Taken into custody by paramilitary forces on March 17 in Karachi, Qari Abdul Hayee alias Asadullah’s latest detention is a result of Pakistan’s preemptive strikes against terrorists ahead of national and provincial elections scheduled for May 11.
Hayee led the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Sindh and has old connections with the Taliban, including its chief-in-hiding, Mullah Omar. Jhangvi, the deadly Sunni extremist organization, has claimed ownership of two recent bombings in Quetta and another in Karachi that targeted the minority Shia community resulting in at least 259 dead. Last month, former interior minister Rehman Malik said Jaish was involved in “80 percent” of all terror attacks across the country. Hayee is also believed to have organized the kidnapping and beheading of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl some 11 years ago in Karachi, where he has been based since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Hayee is unlikely to remain in jail for long. The grieving families of prosecutors, witnesses, and even judges will attest that the road to convicting Pakistan’s most dangerous men is often a fatal one. Authorities hope Hayee’s latest arrest and the detentions of others like him will put their organizations on the defensive, making them less likely to unleash mayhem ahead of and on Election Day. It’s not failsafe, but at least it’s a strategy to prevent more murder.
Terrorists, especially the Pakistani Taliban, have threatened to affect the elections through intimidation and assassinations. Their avowed targets include the Pakistan Peoples Party of President Asif Ali Zardari, who is a Shia; former president Pervez Musharraf, who ended his four-year self-exile and returned to Pakistan on March 24; and the Awami National and Muttahida Qaumi Movement parties, which are both deemed liberal and pro-U.S.
At the same time, terrorist groups have promised not to disrupt the prospects of Imran Khan and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which, in fact, has elected to ally with some of these banned groups for electoral muscle. The goal of a free, fair and peaceful election in what is bound to be a tight race in a highly polarized and fractured country is impossible to achieve with the Taliban & Co. twisting and breaking the will of the people.
Following the shocking assault on Bannu jail last year, the Taliban have formed a lethal new force that specializes in jailbreaks. Expectedly, no law enforcement agency is willing to acknowledge that it has custody of Hayee. The Rangers claim he was transferred to Karachi police. However, a police official with the Crime Investigation Department told Newsweek he had no knowledge of Hayee’s arrest. “Any agency could have taken him,” says independent analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi. “It isn’t rare for the security agencies to snap up prominent militants before they are taken into custody by the police.”
So far, there have been no reports of so-called police encounters—which are used to dispatch terrorists who cannot safely be convicted—regarding the men hauled up in recent weeks. Hayee’s comrade, Jaish founder Riaz Basra, was killed in one such encounter in 2002. (Hayee and Basra were arrested in 1995 but escaped from court by reportedly blinding their jailers with chili. Two years later, they were reported to be in Afghanistan, where Hayee’s expertise in hand-to-hand combat, explosives, and chemical attacks put him in good stead with their hosts, the Taliban.) Hayee was also arrested in 2003 in Southern Punjab, a hotbed of terrorist activity and sectarian violence, for his involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Shia mosque that killed six. Hayee was sentenced to death, but acquitted on appeal because of “lack of evidence.”
The fresh law-enforcement operations in Karachi, conducted by police in collaboration with paramilitary forces, have focused over the last few weeks on the suburbs of Orangi Town, Musharraf Colony, Korangi, Pirabad, Pathan Colony, Kunwari, and Metrowell. The sweeps have netted, according to police, some 200 suspected militants, including Jhangvi and Tehreek-e-Taliban operatives.
The absence of Hayee and his ilk from the streets of Pakistan, even if temporary, is welcome news. It’s too soon to know whether this will ultimately lead to justice for the many who are believed to have died at their hands—or to peaceful elections.
From our April 5, 2013, issue. For updates, follow Aslam on Twitter.