When a bounty is placed on a person, especially by the world’s sole superpower, the normal reaction is to hunker down and stay quiet for a while. Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) leader Hafiz Saeed has done anything but that. When the US announced that it would give $10 million for any information that can be used to bring Saeed to trial, the head of the JuD decided to give a press conference in Rawalpindi, which aired on several news channels, among other things, he said that he was in Lahore if anybody needed to get in touch with him. Clearly, America has mishandled the situation because later in the day on April 4, it had to issue a statement saying that the bounty was not for the man’s whereabouts but for information that would lead to his conviction. Already seen by many people as a symbol of defiance against India and the West, the bounty comes as a boon for his image of a leader of the resistance against the Americans. The irony is that in announcing the bounty on Hafiz Saeed, the US has ended up adding to his fame, especially among his loyal constituency.
The fact is that the Pakistan government, and the international community as a whole, has been trying to nab the JuD chief for some time, but without getting any of the charges against him to stick. Twice, the government placed him under house arrest only for the courts to release him due to lack of evidence. The UN has also declared the Lashkar-e-Taiba a terrorist organisation but that has had little effect in Pakistan, where the group has been able to maintain plausible deniability simply by changing its name.
That said, the bounty does, however, increase pressure on Pakistan to deal decisively with the JuD chief. Presumably, the only way forward would be for the government to make a case against Mr Saeed that holds up to judicial scrutiny. After all, when the JuD chief taunts the US government to contact him in Lahore — since he is a free man in Pakistan — he is also thumbing his nose at the country’s civilian government which has tried and failed in arresting him for alleged involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2012.