Bounty on the mutiny


Washington is famous for many things: fragrant cherry blossoms in springtime; a slender steeple monument in the middle of a park full of weekend kites; a cityscape planned by the secret society of Masons; and a White House that is, on closer inspection, perfectly white but not much of a house. But it is not famous for generosity in strategic policy.
The United States has not offered a bounty of $10 million for “information leading to the capture of Hafiz Saeed” because Saeed is India’s enemy. It did so because Saeed is America’s enemy, and one ready to use terrorism in pursuit of his manic fantasies, as he did when orchestrating the attack on Mumbai in 2008. Washington is not in the business of borrowing headaches; it has enough of its own. This is further evidence of an emerging fact, that India and America are challenged by the same enemy on the battlefield of international terrorism. Wartime alliances are not defined by the presence of common friends, but by the existence of enemies in common.
The most important development this year in India-Pakistan relations is not President Asif Zardari’s brief Sunday lunch with Dr Manmohan Singh in Delhi followed by a short prayer at the shrine of Gharib Nawaz Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, but this decision made in Washington, for it offers President Zardari a chance to choose his side in the war against terrorists. The triangulation is neat, almost perfect. It cuts through the fog of political compulsions. The official, if unspoken, excuse for Islamabad’s inaction against Hafiz Saeed is that it is impossible for any government in Pakistan to hand a leader of the “jihad” against India to Delhi. India will be satisfied if Saeed is sent to a cell in America, because American courts will ensure justice. Zardari can join the India-US alliance against terrorism, or straddle the fence. There may not be closure, but there will be clarity.
Hafiz Saeed is not some inverted Robin Hood hidden in Nottingham forest, or even an Osama bin Laden lost in Karachi’s urban jungle or a safehouse in Abbottabad. He lives quite publicly in Muridke, a suburb of Lahore, appears frequently on television, and delivers speeches at his own heavily secured mosque. The problem with America’s reward for information might be one of plenty. Every journalist in Lahore, not to mention every policeman, could claim those ten million dollars [almost Rs 100 crores in Pak currency; not bad]. The correspondent of London’s Financial Times could apply as well, for he met Saeed in January this year at Rawalpindi and quoted him as saying, “Pakistan is facing very severe threats from both sides – India is one side, America and NATO forces are on the other, and the agenda of both is Pakistan.”
The problem then is not information, but capture. Information requires a cooperative ear; capture needs guts. Does President Zardari have them? Can President Zardari touch a lesser target, Saeed’s brother in law Abdul Rahman Makki, who may not make his captors as rich, but still offers a payout of two million American dollars? There is a fundamental question trailing Zardari: how much muscle does he carry in his baggage? So far, his government’s only real response to America’s bounty offer has been studied silence. The Hafiz Saeed establishment has been more vocal. It dismissed the threat contemptuously as an “April Fool’s joke”.
Why did Washington make this move now, adding sulphur to the fires raging across US-Pak bandwidth? Why was the signal sent from Delhi on the eve of President Zardari’s “private” trip to India? This is an electric prod to President Zardari, to force him off the fence.
Prayer is a useful metaphor for India-Pakistan relations, and rather better than cricket, which used to be General Zia ul Haq’s alibi for a sudden dash to India. The general, being ideologically closer to the puritan Jamaat-e-Islami, had no time for shrines or 13th century saints. The president of Pakistan is not going to Ajmer to pray for victory in the next Pakistani election. In any case, even divine intervention may be inadequate. Politics, not prayer, brings him to India. He has done his cost-benefit analysis. He is not spending a Sunday in India to win brownie points abroad and lose support at home. Nor is he there to make calibrated adjustments in the negative list for trade.
The fly-on-the-wall during closed door conversations between Zardari and Manmohan Singh will hear talk of war, not peace. But they will discuss a war beyond their boundaries, and wonder if there is a faint chance that they just might, given enormous luck and deadly circumstance, become distant allies. That chance depends on what Zardari does about Hafiz Saeed.

The columnist is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, India on Sunday, published from London and Editorial Director, India Today and Headlines Today.