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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Politics and the Aftermath of the Bounty on Prof. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed

Never a dull moment for Pakistan watchers. This week has already seen two significant developments, first the announcement of the visit of President Asif Ali Zardari to India quickly followed by an unexpected US bounty, a huge one at that of USD 10 Million, on Professor Hafiz Muhammad Saeed saheb, the Chief of Jama't-ud-Dawah (JuD) and the Lashkar-e-Tayba (LeT). I will interchangeably refer to LeT and JuD in this post because they are one and the same even though Pakistan attempts to find non-existent differences between these two. The UNSC (which includes Pakistan's all-weather friend China) does not share the Pakistani obfuscation and therefore we too will not distinguish between these two terrorist tanzeems. Another bounty of USD 3 Million has been announced for the capture of Professor saheb's right-hand man, top jihadi ideologue of LeT, and Professor saheb's brother-in-law Abdul Rehman Makki. One wonders why Lashkar's Head for Transnational Terror Operations, Sajid Mir was not similarly slapped with a bounty. It was Mir who was calmly directing the terrorists, motivating them and diabolically plotting the cold-blooded carnage in Mumbai on 26/11. Then, there are the officers of the Pakistani Army (PA) and the Navy (PN) who were accomplices in terror who need to be sorted out as well.

On the face of it, these bounties appear to show the US committment to fighting terror. The US has been accused by India of not being impartial in its determination to fight terror as it benignly neglected the overpowering and compelling evidence of terrorism practised by the PA and its various proxies, most notably the LeT. Of course, the US is under no obligation to help India as it pursues its own interests. But, many US decisions in the past have hurt India and helped the non-state actors of Pakistan. To that extent, the US owes a debt to India in cleansing the region of its jihadi creation. Well, Brzezinski famously said, "What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?". Some stirred up Moslems, they have turned out to be.

Coming to the present, the US must have made a careful study before announcing these twin bounties. It proposes to achieve several benefits for itself by this announcement. For those Indians doubtful of the US committment, of which there are plenty, the US hopes to send a message that their doubts were misplaced. For a Pakistan which is still grappling with how to re-define its relationship with the US in the context of the massive hatred for the US among the Pakistani masses while continuing to get generous funds and arms from it, the US is sending a stern message too. The message is stark for Pakistan that the US can cause troubles if it so wishes. The UNSC Resolution 1822 has already implicated Professor saheb and the JuD and has put that organization on par with LeT (which has already come under the UNSC resolution). On Dec. 10, 2008, the venerable Professor saheb was notified as a terrorist by the AL-QAIDA AND TALIBAN SANCTIONS COMMITTEE of the UNSC. The UNSC Resolution 1822 (2008) details what steps a Government has to follow in such a case, none of which Pakistan has cared to do. And, the UNSC has kept quiet too. With the anti-America hatred at an all-time high in Pakistan, any submission to US pressure and that too involving a mard-e-momin like Professor saheb would lead to civil war and bloodbath in Pakistan. This bounty is dead even before being born.

