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Who will take out Hafiz Saeed?

Author: Shobhan Saxena, TNN
Publication: The Times of India
Date: April 8, 2012
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/Who-will-take-out-Hafiz-Saeed/articleshow/12578923.cms

Timing is everything. It reveals more than actions and words. So this week, when the US announced a bounty of $10 million on Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed, it was natural to ask: why now? The announcement was made just a few days before Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari visited India for a Sunday lunch with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

 But, Washington has denied that the announcement was timed to coincide with Zardari's trip. Islamabad has said Saeed will not be the "main focus" of the talks in Delhi. But in Islamabad's power circles everybody knows that the Americans are talking tough because nothing has come out of their not-sopublic talks with Pakistan's bosses. Last month, Zardari met the US special envoy for Af-Pak in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. And just a few days before the announcement, two top US generals , Centcom chief Gen James Mattis and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen John Allen, met the Pakistani army chief at Rawalpindi.

No doubt, the ever changing dynamics of the love-hate relationship between the US and its client state is at play again. New Delhi, meanwhile, latched on to the American move and asked Islamabad to act against the "main perpetrator" of the 26/11 attack. "Pakistan has refused to act against Saeed. After the US announcement, it was perfect time to put pressure on Pakistan ," said a home ministry official.

 But as the Indian government was getting excited about the bounty on Saeed, it was clarified that the reward was only for "information that could lead to Saeed's prosecution" . As it became clear that the Americans were not trying to hunt down the Lashkar chief, New Delhi realized that the US decision was not a shot in the arm for India. "It is an embarrassment. While we have been saying that we have enough evidence against Saeed, US seems to be mocking us by announcing a bounty for information on a man who is freely moving around in Pakistan," says an official of the Research & Analysis Wing, speaking on condition of anonymity . "The US is trying to say that because you do not have enough evidence , we have to use these tactics to put pressure on Pakistan. This move has condemned us and favoured Pakistan in a way."

 Does this mean that India has lost all chances of getting Saeed? What can India do now to bring the Lashkar chief to justice? Are India and the US on the same page on LeT? Can New Delhi now put more pressure on Pakistan to check Saeed who roams around in that country spitting venom against India?

 Indian analysts don't think that the US bounty gives India an opportunity to exert pressure on Pakistan. "The move is symbolic, intended to mount greater diplomatic pressure on Pakistan on a range of other issues though it may also have been driven by judicial and public pressures in the US," says Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management .

 Though banned since 2001, LeT has been operating inside Pakistan with impunity under a new name, Jamat-ud Dawa (JuD), with Pakistan's almostbroken police and judicial system showing no enthusiasm to book Saeed. Even the West has refused to take any action against it despite repeated requests from India to ask Pakistan to turn off its terror tap. Why? According to Ashley J Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, India has become the "sponge" that inadvertently protects the West from terrorism. "India's proximity to Pakistan has resulted in New Delhi absorbing most of the blows unleashed by those terrorist groups that treat it as a common enemy along with Israel, US, and the West more generally," wrote Tellis in Policy Outlook this week.

 LeT has been India's headache for long. And experts almost unanimously agree that India's pleas against the terror network will not bear fruit because the group enjoys state patronage as well as substantial support in Pakistan. "The LeT is deeply integrated into the fabric of Pakistan, like veins in marble, and has strong connections to the security establishment there, to religious political parties, and to extremist movements like the Difa-e-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) movement. It also has a lot of public support amongst ordinary Pakistanis for its role in the struggle in Kashmir, and its role vis-a-vis India. It would thus be problematic for an elected Pakistani government to move against the LeT even if it wished to do so," says Shaun Gregory of Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford, UK.

 It has been an open secret that the LeT enjoys clandestine support from state agencies. But the world, particularly the Americans, have often turned a blind eye to its activities. In 2001, President George Bush described the LeT as a "stateless sponsor of terrorism" . Though Americans banned the group in 2001 and the JuD in 2006, it failed to force Pakistan to take any concrete action. And that's why, experts believe, the bounty move, too, will fail.

 "The bounty is probably better understood as an American gambit to increase pressure on Pakistan and to signal support for India," says Gregory.

 If it's all about symbolism, the $10 million announcement is not a favour to India. "The kind of state support Saeed has in Pakistan, it's unlikely that someone would act against him," says an Indian official. Even if some evidence comes up, there is no guarantee that any action, especially extradition to India, will happen anytime soon. "Arresting Saeed may not actually be the best policy. It may exacerbate matters. Such is the figure of Saeed that any arrest based on conjecture would lead to violence and open up many avenues of trouble," says Amir Mateen, an Islamabad-based political analyst.

 Pakistan has always followed the policy of good terrorist and bad terrorist . The good ones attack India, and the bad guys hit at home. In that sense, Saeed is an asset Pakistan can't give up. "Saeed knows where the "bodies are buried" in terms of the regional and international activities of the LeT and in terms of the nature of its relationship with the Pakistan army and the ISI, says Gregory. There is absolutely no way the twin pillars of modern-day Pakistan would ever allow such a person to fall into the hands of India or indeed of the US," says Gregory.

 Today, as Manmohan Singh and Zardari talk without aides, it can only be guessed what'll be on the table apart from the food. Will they discuss Saeed? That's another $10 million question.

(With reports from Omer Farooq Khan in Islamabad, and Deeptiman Tiwary in Delhi)

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