Individuals and particular situations often dramatically illustrate processes in the India Pakistan terrain. The cases of Dawood Ibrahim and Masood Azhar chronicle the troubled 1990s and the early years of this century. Since the Mumbai attack of 2008 Hafiz Saeed has become a metaphor for all the lows in India-Pakistan relations. His release from preventive custody just two days before the ninth anniversary of those fateful days of November 2008 symbolizes the structural limits within which the India- Pakistan interface operates.
A small measure of guilt and a huge one of denial summarize Pakistani attitudes towards the Mumbai attack, the Lashkar e Taiba and Hafeez Saeed. These sentiments have been there from the start as the extent of the conspiracy and the plan that launched the attack of 26/11 became clear. In the flurry of condemnation that accompanied the attack, the Pakistan Foreign Office announced that the DG, ISI would visit India for investigation. Within hours it was clear that the move was a nonstarter. The subsequent acknowledgement in Pakistan that the attackers were indeed Pakistanis led to the summary removal of its National Security Advisor for this admission.
Some in Pakistan were appalled at the gruesome violence perpetuated on Mumbai. They saw this through their own experience of terrorist violence — a daily trauma that had markedly increased from mid-2007 onwards. Yet even larger numbers sympathized with conspiracy theories being injected into public narratives that the attack was an Indian operation to defame Pakistan. The outrage in India at the scale of the massacre was thus projected in Pakistan as aggression. The attack and the international outcry that accompanied it became the cause of a virulently defensive reaction. As anxieties and paranoia about India asserted themselves it was a short step thereafter to resist action against the attack’s mentors and planners. Assuring ‘due process’ to them became the defense of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Thus, it has remained. The Mumbai case trial in an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi has dragged on inconclusively. An ‘absence of evidence’ from India is an all-encompassing explanation on its lack of progress. Other actors — most notably, Zaki-ur Rahman Lakhvi have been released on bail for want of ‘evidence’. Even periods of relative upswings in bilateral relations have not been able to rescue the case from oblivion into which it has sunk.
Lakhvi’s release on bail in March 2015 was days after the Indian Foreign Secretary visited Pakistan in an attempt to reignite that moment when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had attended in New Delhi the swearing in of the new government in India in May 2014. This timing of the court decision itself prompted questions about whether the Mumbai trial itself now provides a convenient instrument to deflect any incipient India-Pakistan process off course.
In hindsight perhaps, it was also an instrument to measure the temperature of the civil-military balance in Pakistan. Other factors also contributed to strengthening the narrative of denial in Pakistan. Among these is a sense of entitlement about Kashmir, the lack of progress in the case of the terrorist attack on the Samjautha Express in 2006, etc.
Hafiz Saeed currently underlines much of what plagues India Pakistan relations. Notwithstanding identification as a global terrorist by the UNSC his public profile as also the scope of his activities has only expanded. The Falah-i-Insaniyat, a front of the Lashkar-e-Taiba that masquerades as a charity, has grown into one of Pakistan’s largest charitable organizations in the past six-seven years even while facing UN-mandated sanctions against fund raising.
Many in Pakistan feel aggrieved at what they feel is a lack of strategic empathy as their country endeavors to address issues of terrorism — the problem of evidence to satisfy the requirements of the criminal justice system, the difficulties of tracing fund flows in a largely cash dominated economy. etc.
This sense of victimhood is largely self-referential. It is unable to comprehend how feeble these protestations appear to those outside: A political and moral consensus in Pakistan has accepted that military courts will handle terrorists with summary procedures and some hundreds have been awarded the death penalty and many executed on evidence that would have been thrown out of the regular courts; the Pakistan military has on occasion taken action against terrorists with collateral damage of a scale that has staggered the outside world. Invoking sovereignty in the guise of legal technicalities to resist action against terrorists attacking others is acting in bad faith or creating a cover of deniability for state policy.
However much Pakistan tries to reduce terrorism to an India-Pakistan or an intra-Afghan issue, this tack is not working. The China factor does provide a measure of support, but this tactical gain comes as an overall strategic loss. US pressures — the stridency of the White House statement on the Hafiz Saeed release is noteworthy — Pakistan’s poor external image, the recent Saudi announcement about seeking moderation within, are among the many examples that point to this.
Instruments fashioned for a previous century will no longer work and need to be discarded. Pakistan’s inability and unwillingness to do so only underline its dysfunctionality. The fact that that this is not recognized as a dysfunction makes the problem a structural one. Hafiz Saeed is a metaphor of that dysfunction.