Photo by Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images
Usually people described as leaders of terrorist organizations lead lives of stealth and in hiding. But not Hafiz Saeed, believed to be the mastermind of the 2008 attack in Mumbai, India, that left 166 dead, including six Americans.
After a top U.S. State Department official, on a trip to India, announced a $10 million bounty for the arrest of Saeed, the response was one of defiance.
At a news conference in Rawalpindi, Saeed declared, “I will be in Lahore. America can contact me whenever it wants to.”
After the Mumbai attack, the United States declared Saeed a global terrorist. He is also believed to be responsible for the attack against the Indian Parliament in 2001.
In the 1980s, Saeed founded Lashkar-e-Taiba, a jihadi group mainly targeting India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. In 1985, he formed the group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity organization that raises funds for the promotion of Islam.
After the attacks on the Indian Parliament and other Indian targets, Saeed was detained by Pakistani authorities. But the Lahore High Court always let him go, citing a lack of evidence.
The U.S. announcement of the bounty of $10 million on Saeed marks a shift in U.S. policy to go after the leaders of military groups the Pakistani military allegedly has used as proxies against India.
A Pakistani government spokesman, Abdul Basit, said the U.S. accusations against Saeed must stand up in court.
“Pakistan would prefer to receive concrete evidence to proceed legally rather than to be engaging in a public discussion on this issue,” Basit said in a statement sent to reporters.
But the Pakistani judiciary cannot take action against Jamaat-ud-Dawa and other banned organizations, according to current Pakistani laws, said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. “The laws as currently drafted do not give the government the authority to proceed against terrorist groups. The courts demand a high level of evidence that the police cannot provide. Hence cases are thrown out routinely.”
And while the Pakistani government asserts that changing laws takes time, international analysts say that regulations can be amended in the interim. They have urged faster government action.
Several analysts have said Pakistan is unlikely to arrest Saeed because of his alleged links with the country’s intelligence agency and the political danger of being seen as doing Washington’s bidding in a country where anti-American sentiment is rampant.
Saeed is enjoying extensive ties to ISI and politicians of Pakistan said C. Christine Fair, an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program.
“It is widely believed that Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa enjoys extensive ties to the ISI and the army,” Fair said. “The Punjab provincial government has also supported the organization financially.”
Saeed has used his high-profile status in recent months to lead a protest movement against U.S. drone strikes and the NATO’s use of Pakistani roads to supply troops in Afghanistan. Islamabad temporarily closed its borders to the supplies in November in retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Some analysts believe that if the Pakistani government does not arrest Saeed, the United States might launch a raid to snatch him the way it did with Osama Bin Laden, according to Shuja Nawaz. “Yes, there is chance of a smaller-scale operation for Saeed in Pakistan, if Pakistani government does not detain him,” Nawaz said.
Others disagree. “The Pakistani government will not arrest Saeed nor will the U.S. launch a snatch raid to get him. This is about strategic signaling,” Fair said. “If Lashkar-e-Taiba launches an attack on the U.S., (either in the U.S. or against its assets or people at home or abroad), the U.S. may consider more extreme measures. Right now, there is no reason to speculate.”