April 6, 2012
Pakistan’s 10 million dollar baby
So the joke with Pakistani Twitterati is that if Hafiz Saeed were on Twitter he could take the handle @HMS_Bounty. For those who may not be familiar with him, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed carries as much head money as Mullah Omar. He has hit the headlines because the American government has offered 10 million dollars for information against him that will stand up in court. |
This translates into 900 million Pakistani rupees today.
Who is Hafiz Saeed?
This most-wanted man is the founder of a militant group called the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of God) that made it its business to fight for Kashmir, a territory that Pakistan and India have fought over since they split in 1947.
He is 62 years old and used to be an engineering and Arabic professor.
After 9/11, Pakistan came under pressure to crack down on militants and its then president, Pervez Musharraf, banned Hafiz Saeed’s Army of God.
Hafiz Saeed then resurrected another group, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) but it works ostensibly as a charity. (In fact, for those who remember Pakistan’s devastating earthquake in 2005 may have read news of how this charity was noted to be particularly active in the aftermath, winning hearts and minds).
Lashkar-e-Taiba and JuD are internationally sanctioned for their association with al Qaeda.
Fast-forward to 2008 and the Mumbai attacks. In 11 coordinated hits, including one at the Taj Mahal hotel, about 160 people were killed and up to 300 were injured in one of the most horrifying episodes of terrorism seen in this part of the world. India blamed Hafiz Saeed and his organisation.
For anyone interested in a fuller profile, I’d recommend BBC’s M Ilyas Khan (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17607784). Someone said on Twitter, only BBC could pull it off without mentioning the word ‘terror’ even once. It also calls him Mr Saeed.
On April 2, Hafiz Saeed became one of the most wanted men in the world when US Undersecretary of State for political affairs Wendy Sherman told reporters in India that the American government had placed the bounty.
The US State Department had already told Pakistan to prevent Hafiz Saeed from moving around too freely (which he continues to do) and freeze the assets of his groups.
India welcomed the move. But in Pakistan it opened the floodgates of debate, anger, bewilderment, street protest and fear of a backlash.
The US administration has been unhappy with Hafiz Saeed’s public appearances, including one at a rally in Karachi of February 12.
Enter Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a coalition of 40 mostly ultra-right wing parties, including banned outfits. Hafiz Saeed is a part of it and his organization arranged the Karachi rally.
(For more on Difa-e-Pakistan, I’d recommend reading http://tribune.com.pk/story/339195/the-defence-of-pakistan/)
The DPC is focusing on the drones, the threat of resumed Nato supplies through the Pakistani route, and the award of the Most-Favoured Nation status by Pakistan to India.
DPC has been active on the streets and extremely vocal, so much so that they surrounded parliament and even parties that rely on a conservative vote-bank grew quiet.
Hafiz Saeed has said that Nato supplies cannot be resumed and if this happens, he has hinted at possible attacks. He also said that America is interested in making India happy – something that will strike a chord with Pakistanis who consider our neighbour enemy No. 1.
Interpretation and analysis
On his extremely highly rated talk show (Mon-Wed) analyst Najam Sethi* commented on the timing of the American decision to update its most-wanted list to include three Pakistanis. I have taken the liberty of summarizing and paraphrasing the gist of his arguments.
There is little support in the media as well for the bounty. The mood is to flip the US the finger and tell it to bugger off. We’ll see and bear whatever the consequences. The problem is that the women and men on the street don’t fully grasp the complexities. Who is America to shove this down our throats?
Aha, but it’s come in an election year at a time that former cricketer Imran Khan with his PTI party has been muscling in on the political turf of other parties. Everyone is interested in pandering to the people, assessing the people’s mood. And nothing works better than a little America-bashing to win some street cred.
The only problem is that the Pakistani government and Pakistan Army aren’t going to get into a tizzy about emotions. They have to think about their interests (which they assume are the national interest). They need to think about give and take with the US. Perhaps some deals are in the offing? The army has to think in terms of its supply of guns and helicopters.
The bounty has highlighted one important point – no one is actually explaining what is in Pakistan’s interest. What should Pakistan do now that the US has taken this decision. The government is not explaining it and neither is the army, that is for the most part content to hide behind the government and let it take the stinky decisions and the heat that comes with them.
Right now Pakistan is busy with a parliamentary committee on national security – thus the US bounty comes at the worst possible time. It also comes at the crucial time of Pakistan and the US agreeing to a new framework (April 4). Nato supplies and military reimbursements are key issues. US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides was in town.
But, according to analyst Sethi, this is not really about the Nato supplies. [I laughed when I heard him say this; in Pakistan the cloak and dagger has become a national symbol]. It is about Afghanistan.
