Why announce a bounty on Hafiz Saeed?

Published: April 5, 2012

This is, after all, a man Washington and New Delhi regard as a terrorist, yet whom many in Pakistan regard as a heroic symbol of defiance toward the United States.

Why now?

At a critical moment in the US-Pakistan relationship, with parliamentary debate raging in Pakistan about how to realign relations with Washington, and with the United States desperate to forge some level of cooperation with Islamabad to help move toward the elusive endgame in Afghanistan, why announce a bounty for “information leading to the arrest or conviction” of living-openly-in-Lahore Hafiz Saeed?

This is, after all, a man Washington and New Delhi regard as a terrorist, yet whom many in Pakistan regard as a heroic symbol of defiance toward the United States, an essential strategic asset, or both. In short, Washington’s decision will add new fuel to a fire that the Americans desperately want extinguished.

So why now?

Saeed himself has offered an answer: It’s all about appeasing India.

And on this count, he may be onto something.

Several days back, I tweeted a facetious suggestion:

Staffers at the US Consulate in Lahore should simply stroll around the city until they come across Saeed, and then slap handcuffs on him—thereby saving US taxpayers $10 million.

The Jamaatud Dawa’s savvy Twitter feed quickly sprang into action (it is unconfirmed whether this is their verified account)

Perhaps defeat in Afghanistan has made US lose complete sense

@JuD_Official retorted.

Playing the Indian card will further jeopardise the region.

The implication was that Washington’s announcement was meant as a gesture of support for India.

There may be some truth to this.

Many in India believe the Obama administration has little interest in strengthening the strategic relationship launched between the two countries during the George W Bush era. Indians also recall how the Bush administration boasted several high-level officials—such as undersecretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns and ambassador to India Robert Blackwill—deeply committed to improving ties with India. By contrast, Obama, with his ownership of the Afghanistan war and many attempts (not particularly successful) to deepen ties with Pakistan, is seen as more of an Af-Pak president with staffers more focused on that region than on India. (Such narratives, of course, conveniently ignore the state visit granted to Prime Minister Singh, and to President Obama’s endorsement of an eventual UN Security Council seat for India.)

Over the last year, the US-India relationship has not been helped by tussles over US legislation that would punish American firms for using call centers in India, by India’s decision to snub American arms suppliers in several high-profile deals, and by the lack of progress in consummating the US-India civil nuclear deal.

So for these reasons, the bounty decision afforded Washington an opportunity to reassure New Delhi about the strength of the bilateral relationship.

Be that as it may, the main reason for Washington’s bounty has little to do with India.

In essence, the Americans wanted to send a strong message of disapproval about the increased freedom enjoyed by a man that they believe has no business being free. The State Department may have said that the bounty “has everything to do with Mumbai.” Yet, for the US government, it also has much to do with Afghanistan. Noted Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) expert Stephen Tankel has described how the organisation began expanding its operations in that country in the mid-2000’s, after Pakistan-Indian ties began to warm and Indian activities in Kashmir were curtailed. LeT fighters have now become major players in Afghanistan, with operatives flowing into the north-eastern reaches of the nation and joining forces with other extremist groups targeting US forces.

In Washington, Saeed is seen, not as the benign overseer of JuD’s charitable acts, but as the brutal mastermind of the LeT’s anti-US militancy. With Saeed’s public presence growing in recent months while headlining the Difa-e-Pakistan Council’s many public rallies, with his railings against US drone strikes and Pakistan-based Nato supply routes growing ever more shrill, and with Pakistan showing no interest in detaining him (a position unlikely to change anytime soon), the United States decided to exercise the one option at its disposal: lodge a symbolic act of protest.

The takeaway?

Hafiz Saeed is now one of the world’s most wanted men, yet he lives a life far removed from that of a fugitive. And nothing will be done about it.

Surreal? For sure.

Yet given the wackiness that often characterises Pakistan-US relations, the bounty affair represents just another bizarre chapter in a very perplexing partnership indeed.

Read more by Michael here, or follow him on Twitter @MichaelKugelman


Michael Kugelman

Michael Kugelman is the South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He tweets @MichaelKugelman (twitter.com/MichaelKugelman)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://Mumbai Blunt!

    Its a part of Washington’s long term plan. Ties between US & Pak is important strategically till 2014 or whenever US vacates Afghanistan. What after that?

