Trump Effect: Pak Abandons Good Jihadi Excuse to Hold Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed’s detention by the Pak security establishment stems from Donald Trump’s threat, writes Jyoti Malhotra.
Hafiz Saeed or ‘Raees’?
It may be a tad unfair to compare Shahrukh Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui with the infamous mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, especially as Raees has topped Rs 100 crore in its first week. But the truth is that the Lashkar-e-Taiba founder and the Rahul Dholakia film offers insights into Pakistani society as well as politics like nothing else.
The decision to put Hafiz Saeed under house arrest – his house in Lahore has been converted into a sub-jail – came within hours of the US President Donald Trump announcing a Muslim ban on seven Muslim-majority nations as well as putting Pakistan and Afghanistan on an “extreme vetting” list.
Pandering to ‘Good’ Terrorists
Since the attack on Parliament on 13 December, 2001, this is the third time Hafiz Saeed has been placed under detention – the first time within a week of the Parliament attack, the second in mid-2002, and now. Each time he has returned to the streets of Lahore with redoubled energy.
When the UN proscribed the LeT in 2012, Saeed transformed his organisation into a charity called the Jamaat-ud Dawa. Within days of being held last week, Saeed renamed the JuD, calling it ‘Tehreek-i-azaadi-Kashmir,’ in an effort to circumvent the ban on its assets.
For the time being, the Nawaz Sharif government is holding firm. But the fact is that the “good jihadis” like Hafiz Saeed and Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar have not only made it their business to attack Indian assets but have also exacerbated the poisoning against non-Muslims, as sown by General Zia-ul Haq in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Bollywood Bears the Brunt
So much so that as Raees shoots way past the Rs 100 cr benchmark in the first week of its release, it will not be released in Pakistan, notwithstanding that Pakistani actress Mahira Khan is the female lead opposite SRK and this is her Bollywood debut.
According to Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper, Raees will not be released “owing to subtle portrayal of Muslims as criminals, violent and terrorists, the recommendations forwarded by the CBFC panel deemed the film unsuitable for public screening”.
It seems the Punjab censor board did not issue a certificate “because the film portrays Islam and a particular Muslim sect in negative light”. Most members objected, and now the decision lies in the hands of the Central Censor Board.
Ironically, the self-imposed ban on Bollywood films in Pakistan was placed when bilateral relations deteriorated after the Uri terrorist strikes in September. It was lifted on 1 February.
None other than Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif prodded Pakistan’s Information Ministry to lift the ban, following which Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Hrithik Roshan’s Kaabil saw the light of day in big cities like Karachi and Lahore.
Misguided Sense of Loyalty to Religion
But not Raees. All because SRK plays the role of a Muslim gangster, and presumably that’s a terrible role model for impressionable Pakistanis.
The truth is, even as the film certification board makes these pronouncements, Pakistani film pirates are working overtime, churning out thousands of copies of the movie in real time. No self-respecting Pakistani household will not have seen the movie by the end of the first week.
The tragedy is that the Pakistani film industry will have lost large amounts of money to piracy, all because of some misguided sense of loyalty to religion and country.
Can’t Undermine Partition Project
But there’s something else at stake here, and it has to do with identity and the partition of India on the basis of religion. Shahrukh is not only the anti-hero of Raees, playing his part with impeccable aplomb, he is also a hugely successful Indian Muslim playing the role of the bad guy. Any other non-Muslim actor, and the Pakistani establishment would have heaved a sigh of relief.
But Shahrukh Khan? He definitely undermines the Partition project.
After all, the killing of a million Hindus and Muslims and the displacement of another 10 million or so in 1947 was the consequence of the belief that Hindus and Muslims can never live together and must be separated. How could Shahrukh Khan, the much-loved actor, betray that fundamental premise?
Trump Builds Pressure on Pakistan
Remember that the Pakistani security establishment – and the “good jihadis” like Hafiz Saeed they protect – is the key proponent of this idea. These men must regularly project the belief that India is the “enemy.” In Mumbai, Saeed in collaboration with allegedly rogue ISI agents, mounted an operation which brought the Indian financial capital to its knees for a full three days.
For years Saeed roamed the streets of Lahore, without being touched by the establishment – and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif couldn’t do a thing about it. Now his brother, PM Nawaz Sharif has ordered that he be put under house arrest. So what has changed?
Certainly, it’s the Trump effect. India watches warily as the Pakistani government shuts up one of its “most wanted” for the third time – although his official Twitter account is still going strong. Delhi also realises that sooner or later, especially if the polls go badly for the BJP, it will have to restart talks with Islamabad; that bitter silence is hardly an alternative to diplomacy.
Keeping Hafiz Saeed behind bars and throwing a few more, like the operations man of the Mumbai attacks, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, back in, could be the perfect cover. For Nawaz Sharif, who has staked his political career to improve relations with India, as well as for Narendra Modi, who likes to feed his image of being a tough, no-nonsense guy, this is the perfect win-win outcome.
Except, of course, if someone throws a spanner in the works and releases Hafiz Saeed. Trump or no Trump, it will certainly be downhill from there.
(The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi and writes on the overlap between domestic politics and foreign affairs. She can be reached @jomalhotra. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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