05 Oct 2017/Thursday
Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million US bounty on his head, will foray into Pakistan’s political scene by contesting the 2018 general elections through Jamaat-ud-Dawah (Milli Muslim League ) a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. Question arises that why have bloodthirsty, anti-democratic groups suddenly chosen to enter the world of politics and how have they been allowed to operate so openly? For the answer, look to Pakistan’s army and ISI. Earlier this year, they held successful talks with several “banned organizations” over a de-radicalization strategy that would, in theory, see them drop their AK-47s and pick up clipboards. But de-radicalization is tricky at the best of times, and the conditions that made it work elsewhere in the past simply don’t apply to Pakistan today. Most of all, it needs a state willing to threaten non state actors with something they would rather avoid (a military offensive) while proffering the reward of something they want (political influence). In Pakistan, neither condition is fulfilled. In fact, the “mainstreaming” project appears just as likely to strengthen jihadi militants. The main reason that Lashkar-e-Taiba and its charitable front, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, survive under Hafiz Saeed’s leadership is because Lashkar-e-Taiba has served as a proxy for the military in its asymmetric war with India, particularly in the disputed territory of Kashmir. According to David Headley, one of the Lashkar-e-Taiba members involved in the 2008 attack on Mumbai, the ISI provided “financial, military, and moral” support for the operation.
Pakistan Army/ISI is playing tactfully in the name of de-radicalization to achieve two ulterior motives. Firstly, Pak army wants these guys to survive, to use them against India and maintain a facade of plausible deniability. Secondly, it wants to balance its own politicians who are more and more inclined to normalize relations with India. However, Pakistan army may find that its strategy backfires in another way this time around by bringing Saeed into the system. After Lashkar-e-Taiba militants shot up the Indian parliament in 2001, the Pakistani state denied it had anything to do with the attack. That excuse was thin at the time. Repeating it now would wear it to vanishing point.