The Indian Foreign Minister, S.M.Krishna has welcomed the bounty and felt that the latest US action vindicated the Indian stand that JuD was a terrorist organization and that Professor saheb was the master planner of the 26/11 crime. How comical is this welcome considering that it was not India which announced this bounty but another nation which comparatively lost much less in the carnage on 26/11 ! The Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram hoped that it would “prod the Pakistan government to take action.” He, however, quickly expressed pessimism about the prospect, saying “Pakistan was in denial and continues to be in denial.” He should know. Let us jog our memory and go three years back to June 2009. That month was significant for Pakistan because it successfully turned around India, for the umpteenth time in sixty two years of its unremitting confrontation. On June 16, 2009, Man Mohan Singh met Zardari on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting at Yekaterinburg in Russia. That was barely seven months after the horrendous 26/11 urban warfare unleashed on India by the Pakistani Army (PA) and its proxy, the LeT. Gen. Kayani, Lt. Gen. Shuja Ahmed Pasha, and a number of PA and ISI officers had planned the details of the 26/11 urban guerilla warfare minutely. But, the Indian PM Man Mohan Singh had decided to overlook the terrible act within seven months and had embarked on the reconciliation strategy. Yet, he played a little drama at Yekaterinburg for Indian mass consumption, by telling Zardari within earshot of the assembled TV crew, "Excellency, I am pleased to meet you. But I have a limited mandate to tell you that the Pakistani territory can't be used for acts of terror against India". Why should we consider this blunt (I, for one do not even consider this as blunt considering the magnitude of 26/11 and the scores of terror acts before, especially the promise made by Gen. Musharraf on Jan 12, 2002 after the December 2001 Indian Parliament attack) talking as hot gas is because it was this meeting that set the agenda for what followed immediately thereafter and continues to this day. After that blunt message in front of journalists, Man Mohan Singh and Zardari had a one-on-one meeting for 45 minutes that sealed India's fate yet again. Asif Ali Zardari, like all Pakistani Presidents, Generals and Prime Ministers before him, promised (a more appropriate description would be, 'lied') to take action against the terrorists and bring the 26/11 culprits to book. Man Mohan Singh believed his words and ordered restoration of 'peace dialogue'. The US was quick to welcome the meeting between Zardari and Man Mohan Singh, as were sections of Indian intelligentsia. That meeting set the stage for the even more shameful Sharm-el-Sheikh meeting in July, 2009 where Man Mohan Singh directed his Foreign Secretary to voluntarily implicate India in the internal affairs of Pakistan and get equated to a terrorism-sponsoring Pakistan in the process. Indian foreign policy was once again being shaped directly and solely by a Prime Minister who was not quite adept in the art. The choice of a docile and laid-back S.M. Krishna as the Foreign Minister in his cabinet appears in hindsight to be a deliberate decision by Man Mohan Singh to carry out his imbecilic Pakistan agenda. Mr. Man Mohan Singh’s approach to Pakistan can only be equated with a similar disastrous approach by another Indian Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral. Just as we have not yet recovered from the Gujral effect, We will take decades to recover from the Man Mohan Doctrine as well.

So, what will Pakistan do now ? Predictable. There are different parties there who will react differently, but all of them would work towards the common goal of protecting the venerable Professor saheb because jihad against the Indians and the Great Satan, the USA, needs people like him. This post in this blog explains as to why Lashkar-e-Tayba is so important for the PA in particular and the Pakistani State in general. . The Government of Pakistan (GoP) would say that neither India nor the USA has given any solid proof that could stand in a court of law to convict professor saheb. The Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani has already said so. The Foreign Office spokesperson has gone one step ahead and said that this bounty vindicates the Pakistani position that so far India has not given worthwhile evidence. I expect the Interior Minister Rehman Malik to also brazenly say on the Indian soil tomorrow, that the judiciary of Pakistan which was well known throughout the world for its fierce independence (he would even cite the examples of its on-going actions against the President, the Prime Minister and even the PA) has already released Professor saheb after a lengthy and due process of trial in the Lahore High Court and then in the Supreme Court and that there is not much that GoP can do now against him unless India shares fresh evidence. He would also say that the evidence given so far by India had been mere conjectures and not solid proof, that have been thrown out by the Lahore High Court as well as the Supreme Court and if India could furnish more evidence, he would be only too willing to prosecute Professor saheb. He would demand that the judiciary of Pakistan must be respected. He would conclude by saying that to the best of his government's knowledge, JuD was merely a charity organization involved in Daw'ah, social work like running educational institutions and hospitals for the poor and was not involved in acts of terrorism.

Nothing more should be expected from GoP, if one looks back at how it has been handling the issue of LeT, JuD and more so Professor saheb. In the second week of December, 2008, Pakistan fooled the world by enacting a farcical drama of cracking down on JuD after the UNSC resolution had included JuD and Professor saheb in its sanctions list. The Muridke headquarters was not even touched and the ostensible explanation given by both the Punjab and the federal GoP was that were JuD’s charity work to be affected, it would adversely impact millions of poor Pakistanis across the country and that these were unrelated to terrorism anyhow. In fact, the Punjab government, which under Nawaz Sharif’s brother, Shahbaaz Sharif, has always showed open alliance with various terrorist organizations, went ahead and allocated USD 1 million to JuD out of its budget for c. 2009. Later, JuD spokesman himself reacted with astonishment over this allocation. On January 6, 2009, the JuD spokesman threatened the government as follows: “Hafiz Saeed has followers all over Pakistan and it is not possible for the government of Pakistan to even think about handing him over to India,”

