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What Manmohan Singh should tell Zardari today

What should Manmohan Singh tell Asif Zardari about Hafiz Saeed when he meets him today?

He should say that the US move to squeeze Pakistan by putting a bounty on Saeed must be used to its advantage by Pakistan.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani says this is an internal issue for Pakistan. Arresting, prosecuting or simply containing Saeed does not concern the United States because Pakistan is equipped to deal with its citizen.

The question is: Has it succeeded? The answer is no. An editorial in the Daily Times explained why. Writing about the "November 2008 Mumbai bloodbath in which 166 people, including six American citizens, were killed", the newspaper says about Saeed: "His subsequent arrest and trial however, yielded an acquittal from the Lahore High Court for lack of evidence. It is evident that our courts’ hands are tied if no credible evidence or witnesses are available. The former may be difficult to obtain given that our sleuths are not renowned for competence and also because people of Hafiz Saeed’s ilk have powerful protectors and friends in the intelligence community, which sees them as ‘strategic assets’. The latter are usually too frightened, or frightened off by open threats from organisations wedded to extremist jihad."

The PM should say the US move to squeeze Pakistan by putting a bounty on Saeed must be used to its advantage by Pakistan. AP Photo

There is another reason for Gilani to consider doing more on Saeed. It can be argued that the LeT's attacks on India damaged Pakistan more than they did India. After the attack on Parliament in 2001, India mobilised for war. President Musharraf was pressured to ban LeT and Jaish e Muhammad. Little benefit accrued to Pakistan from the event except a devaluation of assets.  After the attack in Mumbai, the United Nations Security Council (under GA 9527, modifying resolution 1822) accepted India's and the United States' case that Hafiz Saeed and Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi were responsible and they were put under sanctions. The world stopped accepting Pakistan's deniability.

As strategy, such attacks are more fulfilling emotionally than effective. The idea that India has been slapped by 10 men who kept its economic centre under siege for three days is satisfying to those who hate India. But other than killing some Indian women, children and men, this did not achieve much. Of course, it is valid to assume that the LeT saw value, including for propaganda, but the attack did not move it towards its goal. LeT's goal is to free Kashmir from Hindu rule and have the crescent of Islam hoisted again at the Red Fort.

I would say the attack made the goal more difficult because it is LeT that was squeezed after it, not India.

The benefit such assets bring Pakistan is little compared to the cost. Their actions are not effective for three reasons:

First, India's economy has escaped the orbit of South Asia's low growth curse. LeT's bloodiest attack could not change that. Second, Indians have a cultural ability (which Pakistanis also share) to absorb trauma. Traumatic events are episodic and put behind us more easily than by the West. Third, such attacks have failed to provoke communal rioting because there is a consensus that it is Pakistan that does it.

On Pakistan's side, allowing space to LeT has led to other problems. Saeed is the moving force behind Difaa e Pakistan. This group has made the Parliament's delicate job of repairing relations with the United States more difficult. There is a side to the Difaa e Pakistan which is not about Hindus, Christians and Jews, but threatens Pakistan's own communities.

For this reason Gilani is right about Saeed being an internal issue, but only if he sees it in terms of both sovereignty and as a problem.

The truth is that even if the US put the bounty to please Manmohan Singh, and I believe it did, the beneficiary will be Pakistan. If they cannot successfully prosecute Saeed, Gilani and Zardari should use this opportunity to convince the army to shut LeT down.