By K.N. Pandita
Long time camaraderie with state supported terrorism has landed Pakistan in yet another wobbly situation in the open gaze of international community. The prime accused of 26/11, Hafiz Saeed has sought Pakistani government’s legal support to fight the court case against him in New York.
A Jewish couple of US citizenship was killed by the Pakistani terrorists in the course of their attack on Mumbai in 2008. The relatives of the deceased couple filed a suit in a court of law in New York demanding that the real culprits who masterminded the attack, and in consequence killed their relatives, be brought to book. As the hearing of the lawsuit proceeded, the court found it necessary to summon the prime accused namely Hafiz Saeed, the chief of Jamat al Dawa of which LeT is the muscle, for questioning. The court has asked for his physical appearance. It is in this connection that the accused has asked his government to provide him legal assistance.
This case has many dimensions, more political than legal. Let us discuss these one by one. In the first place, the accused is a Pakistani national, and in that capacity, he has a right under Pakistani constitution to approach his home government for legal assistance. The Pakistani government is bound to provide this kind of support to its national when approached.
The second question is whether there is or not an extradition treaty between Pakistan and the United States. If there is one, what is the nature of charges on the basis of which a person can be extradited? Is extradition implemental before or after the crime against an accused is established? In other words, the question is whether a person can be extradited just to make his formal statement in the court of law? These are legal aspects of the case. But since the New York court has asked for his physical presence, it appears all these legal nuances have been taken care of.
On the political side of the case, firstly why should the accused approach the government of his country for legal assistance when he is in a fairly strong position to engage his private defence lawyer? Maybe he wants to shift the onus of defence to Pakistan government and thereby make it known that he is innocent, and his government comes to his defence. In addition, since the accused Saeed knows that Pakistan has been involved in military action against the TTP in Waziristan on the behest and prompting of the US, he would feel comfortable by involving Pakistan in terrorist perfidy and thus win pretty good favour with his militant outfits.
If this is the case, then the Government of Pakistan should accept his plea or state that it will be providing the assistance asked for. If it thinks he is involved in the case, then it has to state clearly that it would not provide any legal support. Officially, so far Pakistan government has adopted evasive stance on the matter making no commitment whatsoever. This makes the matter intriguing.
Pakistan government has taken ambiguous position on this case of terrorism because it is on the horns of dilemma. It knows that the New York court will come to the bottom of 26/11 Mumbai carnage case because the Indians will have no hesitation in providing all the documentary and other evidence it collected on its own for examination by the New York court if the later expresses its desire to do so. Secondly, the New York court has the jurisdiction to ask the US intelligence sources, especially the CIA, to provide whatever information it has in regard to Mumbai attack of 2008 and the killing of the Jewish couple in their Mumbai residence and Saeed’s involvement. This evidence is bound to publicly expose Pakistan’s involvement, and strengthen the case against the main conspirator namely Hafiz Saeed.
Apparently, Hafiz Saeed does not need Pakistan government’s legal support on the premise that he is financially able to do it on his own. He heads a powerful organization with reach to international Muslim radical chapters, and neither legal logistics nor financial implications are impossible for him.
It has to be remembered that Hafiz Saeed is very close to Pakistan Army and is often received at or invited to GHQ in Rawalpindi. He is the most important domestic mole of the ISI. It is not without purpose that he has put the civilian government of Islamabad in a quandary. One cannot rule out the possibility of Hafiz doing the antics on the behest of his friends in the Army or the intelligence establishment of Pakistan.
Differences between President Zardari and the Army Chief of Pakistan are well-known. In 2009, General Kiani was thinking of removing President Zardari but for the strong intervention by Washington. Recently, Kiani outright refused to conduct military operation in North Waziristan and, besides that, halted parts of on-going operations in South Waziristan. The Army is not resistant to seeing the civilian government put in embarrassing position and Hafiz Saeed’s antics is part of that game.
But while this is shaping behind the curtain, another development has taken place which contributes to Islamabad’s dilemma. The government in Tel Aviv has come out with a warning to Islamabad that providing legal support to a suspect terrorist would mean Pakistan breaking its commitment of fighting terrorism in all its manifestations. Islamabad has repeatedly assured the US, the UN and the world community that it is engaged in fighting terrorism. How then can it agree to offer support to a person suspected of abetting terror unless he is cleared of the charge.
Following pressure from New Delhi to take proper action against the culprits of 26/11 as was established by the dossiers India handed over to Pakistan on the subject; Islamabad had detained Hafiz Saeed but released him from detention within a few days. It announced that no case of Hafiz’s involvement had been proved. It is likely that the New York court where the trial is underway would ask Pakistan for the record of proceedings of the case of Hafiz Saeed. Islamabad cannot, under international law, refuse to provide the requisite information. In particular, as there are agreements on exchange of terrorism–related intelligence and information between Pakistan and the United States, Islamabad is bound to pass on the judicial record in the context of Hafiz to the New York court.
Islamabad cannot sweep the Tel Aviv warning under carpet for various reasons. Relations between Pakistan and Israel are friendly and occasionally strategic as was observed when Israeli arms were supplied to Iran via Pakistan during Iran-Iraq war. Moreover, Tel Aviv would not come out with the option unless it had sounded Washington knowing how closely Washington is involved in Pak-Afghan muddle. At the end of the day, though nothing extraordinary is going to happen but for the world community will certainly find one more count to smile at the double speak about so-called war on terror.