Hafiz Saeed called "national threat" by Pakistan's defense minister. But India's joy may be short-lived

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party has come out in support of Hafiz Saeed, as it condemned the defense minister's remarks.

Sense has finally made its way into the heads of Pakistan’s leadership. The country’s defense minister on Monday dubbed Hafiz Saeed a “serious threat” to the nation, as he addressed journalists at an influential security conference in Munich. The terror figurehead and chief of Islamist organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Saeed is believed to a be an important brain behind 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai that left at least 164 dead.

Until yesterday when defense minister Khwaja Asif justified Saeed’s house arrest in Pakistan’s “larger interest”, the South Asian country’s political and military leadership had been seen stonewalling efforts to bring Saeed to justice. Beside 26/11 in Mumbai, the radical preacher is believed to have inspired several terror attacks in India including the jihadist raid on Parliament House in New Delhi in Dec 2001. Neither India’s insistence nor American pressure could turn Pakistan against Hafiz Saeed, who enjoys a massive public following in the predominantly Sunni country.

That all started changing Jan 30, when Saeed was put under house arrest and charged under an anti-terrorism law. The first official acknowledgement of Hafiz Saeed being a global terrorist by Pakistan came from defense minister Khwaja Asif on Monday, weeks after he was placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) that bars him from fleeing the country.

Also read: Not involved in terrorism inside Pakistan, Mr Hafiz Saeed? What about your terror acts in other countries?

However, the battle is not even half won for India which has Saeed featured on the list of its 5o most wanted fugitives. A mere acknowledgement of Saeed’s terror activities by the powerful defense minister doesn’t guarantee that he would be extradited to India straight away.

India can’t afford to be happy yet

Saeed’s supporters at home are already presenting headwinds to his arrest. Barely a day after Minister Asif’s critical remarks about Saeed, he was reportedly called “India’s mouthpiece” by religious leaders and political rivals, mainly from cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party. A former head of Pakistani Kashmir government remarked that Asif was making statements to “appease India.”

Also read: If you’re serious about allegations against Hafiz Saeed, give us concrete evidence: Pakistan tells India

Saeed’s organisations JuD reportedly said that they would hold rallies across Pakistan in protest against Asif’s comments. It is probable that Minister Asif, in wake of domestic pressure, may be forced to retract his statements. The minister’s statements may well be disowned by the Nawaz Sharif government as “personal opinion.”

In any case, for India, it is encouraging that influential sections of Pakistan’s society have at least started to see Hafiz Saeed as a terrorist.