    Keeping this in mind, US has already begun to tighten the screws so that it is able to put sanctions against Pakistan afterwards & place it in the same league as North Korea, Syria, Iraq, Iran etc…Recommend

  • Parvez

    Liked the attempt made to decipher a complex muddled situation but it failed.
    By presenting himself for questioning and debate Hafiz Saeed has gained the moral high ground while the US placing a bounty for him without publically displaying solid facts against him has lost the ‘good guy’ initiative.Recommend

  • irfan bahadur

    well He is a man of courge,indo-pak are spiritualy bonded ,we have only one problem in between that is of kashmir valley,which is lefted as a DOG strew between the two nations bY great Br..
    Now US is in search of way to migrate ane they are doing the same buzz behind the Donkey-
    Ane JUD ane LTI are autorized submites of our society..-ane they are nOt above govrnment.._at allRecommend

  • buttjee

    No one in Pakistan is prepared to believe that Hafiz Saeed has anything to do with any kind of terrorism in any part of the world. However a vast majority of people in Pakistan believe that US is the worst terrorist and during the last 10 years the US has committed worst type of crimes against the humanity. It is also believed that in total disregard to Pakistan’s sovereignty and national security interests, the US will continue to do everything to pamper and lure India, even if Pakistan opens up the NATO supply lines and complies with all the other US demands. US will also find one excuse or the other to clamp sanctions against Pakistan, even if Pakistan voluntarily offers all types of sacrifices to protect the so called US security interests in the region. It is therefore important that Pakistan should refuse to be bullied by the US pressure tactics and should just not compromise on its sovereignty and national security interests. Pakistan is a country of 187 million people and the people of Pakistan know how to defend their country.Recommend

  • AnotherIndian

    @irfan bahadur:
    if he has courage then let him come to kashmir for jihad.im sure the guy lives in luxurious comfort in lahore while he sends youth of your country to die for a hopeless cause.Recommend

  • http://India Feroz

    The author is very naive. Indian Diplomacy is like a silent cat, you never know where it is going or from where it is silently coming. They do not need US help, Chinese help, Russian help or anybody’s in fact. With a GDP growth rate of 7-8% even a dimwit of a country will be attracted to have a share of the pie. As the only Democratic founder member of the non aligned movement India steadfastly refused to fall into any camp.
    The World is an opportunistic place where there are no permanent friends or enemies. Stay neutral and prosper.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    the bounty is not for his arrest…but for information leading to his arrest and conviction…in other words this is an attempt to convince people close to him to provide the kind of evidence needed by courts in both Pakistan and US to convict him as neither of them currently have the necessary evidence to try him.Recommend

  • http://707monty.blogspot.com Pakistan politics

    They know this is the only man who can become hurdle in restoration of supplies by staging sit-ins and mass demonstrationsRecommend

  • Naresh

    As per the Pakistan Census 2011 Preliminary Report Pakistan is a Country of More than 197 Million People!

  • http://tradersutra.com hariharmani

    Pakistan has just about sabotaged Usa ,for from an ally.USA has just about given up on Pakistan ever behaving in a sane way.Pakistan,to be fair,is caught in dilemma,it is in vortex and does not know how to get out,I’m afraid 2014,Pakistan will be in the bulls eye of USA,3rd member of North Korea,Iran and Pakistan club,will have serious sanctions.It is unfortunate,but inevitable.It is like moth to a flame,result foregone conclusion.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com Anoop

    In practical terms this bounty doesn’t mean much but symbolically it does.

    The Pakistanis and US are at a personal level equal because each has something which the other deperately needs.

    Come 2014, Pakistani leverage over the US will just vanish and the real drama will begin.

    Today Iran is struggling with the US/EU sanctions and it is a rich Country with a lot of Oil. What if the same sanction is put on Pakistan, which has no Oil, no Mineral which is not available else where or simply put no USP?

    The American public is already convinced of Pakistani duplicity, its just a matter of time when the routes through Pakistan lose their importance and all hell brakes lose.

    Thank God, India has Pakistan as a buffer. Recommend

  • Saad Raees

    I don’t see US-Pak relations getting any better, if their were any realtions at all, except for monetary transactions and other favors between the two! These two countries were never allies! America never saw Pakistan as a friend and Pakistanis never liked Americans! To be honest, I feel like Indo-Pak relations have been better than US-Pak relations at most of the points in last few years! Recommend

  • Zaid Hamid

    But wait, if Hafiz Saeed bhai is taken out like bin Laden and ends up becoming fish food, does it mean that we might indirectly end up eating him by catching and eating the fish that ate him?

    That is haram! Declare a fatwa against eating fish now!Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Dude – the facts against Hafiz Saeed are well known; he has been picked up by Pakistani authorities after the Indian Parliament attack, the Mumbai train bombings and the Mumbai massacre of 2008 – these were times when relations have dipped to an all time low, and Indian pressure has always been of no use; so clearly even your guys know what he is upto. The problem is your judicial system which has not been convict almost any terrorist, let alone Hafiz Saeed; coupled with the persistent misinformation campaign which the Govt permits/ promotes on all such moves to arrest criminals somehow turns out to be against Islam. What needs to be done is what the UK is doing with Abu Hamza (who is a decent parallel, except that Saeed can’t be deported) – severe restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly, effectively clipping his wings.Recommend

