Reports indicate that the idea of moving Hafiz Saeed to West Asia was made by President Xi Jinping to former Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on the sidelines of the Boao Forum in China in April 2018. Saeed, who has been declared a global terrorist by the United Nations, the US and India, carries a reward of US$ 10 million on his head for his involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
It may seem a little incredulous to be suddenly foisted with the idea that a dreaded internationally wanted terrorist could be relocated to a third West Asian country, away from the glare of the international media. That is precisely what Pakistan experienced last month when Chinese President Xi Jinping told the Pakistani Prime Minister to explore ways of relocating Hafiz Saeed, chief of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa(JuD) to West Asia to take the heat off Pakistan as the international community was increasing pressure through the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) mechanism.
The other factor that may have inspired this suggestion was that China had earlier in February been elected as Vice Chairman of the FATF and it would have looked unusual for Beijing to support Pakistan in the FATF and the UNSC on the issue of Hafiz Saeed and other terrorist entities. Reports indicate that the idea of moving Hafiz Saeed to West Asia was made by President Xi Jinping to former Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on the sidelines of the Boao Forum in China in April 2018.
Such suggestions are normally not made by China at high level meetings, instead it is conveyed by officials. But this particular suggestion had to be made because China had just taken over as Vice Chairman of the FATF and Beijing wanted to provide an outlet to Pakistan. Another reason was that Pakistan was domestically running out of options legally and otherwise in keeping Hafiz Saeed under custody, as each time the courts were granting him bail.
Former Prime Minister Abbasi on return to Pakistan from China consulted the government’s legal team, which advised him that in view of the impending General Elections it would be prudent not to do anything. There was also pressure on the Pak government from within sections of the JuD and the religious right for taking action against Saeed. Therefore, the government decided to keep quiet. Also, past experience showed that it was easy for Pakistan to take action against Saeed under sections of the law which left loopholes for Saeed to be granted bail. This helped Pakistan look as if it had performed actions as per FATF and other international guidelines.
Saeed, who has been declared a global terrorist by the United Nations, the US and India, carries a reward of US$ 10 million on his head for his involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. In early 2017, Saeed was placed under house arrest but released on the orders of the Lahore High Court. In early 2018, the JuD was put on the list of banned organizations under Pakistani law just before the FATF meeting in Paris. Following the FATF meeting, it was decided to put Pakistan on the ‘grey list’ for Islamabad’s failure to prevent terror financing.
China is not so concerned about Pakistan, as it is about its image over terror financing in the FATF. As Vice Chairman in the FATF, China cannot afford to be openly siding with Pakistan and protecting known terrorists. The case of JeM chief Masood Azhar is illustrative as it involves China consistently blocking his listing in the UN as a terrorist. Pertinently, between April 2006 and May 2008, China stalled two proposals by the US, UK and France to put Hafiz Saeed and JuD on the 1267 list, citing insufficient evidence. This point was made by Mao Siwei, China’s former Consul General in Kolkata on his WeChat account in early 2017.
While it was only natural that China would dismiss the report on Saeed as “shocking” and “baseless” one needs to work on the premise that these are new circumstances in which the global order is being turned upside down by US President Donald Trump.
In February 2017, Pak newspaper Dawn published an article written by Micheal Kugelman who claimed that it was China which pushed Pakistan to arrest Hafiz Saeed. Kugelman argues that the US has too little time to focus specifically on Hafiz Saeed. The assumption here is that China has the influence on Pakistan and could get Islamabad to act on something of interest to the US. This makes diplomatic sense as Donald Trump had just stepped into the Oval Office as President and was making noises about declaring Pakistan as a sponsor of terror.
It is ironical that China should have proposed a move that is reminiscent in a different context of Pak political figures like Nawaz Sharif seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia. However, given China’s past support to Pakistan on the issue of terrorism, it would not be too off the mark to say that China wants to build its image as a responsible power at this point in time.