Hafiz Saeed’s detention has come as a surprise.
Not only because there was little foreshadowing of the move by the government but also because there existed no debates or circumstances which could have prompted such a step. However, the biggest surprise is the manner with which the government handled the issue.
Where it had previously relied on relief given to the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief by local courts to justify its inaction against him – and to defend Pakistan from the international criticism for letting the JUD run free – now it has sent heavily armed contingents to arrest Hafiz Saeed and his associates from Qudsia Mosque in Lahore, removed the organisation’s banner’s from the city, and replaced the party flags in its Muridke headquarters with Pakistani flags instead.
It is described by the government as a “crackdown” and it feels like one.
As such, this action is highly commendable, and more so since the announcement of the crackdown and the orders come from the Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar, who has previously given us cause for concern rather than comfort by meeting with and acting as an apologist for sectarian organisations.
This time however, the Minister must be commended for his efficient handling of the arrest.
And as the sudden nature of this house arrest signifies, it is perhaps time to recognise that calls to “do more” have not motivated the state, as much as possible denial of entry into the US through a visa has. While there is no evidence that a ban was threatened, it can be safely assumed that the volatile situation surrounding the US immigration policies were a factor in the decision to make such a move.
If it was that, so be it.
Pakistan has been trying to grapple with the question of Hafiz Saeed. Why does the state tolerate him? Why does he seem so untouchable? For the first time however, it seems like he isn’t. It remains to be seen whether this detention is temporary, and whether the state will buckle under pressure and let him go. Already the JUD has started mobilising its masses to protest and Hafiz Saeed has petitioned the courts for his release – which have come to his rescue in the past too.
However, the crucial point here is that for the first time the state has acted to contain Hafiz Saeed, and denied him a pulpit. And that is a step in the right direction.