By Arab News
The $10 million bounty Washington has placed on the head of the founder of the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan is further depressing evidence that the Americans do not always appear to understand the consequences of their actions.
Hafiz Saeed, the Pakistani who created LeT, is accused by both the Indians and the US of masterminding the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, in which ten gunmen slaughtered 165 people, nine of them perishing in the crime.
In the wake of the Mumbai outrage, the Pakistani authorities, under huge pressure from the Indians, arrested LeT’s top leaders, including Saeed. However the courts later freed them all, on the grounds that there was no evidence to connect them to the crime. Saeed now lives openly in Lahore. From there he runs Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which he insists is a charity but which Washington and New Delhi claim is a front for LeT.
The Pakistani authorities assert that they have no evidence against Saeed and cannot therefore charge him. So what does Washington imagine it is going to achieve by offering this substantial award for information leading to Saeed’s arrest and conviction? For a start there is the clear hint here that the Americans appear to be thinking that Saeed’s arrest might come first, perhaps by his seizure by US special forces in an operation similar to that which led to the death of Osama Bin Laden. The evidence for his conviction would follow thereafter. For a country guilty of the widespread abuse of detainees in Guantanamo, kidnapping Saeed — leaving aside the violation of Pakistani sovereignty — would be an extremely dubious act, which the Indian government itself could hardly applaud. This is worryingly reminiscent of the Wild West, of “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters. It does not look like the action of a government that believes in the law.
Even assuming that this is not the American plan, the basic proposition of the reward remains flawed. The presumption is that some LeT member will be tempted by this vast sum of money to turn against his boss. But to whom will such a person go? If he talks to the Americans, walks into their embassy in Islamabad and spills the beans, what happens next? Will Washington pass both the informant and his evidence to the Pakistani authorities having agreed to pay the man off, as and when Saeed is convicted? More importantly what value will a Pakistani court place on evidence that has been procured in the hope of earning such a fabulous amount of money? Moreover given US suspicions of terrorist infiltration of the Pakistani establishment, what chance does Washington imagine any informant has of surviving long enough to take the witness stand ?
There is, moreover, a further reason why this US bounty is so unwise from America’s point of view. It achieves two things that Washington surely does not wish. It puffs up the importance of Saeed in the eyes of his supporters. It has allowed him to play the statesman, telling journalists this week that he was working in the open and stating: “It is regrettable that America has no information about me. Such rewards are usually for those who live in caves and mountains.”
Many Pakistanis will conclude that Washington has acted principally because Saeed has been campaigning vociferously against the resumption of NATO supplies from Pakistan to Afghanistan, stopped by Islamabad last November following the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a US airstrike. The general outrage at that incident, which the United States protested was an accident, is still keenly felt in Pakistan.
Whatever the culpability of Saeed over the Mumbai atrocity, this is not the way to bring him to trial. Once again the Americans have demonstrated parlous judgment and actually acted against their own best interests.