By Bhaskar Roy
US Under Secretary of State Ms. Wendy Sherman’s declaration in New Delhi on April 02, that the US had put a bounty of US $10 million on Pakistan terrorist leader Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed came as surprise. Almost simultaneously, US Justice Department had this announcement on their website.
Hafiz Sayeed is the creation of the Pakistani establishment, especially the army and the ISI, to launch terrorist acts against India. He went on to create the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the most lethal of the Pakistani army’s terrorist arms. After the LET was banned internationally and subsequently by Pakistan under international pressure, Sayeed formed the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), a cover charitable organization. JUD has also been outlawed by the USA and the United Nations, but not by Pakistan.
As Pakistan’s serving army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has said on record, these organizations were their assets. According to intelligence reports, Sayeed personally selected the terrorists who staged the carnage in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 in which 170 people died including six American citizens. The Pakistan government brought terrorism charge against Sayeed three times, but the courts dismissed the charges on grounds of insufficient evidence. The trials were a huge farce slapped on the face of the international community, especially India.
In Pakistan, the timing and place of the announcement is being questioned. Was this an Indian diplomatic coup? Or was it American pressure on the Pakistani government to reopen the land route for US and NATO through Pakistan to Afghanistan after it was closed following a US/NATO attack last November on a Pakistani military post in Salala, Pak-Afghan border, in which 26 soldiers were killed.
None of the above is true. LET, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and other terrorist organizations from Pakistan have been executing the army’s “killing with a thousand cuts” strategy against India for decades. There is established intelligence cooperation between India and the US, and the US has been kept well briefed. But the US had other ideas. No action emerged.
For a long time, the US and most of Europe followed a selective approach towards terrorism. It did not matter if countries like India were devastated by terrorists sponsored or abetted by Pakistan, if turning away from the scourge helped other political and strategic agenda. Even after “9/11” this policy did not see too much of a shift except towards the Al Qaida and the Afghan Taliban. Al Qaida Chief Osama Bin Laden became the most wanted terrorist with a bounty of $25 million on his head. Taliban Chief Mullah Omar carries a reward of $15 million, same as Hafiz Sayeed.
It must not be forgotten that before “9/11” the US was secretly negotiating with the Taliban for (a) recognition of the Taliban government if the Talibs surrendered Osama to the US, and (b) oil and gas pipelines from Central Asian countries through Afghanistan, to extend through Pakistan which an American oil company could pick up. Reports say the particular company paid a bribe of $400 million to the Taliban for the oil and pipelines. Nothing in honourable where larger interest are concerned.
Therefore, a combination of pressing factors would have impelled the decision to go after Hafiz Sayeed emphatically. Evidence collected from the interrogation of David Headley, the Pakistani American involved in the Mumbai terrorist attack, and more intelligence gathered from Osama Bin Laden’s Abbottabad hide out last year, may have produced clinching evidence that a huge conspiracy may be growing which will not only strike at US interests abroad, but also hurt the American mainland. Terrorist threats to the US and Europe have grown sharply in the last two years, with their roots going back to Pakistan. Most recent information released by the US says more than one hundred Al Qaida have entered border area of Pakistan with Afghanistan with the aim to attack US/NATO troops in Afghanistan. Such large movements of sought after terrorist cannot happen without internal assistance. Form 2007, the US administration has repeatedly presented hard information at the highest level to Pakistan on the ISI’s cooperation with Pakistan based militants and the Taliban to counter the US efforts in Afghanistan.
How far the US will push Pakistan on the Hafiz Sayeed issue is a question. Sayeed is not in hiding. They certainly do not expect a bounty hunter to take out Sayeed. It is very unlikely the US will take out Sayeed with a drone strike. The repercussions inside Pakistan will explode, unlike in the case of Osama Bin Laden.
The Pakistan government will surely enter into a dialogue with the US, demanding evidence. Sacrificing Hafiz Sayeed is not an easy option for the Pakistani government. He is too important with a large anti-American following and support from the army-ISI establishment. Pakistan’s only choice would be to detain Hafiz Sayeed, provide him all amenities inside the jail including connectivity with his people, and drag on the trial for as long as possible.
The US action may be a moral victory for India. But this is an US action and must not be allowed to impact the upcoming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh-President Asif Ali Zardari lunch meeting on April 8 in New Delhi.
But the development is interesting. We must wait to see if it will be significant.