It is about what is going to happen with Afghanistan once the US leaves. It is about Pakistan being finally given some importance in the Afghan issue. Thus, it is NOT a time that Pakistan’s decision makers want to upset Uncle Sam.
Some people see America’s stance as saying, well, OK if you’re going to target us, then we’ll target you.
Analyst Najam Sethi said that he thought that Hafiz Saeed (and he was very careful in his use of words) had, in an emotional moment, used words that could be construed by some as him supporting a physical attack if Nato supplies are restored.
The stupidity is that IF the Pakistani government, let’s say, restores the Nato supply routes and someone attacks them, then under American law this can be considered an attack on America. Hafiz Saeed may not give the orders to attack – it could be his supporters, some other group. That doesn’t matter. What matters is how his words are taken as Difaa-e-Pakistan chief. He will be in hot soup because he said it.
Thus, when the JuD held a rally on April 6 in Karachi I went along to ask some questions. And indeed, one young man there said that if Nato supplies resumed, he would attack Nato containers.
The Nato supply line isn’t just an American headache. It came about after a resolution passed by the UN with 47 countries. We do business and trade with 90% of those countries – so Pakistan had better think twice about upsetting them.
According to Sethi, Hafiz Saeed was already banned for his ‘links’ to banned organisations. But with the bounty, it became clear that the US administration considered that he had crossed the red line with them in terms of terrorism.
According to Sethi, this is now putting Pakistan at an extremely delicate crossroads.
A member of the ruling party asked Hafiz Saeed on TV during a chat show why he was protesting in the Punjab. Why was he not protesting in the tribal belt, whose people had suffered the most at the hands of terrorists?
But, now, since the headmoney has been announced, he can’t go and protest in FATA (the semi-autonomous federally administered tribal areas) because he comes in the line of fire of a drone.
What is interesting is that Hafiz Saeed has always maintained that he is not a terrorist. So, if he doesn’t watch his words now, he will probably just give America more proof. He’s always maintained that he has been fighting for Pakistani rights and sovereignty. The attacks have always come from al Qaeda, the Taliban etc etc… not him.
Now what remains to be seen is when America will ask for Hafiz Saeed to be extradited. This is not new, in fact India has been making similar demands for a while (indirectly supported by the US).
America could say, well we don’t know where Mullah Omar is, but we and you know where Hafiz Saeed is – he’s sitting in Lahore, so please hand him over.
The interesting element of the extradition agreement Pakistan has with the US is that it has a condition. Pakistan will not hand over a suspect until they have committed a crime in Pakistan.
Some media opinion
To give you a little idea about one point in the spectrum of media opinion, I’ll give you the gist of a talk show host’s interview with Hafiz Saeed. Javed Chaudhry may not be the highest rated talk show host but the advantage is that he spoke to the man himself. The show, which aired on April 4, two days after the bounty, on Express News TV channel, which is a sister concern of my newspaper The Express Tribune. But I must clarify that their editorial policies are entirely independent of each other.
It was fascinating for me that host Javed Chaudhry opened his show with a mention of Narendra Modi, an Indian politician, who is linked to the horrific slaughter of Muslims in India in 2002. Chaudhry said, as I expected, that America had not placed a bounty on his head – but it was now gunning for Hafiz Saeed.
Chaudhry, like others, brought up that it was strange for headmoney to be placed on someone who is a public figure, who is available on the telephone and makes public appearances. He has not been convicted of a crime in Pakistan either.
The problem with this scenario is that in the cacophony the American administration made a mistake, which it later clarified. It needed to make absolutely clear and stress repeatedly that it was offering the money for information leading to his arrest that would withstand judicial scrutiny. It’s sad for me to note, but for the average Pakistani, the nuance of diplomatic speak is sometimes lost. People were left scratching their heads why there was a bounty on a man who was openly living in Lahore.
The media didn’t make this distinction either, with a few exceptions.
Hafiz Saeed was taken to court but in the last three years he was declared innocent.
Javed Chaudhry asked, what has America done this? He gave three reasons: America put the bounty to please India; America did it right before Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to India so that he would be skewered by its media and; America placed the bounty to put the Pakistani Army on the backfoot.
Does America want to make Hafiz Saeed the new Osama bin Laden? Will Hafiz Saeed go underground, asked Chaudhry. Does he want protection from the Pakistani law-enforcement agencies? Will he stand by his words or back down? Is he angry or is he afraid?
I put together a transcript of the interview. I’ve translated it from the Urdu and tried to keep it as close in meaning idiomatically as possible. This is not the full interview but the first half in which Hafiz Saeed’s reaction is elicited.
