The United States has put a price of $10 million on information and evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and leader of the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD). He is now on a par with Mullah Omar and the al Qaeda chiefs of Iran and Iraq, all of whom carry the same reward. His brother-in-law and co-founder of the LeT, Abdul Rehman Makki, now carries a reward of $3 million.
Hafiz Saeed is arguably a most powerful man in Pakistan, heading the country’s biggest charity organisation called Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), a new name for the LeT which Pakistan accepts as “not banned”. The JuD runs schools and colleges — from kindergarten upwards — and has actually made a name for itself among the country’s poor caring for populations struck by natural calamities. As the mover and shaker of the Defence of Pakistan Council, a coalition of 40 religious parties and pro-jihad political parties, Mr Saeed is perhaps the spearhead of Pakistan’s non-state actors who will prevent the state from allowing the resumption of the Nato supply route through Pakistan.
The world believes that Hafiz Saeed masterminded the Mumbai attack of 2008 and, led by the US, wants Pakistan to prevent him “from moving freely in the country, freeze the assets of the groups associated with him and stop allowing LeT from acquiring weapons — in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1267/1989”. In Pakistan, the JuD is not considered the same as the LeT (because of the varying nomenclature) and Hafiz Saeed seems to be a highly respected person because of his jihadi slogans against the “enemies of Pakistan”, which at the present moment are the US and India. Of course, the 10-million-dollar reward is going to make him more popular among his particular constituency, since it’s primary uniting ingredient is hate for America. In fact, it will not be an exaggeration to say that for his supporters, Mr Saeed is a national symbol of Pakistan’s defiance of the US. International reports about the “connectivities” of JuD with al Qaeda and Hafiz Saeed’s past associations with the founders of al Qaeda are hardly discussed in Pakistan’s media. The latest revelations made about the various sojourns of Osama bin Laden before his death — in Kohat, Swat, Karachi and Abbottabad are also dismissed without comment.
Why the head money now? Without a doubt Washington has become wary of the gravitation of Pakistan’s jihadi non-state actors to Afghanistan after the exit of American-Nato troops. The US is leaving behind what is rated as the largest Afghan Army in history numbering over 200,000. US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta has said that the Afghan Taliban are on the run after having suffered reversals inside Afghanistan. What he doesn’t say is that he fears that just as the Soviet Union was defeated by a combination of Afghan mujahideen and Pakistani warriors, this time too Pakistan could infiltrate its non-state actors to achieve the ‘strategic depth’ it requires to feel safe about its northwestern neighbour. What is scarier for the world is the perception that Pakistan doesn’t control its non-state actors hundred per cent, as demonstrated by the Punjabi Taliban fighting the Pakistan Army in parts of Fata.
Pride and honour breed defiance no matter what the odds. Defiance in foreign policy when no one in the world backs you is called isolationism which is another name for defeat in the given international order. When our non-state actors defeated the Soviet Union the world was on our side in the proxy war; in Kashmir the world was not with us, and we were not successful in humbling India. The blowback from the coming ‘victory’ against the US will be far more lethal than the blowback from the victory against the Soviet Union. The problem is not only that foreign policy is being handled by parliament in Pakistan but that foreign policy will be spearheaded by elements who have their own agenda which may not be the same as what is best for the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2012.