Professor saheb, for his part, has already said that US had no means of knowing anything about him and its action is based on unreliable second-hand information from enemy India which has a vested interest in prosecuting him. He would also blast the unholy alliance between Hindu India and Christian USA, both kafir, that now stood exposed. He would challenge and tease the Americans to catch him if they could a la Muhammad Ali. He would not hide in a deep underground bunker or become incommunicado. He is not like a Ramzi Yousef, the nephew of Khaled Sheikh Muhammed (KSM), who was a fugitive after having been involved in the 1993 WTC bombing , the Bojinka Plot to bomb mid-air American planes over the Atlantic etc. and for whom a USD 2 Million was announced under the US Rewards for Justice (RFJ) programme. The bounty led to his tip-off. Same was the case with another Pakistani, Mir Aimal Kansi, who killed CIA employees at Langley, Virginia and escaped to Dera Ghazi Khan in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Agencies) in AfPak region. A USD 2 Million dollar bounty did him in eventually a few years later. On the contrary, Professor saheb would use every opportunity now to interact more with the public and the journalists, spewing out more venom against the Hanud-Yahud-Nasara (Hindus-Jews-Christians) conspiracy against the Muslims. He knows pretty well that his own LeT which is a large and armed-to-the-teeth terrorist organization, as well as the other dozens of Sunni terrorist organizations in Pakistan and even those who may not see eye-to-eye with him like some factions of the Punjabi Taliban, his patron the PA, dozens of Islamist organizations, political leaders from all parties who are hand-in-glove with him, the judiciary, and more importantly the masses of Pakistan would stand solidly behind him. Nobody, would therefore be able to catch him and hand him over to the Americans, a ridiculous proposition to start with anyway.

The Pakistani political parties which are debating the recommendations of the Pakistan Committee for National Security (PCNS) would find it even more difficult to take a pragmatic and practical view anymore and perforce have to harden their stand, lest they be accused of being American agents. There was some evidence of cracks among the political leaders on the tough stand against the US and that would evaporate now. The Zardari government would try to shake off the American pressure to open the NATO supply routes, to be more cooperative in the talks with the Taliban, to allow the drone operations etc. by citing the unanimous decision of the Parliament. Anything else could see the immediate demise of the PPP government, a blow from which they might just not be able to recover because the unthinkable act of handing over a true momin Professor saheb to kafir America would be simply blasphemous and the munafiqin (hypocrites untruthful to Islam) Zardari, Gilani, Rehman Malik& Co will be branded murtad (apostate) and deservingly stoned to death.

The US knows that this bounty announcement would not pressurize Pakistan into taking any action against terrorism, much less against a national jihad hero like Professor sahib. India knows that too. So, why did the US announce this bounty and why has India welcomed it ? The reasons are starkly different for the two.

There are three reasons why the US has done what it has done now. One, it fears that the incorrigible extremist elements in Pakistan could derail the Afghan peace dialogue and therefore a successful conclusion to US/NATO presence by c. 2014. Secondly, it needs India's support in various issues and therefore has a need to appear, in Indian eyes, of being tough with Pakistan. Thirdly, the USA may have a genuine fear of Pakistan sliding into another roguish North Korea.

There are several conflicting situations that one has to face when one begins to wield more and more power in career or in life. This is the same for nations as well. The sole super power runs into similar predicaments regularly every other day in different corners of the world, especially as it practises realpolitik furiously. The situation was vastly different when the comity of nations was generally divided into black and white between the West and the Soviets with a tiny shade of gray in the form of inconsequential non-aligned countries. The situation has been fraught with more danger for the US since the demise of the Soviet Union. The US finds itself in the same tight-corner, fine-balance situation with respect to AfPak and the Indian subcontinent. The US needs Indian support in various issues such as those involving Iran, China, South East Asia, Asia-Pacific, global economy, etc. It has to constantly bait India but it also knows that India can be baited easily because it is normally quickly satisfied with symbolic gestures from the US by attributing deep friendly motives of a strategic nature for the far away future. The need for Pakistan in the short and medium terms is enormous for the US. The US is very reluctant to use its leverage against Pakistan. The widening trust deficit since c. 1962 between these two countries is almost at rock bottom today. The US has nothing to lose in Pakistan. Its image among the frothing-at-the-mouth-corner Pakistani Abduls (which is practically the entire country) is simply not going to improve even if it gifts each Pakistani a million dollars. The only way it can redeem itself is if it sides diplomatically and militarily with a Pakistan that attacks India and humiliates it. Anything short of this, would simply not work. This is something that the US will not be able to do for various reasons.

