Once again, Pakistan’s most treasured jehadi jewel, Hafiz Saeed the leader of the Jamat ut Dawa, listed by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation, and the ideological patron of the rabidly anti-Indian terrorist organisation, Lashkar e Tayyaba (LeT) is in the limelight. This follows the US announcement that there would be a US$ 10 million reward (one of the highest ever although not as high as for Osama, Mullah Omar or Ayman al Zawahiri) ) for any information that would lead to Saeed’s arrest or prosecution in the US or elsewhere.
There was immediate and premature exultation in some sections in India as if the US had put out a “Wanted – dead or alive” kind of bounty on Saeed’s head. There was no such demand unlike what had been in the case of Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar – this one merely sought information that could lead to his arrest or prosecution.
The US action was in the pursuit of US interests and not for Indian interests. Any benefit that accrues to India is our good luck and if it does not, then hard luck. The most logical explanation for this is that this is another milestone in the downhill journey of US Pakistan relations, ever since the Raymond Davis episode last year. There is considerable American frustration at Pakistan’s reluctance to participate in or obvious duplicity about the US campaign in Afghanistan.
US Pakistan relations had suffered acutely after the US Seals killed Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, which had angered and embarrassed the Pak Army and there was a resurgence of anti-American sentiment on the streets. Pakistan had imposed this ban following the NATO attack on Pakistan’s Salala post in FATA last November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
While the transport mafia largely controlled by the Pathans in Karachi would be anxious to make money for the trucks, there is another rabidly anti-US militant section led by Hafiz Saeed and the Difa e Pakistan, where he is a leading luminary, have been leading protests against the reopening of the routes until there is a ban on drone attacks.
Hafiz Saeed’s reaction to the US announcement was immediate and expectedly belligerent. Speaking on Wednesday to journalists in Rawalpindi (the headquarters of the Pakistan Army), Saeed declared, “I am here, I am visible. America should give the reward money to me. I will be in Lahore tomorrow, America can contact me whenever it wants to. He added “I am ready to face any American court or wherever there is proof against me.”
The Difa has now announced that it will organise country wide protests against the US decision about Hafiz Saeed. Commenting on this development, Sami ul Haq, the leader of the Jamaat e Ulema Islami (S) Sami ul Haq, protested against US interference adding that, the US was “trying to please India and Israel.” At another press conference in Lahore the Difa e Pakistan demanded that President Zardari to call off his private visit to India scheduled to begin April 8. At a rally today (April 6) Hafiz Saeed, with AK 47 wielding bodyguards, taunted America “Come to us. We will teach you the meaning of jihad… The time to fight has come,” he exhorted America.
Demonstrations elsewhere in Pakistan have also been reported from Faisalabad and Muzzafarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir where the demonstrators burnt an America flag and the slogans heard were “Al Jihad, al Jihad.”
Officially however, Pakistan has reacted on expected lies when its spokesman commented that Pakistan would not accept any pressure on this issue and that Pakistan had asked the US to give concrete evidence to take legal action. Responding to opposition criticism in parliament, Prime Minister Gilani called the U.S. announcement of a $10 million bounty for information leading to the arrest of Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafeez Saeed “unfortunate,” saying it would “increase trust deficit at a time when the parliament was engaged in framing new rules of engagement with the US.”
The Parliamentary Committee on National Security Chairman Raza Rabbani warned that the move could have an “extremely negative fallout”. Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F walked out of the April 5 session of the Parliamentary Committee saying he would not accept the reopening of NATO supply routes; later (on April 6) he accused the government of having already decided to do. Joining the chorus in Parliament was the PML-N opposition leader Nisar Chaudhry who threatened to quit his office if the supply routes were opened.
Meanwhile, it is expected that the campaign against the US will become harsher in the days ahead. Hafiz Saeed along with his close relative and confidante, Abdul Rehman Makki, (with a reward money of US $ 2 million) a ranking member of the Difa e Pakistan, have said they are determined to carry on with their campaign. Even though officially LeT, the militant wing of the Jamat ut Dawa is banned Saeed says he is now associated with the rapidly rising Falah e Insaniyat Foundation which many believe is the old LeT in disguise, and which is establishing educational institutions, hospitals and primary health care centres all over the country.
Many Pakistanis are convinced that the US administration’s decision to announce a reward for information about Hafiz Saeed is nothing but a conspiracy against Pakistan. Even though organisations like the rabidly Sunni militant Sipah e Sahaba Pakistan and the LeT may be banned, the mood in the interior of the Punjab is becoming disturbingly radical. This radicalisation is especially noticeable in the cities of southern Punjab – Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bahawalpur, Bahawal Nagar, Muzaffargarh, and others. Roadside slogans boast of the finances required for jihad to defeat America, India and Israel; hate slogans urging Pakistanis to become true Muslims by hating Hindus are common. One should also remember that this is the part of the Punjab where many of the jehadis come from is also the region from where the Pakistani army gets most of its recruits. It is ironic that Hafiz Saeed is now projected as being associated with plans to deradicalise the youth
It is possible that despite the deadlock on the issue, some US-Pak negotiations continue suggesting that the government hoped to strike a deal on renewed cooperation, including the reopening of the routes in exchange for a cessation or reduction of the U.S. drone campaign.
The US would naturally want to get out of Afghanistan with as much honour intact as possible. The Pakistanis probably feel that this is the best chance to extract maximum mileage by being appropriately difficult with the US. Pakistan remains reluctant or unable to lift the ban on NATO trucks plying through Pakistan for logistic supplies to Afghanistan.
At the same time, the US would have assessed that Pakistan is in dire straits, economically and financially. Pakistan has a festering sore in its largest province Balochistan where the nationalists have stepped up their demand for freedom and there is increasing bloodshed. In addition, Karachi is becoming increasingly violent with very obvious Pathan versus Mohajir ethnic overtones. The usual Pakistani tactic of pushing the US to the edge with its recalcitrance may have some limitations now.
The Pakistan government would seem to have very limited options but it is unlikely to relent on core (i.e. India related) issues. Simultaneously, it will continue to depict to the West that much though they would like to help, the mood on the street was hostile. The basic unaltered truth is that while the civilian government has not got the ability or the courage to deal with Hafiz Saeed and his cult, the Pakistan Army has no intention.