary confrontation with India and USA unless they see real benefit from Pakistan.

Ahmad Feb 01, 2017 03:26pm

More focus is needed on Development in Pakistan Rather than Palestine, Kashmir

P.Mishra Feb 01, 2017 03:30pm

@PakistaniAT. I wish you are right.

M. Sadiq Feb 01, 2017 03:35pm

China more likely then America, seems speculative analysis.

ukasha Feb 01, 2017 03:46pm

Its America or China or they did it at their own, its a good thing.

Jaywa Feb 01, 2017 03:59pm

Does it even matter? He should have been put behind bars, not house arrest.

SHAZIA Bari Feb 01, 2017 04:18pm

Pakistan has orchestrated this zehadist policy after successfully driving Soviet forces out from Afganistan but it led to radicalization of Pak youth and a collateral damage was inflicted on our society.This is high time we realize this and put an end to zehadi culture. Let there be peace and prosperity in Pakistan. We have to forget Kashmir and focus on internal strength .

Guest Feb 01, 2017 04:52pm

China is a good friend and has a lot at stake with CPEC and Pakistan. China will not interfere with the internal working of law enforcement and Judiciary of Pakistan .

Arif Maroof Feb 01, 2017 04:52pm

We all can say this that. It was not china or India but Donald Trump factor.

Muhammad Abdul Moiz Feb 01, 2017 04:52pm

Also Hafiz Saeed isnt a threat to whole world. Just resolve kashmir issue and then no one will even call his name. He isnt spreading terrorism.

M. Siddique Feb 01, 2017 05:10pm

All Pakistanis must be solidly behind this arrest. He and his group has only brought grief to Pakistan.

Pulak Feb 01, 2017 05:04pm

Very Interesting & Brilliant Analysis.

Waseem Feb 01, 2017 05:32pm

India will keep opposeing CPEC no matter how may time you bow and how many demands you accept. It's just common sense :)

Abdul Rehman Feb 01, 2017 05:36pm

How did he release video after he was detained ?

Shakir Ansari Feb 01, 2017 05:40pm

I think Michael Kugelman analysed correctly. The thing is, we should get rid from all kind of non-state actors, whosoever may be.

Usman Feb 01, 2017 05:43pm

Its more of assumption from the writer's part, If China would have to rethink this strategy, it would also let India go against Masood, Infect, its seems more of the preemptive strike from Pakistan in terms of what is going on the USA. It is certainly clear that Trump does not think the other narratives when it comes to his own's and the people who voted for him. Pakistan is not willing to take a risk on the bets that trump can take some action against Pakistan or let India out manoeuvre Pakistan in this matter in current US administration. Hence they are going for seemingly appeasing mode even though we all know house arrest won't do anything.

Sameer S. Darwhekar Feb 01, 2017 05:43pm

@SHAZIA Bari Sane voice .. Kudos !!

Hina Feb 01, 2017 05:49pm

@PakistaniAT Really?? Sounds quite unrealistic!!

T.m. Khan Feb 01, 2017 05:52pm

Don't see the big deal if Trump administration puts Pakistan on the list, rather it'd be a blessing for Pakistan to distance itself from the US once and for all. At least this way US sponsored corrupt to the core leadership will not be shoved down our throats every time. We'll make our own decisions, concentrate on nation building and not look towards them for assistance or suffer with their overbearing interference in our affairs.

sikander khan Feb 01, 2017 05:55pm

It`s really a good attempt no doubt, but much more could be done about this matter long ago and we could surely show the world our pragmatic role in eradicating terrorism along with the speeches including in UN

Deepak Feb 01, 2017 05:53pm

@SHAZIA Bari very true !

Khwarazmi Feb 01, 2017 05:55pm

US just placed sanctions on Pakistani strategic companies behind such successes as our cruise missile development which hold enormous importance for our defence. America is not our friend. Far far from it!

pakistani Feb 01, 2017 06:06pm

This is the impact of India USA strategic alliance.

Raja Saleem Feb 01, 2017 06:02pm

Michael, I agree with you.

Sohan Feb 01, 2017 06:48pm

Speculative though but missing too many obvious links...If China was behind it and India was the reason, it should have first focused on Azhar Masood which China has blocked and will block again.

Jamil Feb 01, 2017 07:09pm

@Ric Peace in Kashmir can only come if the people of Kashmir are given the right to exercise their right of self determination as envisaged in the UN resolution.

Vipin antaal Feb 01, 2017 07:15pm

@SHAZIA Bari @true shazia..we salute you

saqib qatanah Feb 01, 2017 07:37pm

Along with China Pakistan has also become a thorn in the flesh of America. Though president changes yet no policy change as far as israel is there. India ,America and Israel are on the same page since long. Now they are openly claiming it

kaliraja thangamani Feb 01, 2017 08:02pm

good article

zak Feb 01, 2017 08:17pm

Its about freedom of Kashmir under Indian occupation and the senseless Indian army killings of kashmiri civilians. Hafeez Saeed etc all disappear when Kashmir occupation disappears.