At the same time, the USA also needs a lot of Pakistani assistance in concluding its campaign in Afghanistan and effecting an orderly and less bloody withdrawal with its pride somewhat in tact. The US may also not want a nuclear Pakistan to become another North Korea and destabilize the region and world order even more than what it already is. Pakistan is increasingly coming under the Dragon's influence just like North Korea. {See 'A Perspective of the American and the Chinese Presence in Pakistan'}These compelling reasons to balance India against Pakistan and vice-versa drives the US to take different decisions at different times. The de-hyphenation between India and Pakistan in US calculations that President George Bush Jr spoke about does not go so deep after all. The bounty on Professor saheb has seemingly earned the gratitude of a senile and impotent Indian leadership that is satisfied with mere symbolism without substance while the US might have assured the Pakistanis, behind the Indian backs, that the threat against Professor saheb would never materialize and remain only on paper. While Ms. Wendy Sherman came to India and announced the US decision on Professor saheb, Washington simultaneously dispatched Tome Nides, Deputy Secretary of State to Islamabad as a balancing act. Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rehman Malik claimed that the US has not conveyed to it any information about the bounty. That might have been said to preserve the honour & dignity (H&D), but one heard no counter from the US administration. Pakistan escapes every time by pretending not to have received any tough message from its friends or adversaries and the friends and adversaries do not shame Pakistan by countering such false claims by GoP hoping that by not publicly shaming Pakistan, it would mend its ways. Nothing of that sort has ever happened. It is time that such falsehood by GoP is not allowed to go unchallenged. Even if it may not change Pakistan's behaviour, this tactic will at least be different from the policy of appeasement that has been tried for decades now and found to be an utter failure.

The reason why India has welcomed the US move is very different. India has no other option. We have eschewed any option other than showing our other cheek to persistent and increasingly hard slaps from Pakistan. Our Government is labouring under false assumptions. It thinks that improving Indian economy is the prime target (which is a sensible thing that any normal nation-state tries to achieve) and buying peace with Pakistan is important for that. The false beliefs here are that the ever widening gap will eventually make Pakistan see the futility of it all and drop its 'enduring hostility' with us or that the economic strength will translate into a military, political and diplomatic clout at some time in the future that we can then use to put a stop permanently to Pakistani transgressions if Pakistan was still about and around two decades hence. Both are inherently flawed, but now is not the time to discuss that. Therefore, India has abdicated the responsibility of being a 'bad cop' to the USA and wants to be recognized by Pakistan as a 'good cop'. India and the US might have come to some understanding on this or simply India is riding piggyback on the US predicament with Pakistan here. At the same time, the Indian leadership has to be seen as pursuing the Mumbai 26/11 case (and other such issues) vigorously and hence this welcome to the US offer of bounty.

So, overall, the US and India are pursuing different routes with only a partial overlap of the goals vis-à-vis Pakistan. In the 1980s, the US Administration made noises but discreetly allowed Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons and their delivery platforms clandestinely. Since c. 2002, it has generously supplied the Pakistanis with offensive weapons and platforms that would be useless in counter-terrorism operations and would be useful only against India. It allowed an evil David Coleman Headley escape Indian investigators and legal process. Who knows, even the RFJ bounty against Professor sahib may be to stake a US first claim on him in case he is somehow caught in the unlikeliest case, thus preventing him from falling into the hands of Indian investigators and legal system. I realize that it is a very cynical view but one never knows what the USA is up to and we need to be cautious. That is their reputation.

For an Indian administration that is clueless, docile and even senile, there is no worthwhile option left than to welcome such useless US announcements.

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