The hunt for Hafiz Saeed
(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)
The $10 million bounty placed on Hafiz Saeed by the Americans may have been barely noticed in most capital cities but it definitely had an impact in New Delhi and caused a furore in Islamabad. India and Pakistan are the two countries most concerned with Saeed’s health and activities, although for different reasons.
There is no debate among those who fight insurgencies that targeting their leadership pays disproportionate dividends. With such organisations having no democratic culture, it is the personality of the leader or an individual that guides the organisation’s approach. Eliminating such leaders can create a fair degree of disorientation till the new leadership asserts itself. During this process, there is also the possibility of power struggles, break-ups and feuds leading to fragmentation and polarization within the organisation.
Sustained targeting of the leadership deters the emergence of new leaders, with contenders acutely aware of the possible costs. It also has an immediate impact on the leaders’ movement and media interaction, thereby restricting their influence. Of course, media interactions can be organised in secret locations but they cannot be too safe en masse.
Saeed, suspected of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attack, did taunt the U.S. in a press conference and challenged the Americans to attack him, knowing that the crowded streets of Karachi provide a shield against a drone attack. But he remains vulnerable to those who could be tempted by the $10 million bounty. Notwithstanding the allegiance to the perverted radical philosophy that the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or its ilk promote, money is an important motivator for many in the cadres.
India’s response, though very positive, does bring into sharp focus a gaping shortfall in the capabilities of the Indian intelligence agencies. The activities of the LeT and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (Saeed had raised the former while the latter is but a front organisation for the LeT) are focussed primarily against India. Their prime objective concerns Jammu and Kashmir. It’s only very recently that the LeT has developed the wherewithal to be a threat to western powers, especially their interests in Afghanistan.
With pinpoint targeting and the elimination of leaders being accepted as force multipliers in the war against terror, there has been reason all along for India to develop such capabilities and display it to effect, for it to serve as a deterrent.
However, the sagacity of such logic has not given the necessary impetus to adequately acquire human intelligence assets, technology and the weapon systems required.
The muted Pakistani response and the fact Saeed is moving around freely even after the bounty was announced is another pointer to state sponsorship of the terrorist establishment. There have been no comments from the military, but hardliners have used the anti-American sentiment in the streets to ramp up their vitriol.
Any nation that needs to combat terrorism has to do so on its own strength, notwithstanding domestic political compulsions. New Delhi welcoming a bounty announced in Washington for Saeed is surely inadequate. In the case of Pakistan, the situation is further complicated with the militants being also perceived as a strategic ally by the powers that be.