RAM Feb 01, 2017 08:19pm

@PakistaniAT really!!!!!

N_Saq Feb 01, 2017 08:24pm

It does not matter who said what, what matters is that it is the right step taken by Pak and everyone should applaud it. There is no place for entities like JUD, LET, TPP, Haqani etc etc in the 21st century and Pak must eradicate/eliminate all terrorists from its soil i.e. good and bad.

The hate and war mongers must be stopped so that peace can prevail within and outside Pak. I can assure you that Pak will never be able to wrestle Kashmir out of Indian hands with these radicals or terrorists nor militarily, if there is going to be a resolution to Kashmir issue or other Muslim disputes it will be via intelligent, pragmatic and smart approach in a conducive environment. Good relations with India can go side by side with a claim on Kashmir as per UN resolutions. There are a lot of good examples in history for such an approach i.e. China.

Tariq Feb 01, 2017 08:26pm

why are pak politicians playing "Gully Danda" instead they should educate people and develop a strong commited pak. then nobody would presurize pak for peanuts as it is today small topics are cosnuming all energy out of pak establisment.

on the other hand education might lead to electing real leaders instead of the current servant operated bsuinessmen.

Naeem Feb 01, 2017 08:34pm

Who cares if it is China or US or Pakistan itself made the decision to arrest this man, as long as these types of radicals are stopped from insulting Islam and using religion for politics, we should be happy and not make conspiracy theories.

Raj Feb 01, 2017 08:37pm

I do feel that, China is the main country behind the Hafeez saeed arrest saga. But it is a good thing and india should followup with other positive gestures.

Pakistani Feb 01, 2017 08:44pm

baseless and thoughtless analysis, forget the world why Pakistani are not positive thinking about Pakistan. If you are oblivious of the fact then why are trying to take it in the negative direction?

DADa Feb 01, 2017 08:58pm

@Ahmad: Thank you for being realistic

Maverik Feb 01, 2017 09:26pm

Sorry but a very weak analysis.

Flybouy Feb 01, 2017 09:28pm

@PakistaniAT

Do we?????

El Cid Feb 01, 2017 09:34pm

I do not agree. China does not act in that manner. It has a long term vision. A win win policy. The US blusters short range. Simply orders: Do this ... or else!

Arun Feb 01, 2017 09:36pm

Trump government is going control the imports from China. Chinese know this. It becomes extremely important for China to have other doors open for its product. Indian door is relatively bigger than Pakistan's door. So, China would have applied pressure on Pakistan's government to ensure peace in the region for Commerce to thrive, possibly even to make India happy. A token gesture.

Kashif Iqbal Feb 01, 2017 09:53pm

@zak ever wondered why no one thinks like you?

R S Chakravarti Feb 01, 2017 10:01pm

@PakistaniAT What about the Chinese?

KUL DEEP KUSHWAH Feb 01, 2017 10:11pm

@SHAZIA Bari so true . I appreciate u for hitting the nail on the head .

we as Indians may have a lot of issues with Pakistan

but after all we share the same cultural heritage .

we may or may not sort our issues that's a matter of future

but one thing is for sure

Pakistan fought other's war and paid a heavy price and is still paying it in the former of a radicalised generation

please be a bit selfish and start thinking about yourself .

all the outside powers simply act as per their benefits .

in today's world there are no friends of foes

just national interests

a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan is in interest of entire south Asia

choice is for people and rulers of Pakistan

love and respect from across the border

God bless u all

Daman Feb 01, 2017 10:26pm

Irrespective or China or US, arrest is good news.

Rad Feb 01, 2017 10:35pm

@Ahmad you are correct

Rad Feb 01, 2017 10:39pm

@SHAZIA Bari well said

Jawwad Feb 01, 2017 10:53pm

Thank you Michael for insights. First of all why is US meddling in another country's affair? Haven't we learned not to interfere. When Pakistan asks world to mediate with India on Kashmir we get to hear from India this is bilateral issue and no outside interference will be accepted. Then, India begs to US to use it's clout and threat of sanctions to Pakistan over a person which is again a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. You can't play this double games anymore. People are well informed of designs of the West.

Abraham Haque Feb 01, 2017 11:03pm

@PakistaniAT really?

Dr. Salaria, aamir Ahmad Feb 01, 2017 11:48pm

What a silly joke?

Awaz... Feb 02, 2017 12:26am

Forget about who is behind China or America. I know one thing, THIS MAN SHOULD BE BEHIND BARS!!!

Anjan Feb 02, 2017 01:25am

China has no role in this. This is all propaganda!

Khan Feb 02, 2017 01:47am

India should stop being so frightened of China. China, in fact, is the only country which is has an interest in actively promoting peace in South Asia, and the only one with enough leverage to do so.

Khan Feb 02, 2017 01:55am

@jA-Australia Literally nothing was conspiratorial, and his comment about Trump being too busy with domestic politics to care about Pakistan so quickly makes a lot of sense.

Pakistani american Feb 02, 2017 06:13am

Just an attempt to ruin China Pakistan relationship

Sameer Feb 02, 2017 06:36am

So US is not interested...yet writes in details about ongoing Pak China understanding and cpec effects on India? Figures.

