To understand how Pakistan is dealing with Masood Azhar and Jaish-e-Mohammed in the wake of India’s demands for action against the group for its alleged involvement in the Pathankot attacks, rewind to 2008-09.
On December 12, 2008, two weeks after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Pakistan government (the Pakistan People’s Party in power then) ordered a country-wide crackdown on Jamat-ud-Dawa offices as well offices of its front organisations. By its reckoning, the Pakistan government had banned the Lashkar-e-Toiba in 2002, so it could not have described this as a crackdown against LeT, but JuD — as everyone knew, and as it started appearing on UN anti-terrorism resolutions — was a front organization of the group.
Led by the United States, there was immense international pressure on Pakistan to show credible actions against the group and its leadership. The Pakistan government had made it known (through its permanent representative to the United Nations) that it would be easier to act against the group if the demand came not from India or the US but from a multilateral setting.
The group was brought under the ambit of UN Security Council Resolution 1267 as a front organization of the already designated LeT. So were two “charity” trusts linked to the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Al Rashid Trust and Al Akhtar Trust, and their offices were also sealed during the crackdown.
Hafiz Saeed and five other leaders of the JuD were detained under a law called Maintenance of the Public Order Act (MPO). Separately, in a crackdown in “Azad” Kashmir, Zakhi-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the operations commander of the LeT, was taken into custody and later arrested, as were five others. Criminal charges were brought against Lakhvi after an investigation by the Federal Investigation Agency, and the case went to court.
Saeed was not linked to that case. He may have been inconvenienced by the house arrest but by then he was already a veteran of the MPO house arrest. He had been detained for the first time in 2002, under the shadow of the post 9/11 sledgehammer that the U.S was threatening Pakistan with. He was detained once again in October 2006 – it was still the Musharraf era — months after the 7/11 Mumbai attacks. On both occasions the courts freed him and took the government to task for its actions against him.
Under house arrest for a third time in 2008, Saeed and the other leaders of the JuD arrested under MPO took to the courts again. Under the MPO, the maximum period of arrest is three months, when a review board decides on an extension of the arrest. Two of the six were released at the time of the first review in March, two more in May. Saeed and a person indentified as Col Nazir took their battle to the Lahore High Court. Their prayer was answered on June 2, 2008, when the Lahore High Court ordered their release.
India expressed shock and disappointment at Saeed’s release. The Pakistan government said it would appeal the verdict. With the Sharm-al Shaik meeting between then Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani coming up, the petition was seen as important for the mood of the meeting.
However, the government did not pursue it seriously and after several twists and turns, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in May 2010.
In September 2009, the government tried again to restrain Saeed. For the first time, the police made out two cases against him, under sections of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law, for glorifying jihad and raising money for his group at meetings in Faisalabad.
On an appeal from Saeed, the court threw out both cases because the law applies only to banned groups and the JuD had never been banned by Pakistan. The government had never issued a notification proscribing the group.
Meanwhile, by May 2008, Jamat-ud-Dawa had already resurfaced under the new name of Falah-e-Insaniyat, and was openly involved in distributing relief to the thousands of people displaced from Swat in the military operation there.
The case in the trial court against Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and the five others has dragged on. Lakhvi is now out on bail.
Like Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar was detained at the end of 2001, after 9/11, but was released three months later in 2002. Jaish-e-Mohammed renamed itself Khudam-ul-Islam, headed by Abdul Rauf Asghar, the brother of Masood Azhar.
Unlike Saeed though, Azhar kept a low profile for many years. Though he figured on India’s “most wanted list” given to Pakistan time and again, New Delhi was fobbed off by the Pakistan Foreign Ministry with this response: his whereabouts unknown. Shah Mahmood Qurieshi, the former foreign minister, even said Masood Azhar, like Dawood Ibrahim, was not present in Pakistan.
Now there are reports that Pakistani authorities have detained Masood Azhar. As yet there has been no official confirmation of this detention.
Speaking on a Dawn TV programme, Pakistan Law minister Rana Sanaullah said the Jaish leader is in “protective custody” because there is no law under which he can be detained as there is no case against him in Pakistan.
Last year, both Jaish and Khudam-ul-Islam figured in a list of banned organizations put out by Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Going by what Sanaullah told television, being the leader of a banned terrorist organisation is apparently not sound enough ground for an arrest.
Section 11 F of Pakistan’s 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act, lists membership of a banned group as an offence liable to be punished with a maximum of six months imprisonment. It prescribes one year for anyone who addresses a gathering canvassing support for the group and its activities. The law is detailed, even draconian. But its implementation has been selective, in keeping with Pakistan’s theory of good and bad terrorists.
Resurfacing after years, Masood Azhar made a fiery speech at a public gathering in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in January 2014. The occasion was the release of a book Jaish claims was written by Afzal Guru and smuggled out of Tihar jail before he was hanged on February 9, 2013. It was widely reported in the Pakistani media but the reports did not shake a single leaf on Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue. The JeM journal Zarb-e-Momin continues to be published and circulated freely.
Azhar’s speeches are available widely on CDs and on You Tube.
If Pakistan is sincere about taking action against those involved in the Pathankot attack, it must do more than what it has done so far with Masood Azhar. It should come out openly and verifiably with the steps that it has taken and these have to be far more than its actions after the Mumbai attacks.
There is value in saying that India-Pakistan talks must be insulated from terrorist attacks only if Pakistan pulls the plug fully on the terrorists and terror groups that launch attacks in India from its soil. This will need more than cosmetic measures such as “protective custody”.
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