playing cat and mouse with
Pakistan By Karamatullah K
ISLAMABAD - The devil is in the
timing of the April 2 United States announcement
of a US$10 million bounty on the head of Hafiz
Mohammad Saeed, accused by the Indian government
as the mastermind behind the Mumbai mayhem of
November 2008 that resulted in the death of 166
people, including seven Americans, when militants
stormed the city.
outfit, the Jamaat-ul-Dawa (Party for
Propagation), has been on Washington's list of
terrorist organizations for some time; it also
figures on a United Nations list of a similar
classification. The Dawa is a successor to the
Lashkar-e Taiba, which Saeed founded as armed
militant group to fight against Indian control in
Kashmir and which was banned in 2002 after being
linked to an attack on India's parliament.
The news of Washington's decision to place
such a hefty reward
on information leading to
the arrest and conviction of Saeed - which makes
him one of the priciest terrorists on Washington's
"wanted list", second only to al-Qaeda leader
Ayman al-Zawahiri ($25 million) - was broken to
the world by Wendy Sherman, US under secretary of
state, in New Delhi during an official visit to
the Indian capital.
It may just be
coincidence - or a case of clinical
synchronization - that Saeed's bounty announcement
hit the headlines at precisely the time that the
Indians were disclosing to the outside world that
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari would
undertake a day-long "private" visit to India, on
April 8, for a pilgrimage to the city of Ajmer to
seek atonement for his sins at the shrine of the
Sufi-saint, Khwaja Gharib Nawaz.
where an element of intrigue creeps into the
affair and sets diplomatic pundits and their kind
wondering if there's a linkage of sorts in
Washington's out of the blue initiative to seek
the head of a man who isn't as much in their
cross-hairs as in India's because of his alleged
pivotal role in the Mumbai massacre.
he is not much in Pakistan's crosshairs either. In
2009, the Pakistani Supreme Court ordered Saeed
freed after he won an appeal against being held
under house arrest over possible involvement in
the Mumbai attacks.
Just hours after the
US State Department announced the bounty, Saeed
appeared on Pakistan's Geo TV. He said he was a
free man - living in Pakistan - and was ready to
speak with US officials at any time.
called me a terrorist. But I went to the court and
asked them to decide my case. India sent four
dossiers against me. The case proceedings
continued for six months. And the full bench of
the high court decided that neither me nor my
group has any connection with the Mumbai attacks
or [any other] terrorist activities," Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty reported Saeed as saying. 
Zardari is unpopular among many Pakistanis
as he is viewed as a votary of Washington - much
more than his predecessor, General Pervez
Musharraf, ever was. He's despised and pilloried
for carrying a brief for the US and for kowtowing
to his American masters like a loyal and
unquestioning surrogate at the expense of
Pakistan's national interest.
Memo-gate scandal, still going through the motions
of a high-level judicial probe, has added greater
mass to the lay Pakistani's suspicion that their
president is a Washington tribune.
controversy revolves around a memorandum addressed
to Admiral Mike Mullen, US chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, ostensibly seeking the help of
the Barack Obama administration in the wake of the
killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US
forces in Pakistan last May to avert a military
takeover of the civilian government in Pakistan,
as well as assisting in a Washington insider
takeover of the government and military apparatus.
The memo is alleged to have been drafted at the
behest of Zardari.
character, Mansoor Ejaz, has added fuel to the
fire by contending that Zardari had been tipped
off by his American handlers of their stealth
operation against Bin Laden. That, understandably,
leaves pundits wondering if the yoking of bounty
on Saeed with Zardari's "pilgrimage" to India is
meant to facilitate the visit, or cast a shadow
Zardari's planned call on the
saint's shrine is seen by many as a nothing more
than a fig-leaf; his meeting in Delhi, before he
moves on to Ajmer, with Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh will have a lot riding on it.
Zardari will be trying to pick up the
pieces where Musharraf had left them, seven years
ago in the tourist Mecca of Agra, in the
salubrious shadows of the famous Taj Mahal. Many a
pundit is looking at Zardari's "pilgrimage"
diplomacy as a delayed extension of Musharraf's
"Taj" diplomacy to mend ties between the fractious
The arch-rivals were close to
pulling off a major breakthrough in that 2005
meeting between Musharraf and then-premier Atal
Bihari Vajpayee, which broke down at the last
minute when all that remained for the two leaders
to do was to cross the t's and dot the i's.
The countries have seemed serious on
picking up the thread of peace with renewed vigor
and purpose since last year.
taken a major stride on the road to reconciliation
and normalcy with India with its bold decision -
despite a huge backlash from right-wing religious
parties - to grant "most favored nation" status to
India in the interests of imparting a hefty boost
to trade and economic linkages with its estranged
Understandably, Zardari must
have been sent some positive and encouraging
signals from Delhi to embark on his maiden visit
to India as president of Pakistan; he couldn't be
taking a leap, entirely, in the dark, especially
with so much suspicion surrounding his enigmatic
role at the pinnacle of Pakistan's Byzantine
Pundits agree that a
new visa agreement will be signed by Zardari and
Manmohan in their meeting, greatly liberalizing
travel for their respective nationals to each
other's country. That should give a quantum boost
to people-to-people contacts, always said as a key
to helping normalize relations.
soothsayers are also saying that India could be
persuaded to relent on two other prickly issues -
the Siachen and Sir Creek territorial disputes -
on which even the fine print of an agreement has
been ready for years - going back to the era when
the late Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto were in
power in the late 1980s.
The generals on
both sides of the "great divide" who threw
spanners in the works are now believed to be
inclined to look beyond their noses; the Pakistani
initiative on trade liberalization couldn't have
come without the military general headquarters
lifting its reservations and falling in line with
The Cassandras, however,
are worried that Washington's bounty on Saeed
could well influence the agenda of Zardari's visit
to Delhi adversely and recalibrate the Indian
priority to focus mainly, if not solely, on their
grouse against Pakistan for not doing enough to
bring Saeed and others of his ilk to book for
their crimes in Mumbai.
Grist to this
apprehension has been provided by the gushing
enthusiasm of Indian officialdom's vociferous
welcome to the bounty move against Saeed.
Not surprisingly, the bounty has stirred a
tepid, if not cool, response from Pakistan, where
the general feeling is that Washington has
resorted to blatant arm-twisting to force Pakistan
into relenting on the tangled issue of the land
transit of North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO) supplies across its territory; that
corridor has been frozen since last November when
an American night raid against a military
check-post in the tribal belt close to Afghanistan
killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Pakistani parliament is still deliberating on
whether the NATO facility should be restored or
not. However, there's complete consensus that it
should not be reopened unless an unconditional
apology is forthcoming from Washington for the
deaths of the Pakistani soldiers.
to give priority to wielding a stout stick,
instead of offering carrots, Washington can only
stay the hands of those in the Pakistani
establishment who may want to extricate the two
"allies" out of this tight corner. At the same
time, such a dramatic and sensational move by the
Americans would only raise the anti-American flag
of the Pakistani masses even further.
Right-wing religious parties have already
whipped up a mass frenzy on the issue; Saeed is in
the thick of the populist anti-American movement
and putting a bounty on his head is as good as
showing the red rag to an enraged bull.
Zardari, a friend of the Americans, cannot
insulate himself from the heat of the fire lit by
his ill-advised friends; he doesn't need enemies
with friends like these.