The political circus is underway as always and all eyes are fixated on the drawn out court sagas and political rallies that Pakistan’s politicians, its judiciary and the security agencies are embroiled in ahead of the general elections this year. The Supreme Court’s increased media prominence is a direct result of the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s (CJP) proclivity to pick up “human interest” cases – so much so, that his tenure harkens back to the days of the initial popularisation of the suo moto notice in the Chaudhry Iftikhar era. But some would claim that the CJP’s ire is only directed at certain sections of the government, and other very real issues of justice lie ignored.
Whether politicians should be allowed to put their pictures on advertisements of government projects or if some of them should have contempt of court cases pursued against them must take a backseat to issues such as why Hafiz Saeed continues to be in the good books of the Lahore High Court (LHC). The LHC has inserted itself into the headlines various times as a result of being on the wrong end of this decision. Since 2006, LHC has intervened against the government on behalf of Hafiz Saeed on at least four occasions – in 2006, 2009, 2017 and now most recently, this month – claiming that his detention is against the law due to the government’s failure to produce any credible evidence of terrorist activity.
This in itself is strange; if the government and intelligence agencies have knowledge of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) and Milli Muslim League (MML) funding or supporting terrorist activities in Kashmir or beyond, why has it not furnished this evidence before the court? Surely the Interior Ministry has some proof? The proceedings and outcome of the case are always in the same vein; the government puts the JuD leader under house arrest, he files a petition himself, through his family members or loyal supporters in the LHC and inevitably gets a decision in his favour.
The government’s inability to produce evidence before the court should not be a hurdle however; publicly available recordings of hate speeches by the leader of JuD against India, encouraging people to take up arms in Indian-Held Kashmir, and creating divisions in a conflict that only has a political solution are reason enough to order his arrest and keep him from making public sermons. Yet somehow, this rationale never makes it to the Lahore High Court, or if it does, it is ignored.
And then, there is the ‘external pressure’ argument; Hafiz Saeed’s legal counsel and his supporters claim that the Pakistan government looks to restrict his movement as a result of pressure from both India and the US. However, external pressure levied on individuals such as Hafiz Saeed, is not without cause. The UN has him, JuD and his former Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) on the list of proscribed organisations for a good reason. And if LeT is widely recognised as a terrorist organisation, why does the JuD – with the same leader and many of the same members – not get similar treatment? In any case, why does the government never appeal the LHC decision? Is the problem of terrorism not important enough for the CJP to take notice? Or do other issues, such as contempt of court proceedings take precedence?
The uptick in violence in Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK) which led to the deaths of at least 20 individuals on April 2 led to a social media war between hawkish media outlets of India and prominent cricketers such as Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Akhtar. The arguments coming from the hawks in India always have the name ‘Hafiz Saeed’ thrown around somewhere, and that is one subject which Pakistan has no actual rebuttal for. Hafiz Saeed does indeed have the freedom to regularly carry out rallies in Lahore and has a political wing to his organisation, one that has been gaining support in Punjab, if the by-elections in Lahore and other areas are anything to go by.
The justice system of the country is indeed fraught with problems if the law necessitates the LHC to stop the government from “harassing” a terrorist. Welfare activities that come with the caveat of increasing support for an extremist leader are not in the best interests of the country or its people, and the LHC must be made to see that.
All hope is not yet lost. The government is looking to table a bill on Monday that permanently bans organisations such as JuD and Hafiz Saeed on the watchlist of the Interior Ministry through an amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997. But even with this amendment, it still remains to be seen how the LHC and other institutions will react, and whether the government will get the support it needs in the parliament, considering sympathisers for Hafiz Saeed’s cause are legion.
Hafiz Saeed cannot be made the posterchild of the Kashmir revolution, a movement that does not need the support of extremists that are looking to hijack an organic cause as a result of suppression by the Indian security forces. Until the name of JuD and its leader are attached to the Kashmir struggle, the people of Kahsmir can never get the rights they are engaged in a constant struggle for.
n The writer is a former member of staff.