The flurry of actions by the Pakistan government on Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed gives the impression of movement on an issue that has been a point of contention between India and Pakistan. For the past two weeks, Saeed, who is on the UN Security Council’s terror list, has been under “preventive detention” and “house arrest”, along with four other members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an avatar of the LeT. All five are on the “export control list” for travel. A few days ago the authorities put Saeed on its Anti-Terrorism Act list as well, and on Tuesday followed that up by revoking weapon licences issued to Saeed and others. Although details have not been shared, Pakistani officials said they have placed restrictions on the functioning and funding of Saeed’s JuD and its ‘charity arm’, the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation. In addition, Pakistan’s military gave Saeed’s detention its full backing by calling it a “policy decision in the national interest”, while Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told an international audience at the Munich Security Conference that Saeed was a “security threat” to Pakistan. It would seem that even the Indian government has given the action against Saeed a half thumbs-up, with the Ministry of External Affairs calling it a “logical first step”.
As observers of Pakistan know, the action against Saeed is not a new step or even the most serious measure taken against him over the past two decades. Since 2001 he has been in and out of detention at least five times, and released by the courts on a number of occasions. Besides, unlike in 2008 and 2009 when he was detained for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks case, this time there has been no First Information Report registered, or any specific reason given. If Pakistan were indeed serious about the UN list, these actions should have been carried out in 2008, when Saeed and the JuD were put on the list. It is more than likely that Pakistan’s action is actually timed for the Financial Action Task Force’s officials meeting in Paris this week where a report on Pakistan’s terror funding record is being presented. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may even be attempting to show ‘good faith’ to both U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the action, even as he faces domestic pressure to act against terrorists in the wake of a slew of bombings recently in Pakistan, including at the Sehwan shrine in Sindh. It is too early to fully assess what the action against Saeed means, and what signal Pakistan may be sending to India. For New Delhi, steps towards a resumption of bilateral dialogue may be more purposeful than simply gauging which way the wind is blowing.