You can find the four-part YouTube video here: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyaPsiqa788&feature=relmfu)
Javed Chaudhry: Hafiz sb, they’ve decided head money on you. After this are you feeling a little nervous? [The use of the word ghabrahat seemed deliberate to belittle the issue and American decision]
Hafiz Saeed: Bhai jaan, thanks be to Allah that I don’t feel any kind of nervousness [The use of bhai jaan or ‘buddy’ sets a tone of camaraderie]. But I am a little worried that America doesn’t have information about me. This head money business is for people you want to arrest. Guys who are sitting in some cave or are in hiding and you can’t see them. Oh, buddy, that’s the kind of thing you do for someone you can’t find. My dear, I’m amid thousands of people each day.
By the grace of Allah, we’re doing our work. So this was a kind of [dumb] thing to do [place a bounty]. If America wanted to know, it could’ve asked me, hey, where you at? [I’ve given it the best idiomatic interpretation from the Punjabi colloquial speech he used].
You can always reach me over the phone. So what was the need for such formality? Going to such trouble?
JC: OK. So let’s say if America asks the Pakistani government to send you over, now that they’ve set the head money, to face their courts, would you be willing to go there?
HS: Well, first of all you’ve got to see that in this country, Pakistan, there already exists a judicial system [I noted that he did not use the possessive ‘we have a judicial system’ which may or may not be telling]. So I’d like to ask what American court [have I been accused in]… Usually it is that if you are on the run from a court internationally or are refusing to acknowledge its verdict, they place a bounty.
Can America tell me of one case that they have against me? Or that any their courts have against me? Or that I’m absconding, or in fact any court in any country in the world.
By the grace of Allah there isn’t a single FIR (police case) against me in Pakistan, even though I live here. I don’t travel abroad, all my work is located here. To only make these bad/incorrect decisions based on India’s false and incorrect propaganda (sic) and then for their deputy foreign minister to make that announcement while sitting in India gives just one clear picture that America wants to please India.
JC: If there is a case against you in any court – an American, Indian, Pakistani, European court – will you be willing to face trial there?
HS: Insha’Allah hum tayyar hain. [Allah willing, we are ready (as in the royal third-person pronoun use). Look here, India had actually sent evidence four times in the Bombay case. This case went on in a Lahore high court for six months against me. During that I was under house arrest. The high court put all of the evidence in front and repeatedly discussed it and then gave the verdict that there was no
evidence in the Bombay case from the start that Hafiz Saeed or his group or any of his followers were engaged in terrorism.
By the grace of Allah, they freed me and honourably acquitted my group as innocent. And then, Pakistan’s home minister went to the Supreme Court to please India and filed a writ challenging it. That went on for three months and then a full bench upheld the high court decision. [Repeats verdict]
JC: Can you explain why the US decided to make the announcement in India?
HS: The reason for this is crystal clear. These new policies that are being made, bhai jaan. First India was supporting a separatist movement in Balochistan [JC nods]. It formed a whole network there and was working there. And now America has ganged up with it and is doing the same thing. Their interests are converging [India and US], their armies are collaborating.
JC: So you mean to say that America and India have gotten together and want to harm Pakistan?
HS: There is no doubt about that. This is beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the truth that has come to the fore. Look here, Javed sb, the mistake that American has made, always made, has been that it has come under pressure from Israel and spewed poison and taken decisions against Arabs and the Muslim World. And exactly the same practice is happening for India.
JC: But Hafiz sb, India is a country of 1.8b people, why is it afraid of you, one man?
HS: I’ll explain why. With Allah’s grace, we have taken a stand on Kashmir, we stand firm on it. We are making it clear across Pakistan and we are increasing the people’s pressure on the government that it should follow through on its take on Kashmir. It is duty bound to come through and support Kashmir. And right now the dams that are being illegally built in Pakistan, electricity is being generated from water, and they’re making tunnels and stopping the flow of water to render Pakistan’s land barren, to destroy its industry to enslave it. And then to declare India Most-Favoured Nation to make Pakistan India’s market. It is giving it a path to send goods to Afghanistan and Eastern Europe. So we are openly talking about this.
We are openly saying that we are against these Nato supplies and we have suffered a lot because of the bad decisions made by Pervez Musharraf.
JC: So India is afraid because you speak against it. Tell me Hafiz sb, were you involved in any of the jihadi activities in Kashmir?
HS: Look here bhai jaan, let me explain. Our group’s name is Jamaat-ud Dawa and all our work takes place in Pakistan. However, politically, sympathetically we are with the Kashmiris with the Hurriyet conference. And right now the movement that is against Indian occupation, Indian army occupation, we supported it yesterday and we support it today…
JC: Yes, but these jihadi activities in disputed Kashmir, are you involved/interfering?
