Islamabad: The Pakistan government appears to have acknowledged for the first time that 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed, who has been placed under house arrest by Pakistan and listed under an anti-terrorism law, was a threat to the country. Pakistan media quoted the country’s defence minister Khawaja Asif as saying that Saeed could “pose a serious threat to society and has been arrested in the larger national interest”.
The report came after the Indian government cautiously welcomed Pakistan’s decision to go after Saeed under the country’s anti-terrorism act for the first time. “Effective action mandated internationally against him and his terrorist organisations and colleagues is a logical first step in bringing them to justice, and in ridding our region of the twin menaces of terrorism and violent extremism,” MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said on Monday.
In recent weeks, certain changes appear to have taken place in the country with regard to Saeed, whose detention and the financial curbs on his organisations are connected to international pressure from the financial action task force.
There has been a lull in cross-border firing since the appointment of Pakistan’s new army chief General Qamar Bajwa, although infiltration bids have increased with the waning winter. Bajwa’s statements are seen as more reasoned, less vitriolic than predecessor Raheel Sharif’s. His reported statements show him to be exhorting the Pakistan army to wean itself away from politics.
In addition, Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif has succeeded in appointing his own foreign secretary, Tehmina Janjua, instead of someone like Abdul Basit, the envoy to India believed to be closer to the army-ISI. Basit, disliked by the Indian government for years, will also be moved from New Delhi, another sign that Sharif may be clawing back some control on foreign and security policy.
The past weeks have also seen deadly terror attacks in almost all of Pakistan’s big cities, the latest targeting the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine, which prompted the Pakistan army to shell areas near the Afghan border used as hideouts by several militant groups.
The actions may not be the direct result of Indian pressure, but if taken forward, could create a conducive atmosphere for re-engagement between India and Pakistan. The Centre is in a wait-and watch mode. It’s taking small steps, like encouraging Pakistan’s action against Saeed. On Monday, India and Pakistan extended a 2007 agreement on reducing risk of accidents relating to nuclear weapons for another five years.
This would go some distance to address global concerns about Pakistan’s nukes falling into the hands of terrorists. What is not yet clear is whether this could lead to a change in the outlook of the Pakistan army. But it appears that a start has been made.