Brar Feb 02, 2017 07:07am

@T.m. Khan google and find how much money the NRIs remit and your economy will collapse without that ?

kruschev Feb 02, 2017 07:33am

The world knows these games. Pretensions don't carry weightage.

Srikanth Feb 02, 2017 07:59am

It's sad to see that the decision was influenced either by the USA or by China. Initiatives as these are expected to come from the Pakistani Government.

Vivek ( INDORE ) Feb 02, 2017 08:12am

I believe that Hafiz Saeed impacts the India-China relations more than Indo-Pak relations. If further action is taken than India-China relations will get better.

Ashraf Quli Feb 02, 2017 08:32am

@PakistaniAT Oh really!!!

Mohammed Hund Feb 02, 2017 08:55am

Pakistan should NOT take orders from either USA or China. Pakistan should follow the path of truth.

byju Feb 02, 2017 09:39am

@PakistaniAT

really! since when?

Mustafa Feb 02, 2017 11:33am

Cannot be China as they encourage this behaviour by Pakistan and protect its assets at the UN

k p rao chennai Feb 02, 2017 11:39am

@SHAZIA Bari AMEN !!

Viks Feb 02, 2017 11:42am

@PakistaniAT I wish it was so, I can certainly understand how it feels.

k p rao chennai Feb 02, 2017 11:48am

@Daman No it is sham.

NVV Feb 02, 2017 11:51am

@PakistaniAT - Looking at the state of affairs Pakistan is in, seems the decisions / directions have been totally wrong - Mistake collasal.... At least now start listening to the rest of the world..

D.K. PAMNANI Feb 02, 2017 12:14pm

Chinese can not be trusted. USA and India has nothing to do with this Villain.

F/o Zak Feb 02, 2017 12:45pm

@PakistaniAT really!!!!! How strange

DEV Feb 02, 2017 02:39pm

Whatever be the reason, Pakistan has done the right thing.

Pravin Feb 02, 2017 03:53pm

@Jamil Go and read the UN resolution carefully

Stalin Plavila Feb 02, 2017 05:02pm

It is for the good of Pakistan that government must take action against all terrorists regardless of they are good or not. A country cannot prosper with terrorists taking a lead role. pakistani people really deserve a peaceful and prosperous life.

Milind Feb 02, 2017 08:07pm

Pakistan is changing, this is what everyone wants. "Jiyo aur jeene do" that too with respect and love in a real sense.

From USA, S.A.Hyder, Ph.D. Feb 02, 2017 10:35pm

@Muhammad Abdul Moiz : If he is not spreading terrorism then is it MAM? You must be out of this world to even have this absurd belief that this guy Hafiz Saeed and his party is NOT spreading terrorism. Their only purpose to living is terrorism.

dhamu Feb 02, 2017 10:45pm

@KUL DEEP KUSHWAH yeh, absolutely.

Dr Salim Haidrani Feb 02, 2017 11:21pm

Michael's analysis is a pure opinion and contains no valid evidence that could be verified.

beleiver Feb 03, 2017 07:24am

undoubtely chinese pressure, the continuous technical hold on saeed by the chinese against world opposition was an embrassment for them, now the chinese can justify not continuing the technical hold on saeed. Saeed was not only affecting indo -pakistani relations he was also a thorn in Indo-Chinese relations.

alam Feb 03, 2017 10:22am

rational steps must be taken against any actor by keeping in view the long term national interest regardless of external pressure though it may be from friends or foes.

Wajih Uddin Qidwai Feb 03, 2017 03:05pm

The biggest question should have been why this much late?

naveed khan Feb 03, 2017 03:36pm

Your last sentence "We have to forget Kashmir" is just to please your indians counterpart. Pakistan want peace with India but not as the cost of Kashmir.

Human first Feb 03, 2017 05:52pm

@naveed khan come to terms of reality .What kashmiris want is peace and good life for the coming generation and they are much better off with rapidly developing India .

Amicable NEIGHBOR Feb 03, 2017 06:21pm

I read all the comments made by Pakistanis here and I feel glad that you guys dont support Saeed .It shows war-mongering propaganda has no effect on wise men . Let there be peace in the world .Best regards from an Indian .

Sarwat Feb 03, 2017 07:08pm

Regardless who is behind it, Pakistan needs to rid herself of all terrorists. It a good move but too little. Nonetheless step in right direction.

Imtiaz ali khan Feb 04, 2017 08:31am

Deport hate of any kind. We don't need any hate in our subcontinent. Narendra or Hafiz both use hate to win power.

ammar yasser Feb 04, 2017 08:50am

I can't believe it is China, she may be sensitive against terrorism, but one has to put the things in balance under present scenario and then look in the analytical residue. The left at bottom is the not CHINA.

danny Feb 04, 2017 10:16am

@PakistaniAT early detection is the best protection. cancer should be treated before someone else detect. arrogance can be fatal, it cost your life. denying the fact can not be deleted.too late detection others have to pay the price. time is the factor.