Even as the Pakistan government was largely silent over the U.S. announcing a bounty of $10 million for the arrest and conviction of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed, the organisation turned belligerent on Tuesday; warning that this “irresponsible” move would do him no harm and only add impetus to anti-American sentiments.
The only response from the government side came from Interior Minister Rehman Malik late in the evening. Talking to Geo News, Mr. Malik said: “I also learned from the media. There has been no official communication from the U.S. We have sought verification and cannot comment till then. Let's say if it is confirmed, then we can ask on what basis has this bounty been announced?”
When Geo pointed out that the announcement was on a U.S. government website, Mr. Malik again stalled for time. “It has to come through diplomatic channels or the Interpol. We should wait for official communication [before reacting],” he replied.
Saeed appears on TV
Meanwhile, the man in question appeared on the same programme and held forth for close to an hour. And, he was on other prime-time programmes also; underscoring the fact that he was not a fugitive and his activities were all out in the open.
In a statement, JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid linked the bounty announcement at this juncture to the ongoing “people's struggle against” the restoration of NATO supply lines and drone attacks. “The U.S., on behalf of India, has started this kind of propaganda against the nation's mainstream leaders. The latest American tactics will not create any trouble for Hafiz Saeed but it will definitely shock billions of Muslims and give impetus to anti-American sentiments.”
Holding regular rallies
Since the NATO attack on a Pakistan Army outpost along the border with Afghanistan last November, Saeed has been leading a coalition of religious and right wing forces under the banner of ‘Difa-e-Pakistan Council' (DPC) and holding rallies across the country on a regular basis. Only last week, he managed to enter Islamabad for a DPC rally despite a restraining order against him owing to growing unease within the diplomatic community over the freedom with which he had begun addressing rallies and openly fanning anger against India and the U.S.
Such being the case, the JuD spokesman and Saeed himself questioned the rationale in announcing an award for the arrest of a person whose whereabouts are known. “He is not hiding in caves or the mountains but is a mainstream religious and political leader of the country. His welfare and religious activities are not hidden.” Further, the JuD billed the announcement as an assault on Islam and Muslims.
Readying his defence
Though the JuD sought to sound unfazed, there were indications that Saeed's legal team members were putting their heads together to prepare his defence. However, his lawyer in the Mumbai terror attack case, A. K. Dogar, said he had not been formally contacted yet but maintained that this bounty announcement was a violation of Pakistani sovereignty. “How can any country declare him a terrorist without a conviction? There are many in the world who consider the U.S. the biggest terrorist for attacking Iraq on the pretext of Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
Clarifying that he was speaking only on the point of law and not as Saeed's lawyer, Mr. Dogar said the JuD could seek protection for him under Pakistan's Constitution. “Do not forget that he was detained after the Mumbai terror attacks and acquitted by the Full Bench of the Lahore High Court. The federal government and the government of Punjab appealed against this verdict but the Supreme Court rejected the appeal.”
PPP, PML(N) silent
While the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), remained tight-lipped through the day, some of the smaller parties including cricketer-turned-political Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf — which has shared the DPC platform on several occasions — spoke up.
The party's information secretary Shafqat Mahmood wanted to know if Washington had shared the information with Pakistan before putting Saeed on the U.S. Rewards for Justice List. Stating that Saeed was entitled to due process of law and innocent until proven guilty, the PTI spokesman added that his party would oppose any unilateral action by the U.S. like the one it had conducted against al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Given the venue and timing of the announcement in India by a middle-level U.S. State Department official, PML(Q) secretary general Mushahid Hussain said it was a politically motivated decision which was not legally sound. “Pakistan has been caught by surprise,” he said; adding that the announcement was the result of successful lobbying by the increasingly active and effective Indian lobby in Washington which was playing a crucial role in the upcoming presidential elections.
“Hafiz Saeed is not a fugitive. And it is wrong to link the Kashmir issue to terrorism. Kashmir issue has nothing to do with the al-Qaeda or 9/11,” Mr. Hussain said; underlining that this was a bid by the U.S. to appease India and pile pressure on Pakistan.