HS: Bhai jaan, what I said was about being ‘involved’ – that we support it. [A little irritated]. If the 800,000 Indian soldiers are allowed to put up pickets in every alleyway there, then the Kashmiri people have the right to pick up the gun and ask for freedom. That is what we are saying…
JC: But my question is are you willing to fight, to kill, to die for this?
HS: Bhai jaan [in patient tone], we are taking along Pakistan’s collective opinion on this. Our basic role is to raise a political force and to make people aware of this. See, there are lots of people who are working in Kashmir. There are lots of groups – why is there no bounty on them? Tell me is there any Kashmiri leader with head money in the world? [Wags finger].
JC: But indeed, this is exactly what I am asking you. There are lots of leaders who are in Kashmir and fighting, who are speaking out against India but why are you being targeted? How do you explain that?
HS: Ya, I’ll explain it to you. No one puts a bounty on the people who are fighting. No one has done this with any of the groups fighting. Yes, however, we are by the grace of God raising a voice and the Kashmiris are raising a voice with us. And when they talk about it in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk (Red Roundabout/town square), our position and stance is brought up. And when we say La Ila-ha… our positions are the same, they are with us. And truth be told, we consider Kashmir a part of Pakistan. We consider Pakistan incomplete without Kashmir. And we say that if people from free Kashmir want to go fight, that is their right.
This whole business of a boundary, a border line, is a Hindu plot [not Indian, he says]. We want to make Kashmir one. And if the people of Kashmir want to fight, we totally support that.
That’s why they have targeted me, that’s why they’re quivering.
JC: You’ve said that you are with the Government of Pakistan. The very same government that has given India the status of Most-Favoured Nation. So why aren’t you against that?
HS: By government of Pakistan, I do not mean the Pakistan Peoples Party or the Pakistan Muslim League-N government. A government is a permanent institution that has taken the stand on Kashmir that the UNO resolutions are the way to solve this problem. That they are binding on India. Only Pervez Musharraf came and spoiled the whole thing by presenting new options.
I am not talking about these people and parties who come and go and keep changing seats. I am talking about the permanent forever-going institution that is the government that we are with.
JC: I don’t understand this permanent thing. A state is a state, a government is a government.
HS: I mean, state is state. Governments come and go. Pervez Musharraf came and changed the stance but that wasn’t the… at that time the army rulers had no one to ask them. There was no one to hold them accountable.
JC: So you recognize the state and not the government?
HS: Absolutely. We follow the state and the state’s policies that the government that implements them, not the government that changes the state’s decisions and incorrectly makes policies.
JC: So when Pakistan declares India as MFN, will you condemn it?
HS: No, dear. Right now we are spreading awareness. That is the movement. We are writing letters to parliament and going to the people. We hope to get a positive response from parliament, after all they are from the people.
JC: So you won’t condemn it?
HS: No… uh. There is no doubt that we will create people pressure. And whatever such policies are made, we will go to the people again and create pressure.
JC: So it’s not acceptable to you?
HS: Obviously if they are going to give India MFN and turn Pakistan into its market, no one would acknowledge that.
JC: So, if the government decides to resume the Nato supplies, would you acknowledge it?
HS: Look bhai jaan, I hope that this is before parliament and parliament is not a group of just a few people. There are parties there and serious people. It has people who will be thinking about the national interest above and beyond everything, political policies. We’ve written to them and contacted them, spoken to them and we hope that God willing they will not take a decision against Pakistan’s interests.
A reporter who works with me and has covered Hafiz Saeed had this to offer when I asked for a candid picture of the man:
Professor Hafiz Mohammad Saeed – his full title according to his party – has been written about incessantly since the November 26, 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, but you wouldn’t look at him twice if you ran into him on the street.
A pot-bellied man who uses a cane for support and wears starched white shalwar kameez, Hafiz Saeed is far from charismatic or charming. In the years past, he used to refuse televised interviews that would show his face, now he sidles looks at the cameras to see whose photographing and filming him.
He seems to have adjusted to the fame of being the head of Jamaat-ud Dawa. Ask him any question – whether it is on the Lashkar-e-Taiba or Pakistan’s relations with the US – and a rehearsed answer rolls off smoothly. Interviewing him is difficult. He doesn’t get confused for even a second: even if you accuse him of being a terrorist, Saeed will respond calmly. He laughs and makes jokes during press conferences, speeches and briefings to journalists, as much at ease in a five-star hotel (where Saeed met with journalists in Karachi before a rally this year) or on the floor in a camp for people displaced by the floods. Saeed’s facts are often wrong but he presents them convincingly.