  • MyHeartSpeaks

    I DARE TO ASK: 1. Can We (Pakistan) live without US? 2. Can US live without Pakistan? IMHO, Answer of Q No. 1 is YES!! and Q No. 2 is NO!!.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @BlackJack: Agree with you and I do think this guy is bad stuff but the manner and conditions under which this 10 million has been put appears more symbolic than practical.
    It’s like a cat-and-mouse game being played by the U.S with the people pulling Saeeds strings.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    I think there was something lost in translation. They meant he as eating too much ‘bounty’ (the chocolate). — OK lame. Recommend

  • BlackJack

    I agree – they are tightening the screws; it has much more of a signaling than actual impact, and I have no doubt that it is related more to the increased visibility of Hafiz Saeed in the Difa-e-Pakistan (anti-NATO) context rather than his role as chief of the LeT (as a concession to India). Further, it is important that Pakistan is not equated with Hafiz Saeed; but, this does not seem to be a priority for you guys at all, and the world view is increasingly that extremists like him are an increasingly powerful force in the country.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @BlackJack: Yep, tragedy in the making. Let’s hope sense prevails.Recommend

  • Umer

    Politics and issues aside, this blog was responsible and accurate writing, the I saw the author- westerner. If it was some of the regular local authors there would be Pakistan/ Islam bashing galore!Recommend

  • Ali

    I understand he will be in Lahore very soon. (circa 5 April) 10 million dollars svpRecommend

  • arjun


  • Salim Shaikh


    ignorance has no excuse… your own govt repeatedly said that he was the one who attacked Delhi, Bombay and other places … admitted his courage and bravery …Recommend

  • Salim Shaikh

    Time has come that Pakistan cannot live without Hafiz Saeed and Makki ….Recommend

  • Salim Shaikh

    Please add, can Pakisgan live without Hafiz Saeed and Makki … the million men!!! Answer is NO…. We Pakistani know well how to take revenge…Recommend

  • Salim Shaikh

    A real state of ignorance …. probably most Indian forget their history. India has always been aligned with either ex-Russia. I myself saw russians roaming in delhi like ….. Now closely aligned with america as they are feeding indians with theirnuclear stuff …. once an enemy of india and india their enemy … you are very true that in politics their is no enemy permanently but indians have a permanent enemy i.e. Pakistan as they think of…. and its muslim population!!!Recommend

  • prabhjyot singh madan

    Agreed , 100%, hafiz sawed is a hero and damn USA. USA might attack Pakistan after the afghan problem. You all fight bravely and gain shahdat. The cities in ruins and people living a life of people in Somalia. Gairat bachai, mulk barbad. Dafai e Pakistan should be named dafa Pakistan. I have nothing but pity for the extremists living there and please all Pakistanis living abroad, you have your sense of patriotism living in UK, USA and Canada but you guys ar just burger studs there. I live in India and pay my taxes so I know.I have stake in stability here. Sat Sri akal, salam. Take care everyone.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Let us put things in perspective first, the USA has no allies per say in the world barring its former occupier (UK) and its little neighbour(Canada)!! USA has also never been able to win a war on their own! Nicaragua was an exception and this got even with what hey experienced in Somalia! They are now on the threshhold of being nominated for a guiness record for causing he defeat of NATO in Afghanistan. So therefore the need to put up a smoke screen forcing all European partners to keep their mouth shut about the withdrawl date.

    Why announce a bounty now?The simple explanation, based on Washington experts, is that , Mr Saeed name has come up on the CIA radar screen as the potential entity, which is capable of launching anti-american operations outside Pakistan. It also corrolates with the State Dept. strategy which the clintonians implemented from the start to profile each and every member of the Govt. especially of all friendly countries in the world. Wikileak was the first to expose this activity. It would seem that non Govt. actors with possible political influence have since been added to the Profiling process. This procedure in my opinion was initiated for the first time by a domocracy against friendly countries….to keep under watch all those actors who are unfriendly towards the washington Govt. The timing is coincidental!

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    Why 10 million dollars? This is based on CIA calcultion that it would cost the USA to gather evidence against Mr Saeed, in order to have him convicted in the court. The estimates of Abbotabad type operation were much higher and in both cases success could not be guaranteed. Therefore, why not find Afridi like fellow who knows enough about Mr Saeed and can cook up some story. Watch the reaction from Mr Saeed’s pal, the former General Musharaf Din?

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Big Rizvi

    A $10 million bounty on Hafiz Saeed. Hmmm…. Sounds interesting. Imagine what I can do with that kind of money. Every kind of expensive sports car in my garage, a really big house, etc.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Nice to see what your value of human life is, vah vah. So blinded by your dislike for Pakistan…a truly educated person you are. Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com Anoop


    Okaay. I don’t know how you come to that conclusion. I’ll let you rest with that thought.

    Thinking of someone who challenges what you believe in as inhuman must be good for the ego.

    I would have been more taken aback if you had called me as presenting untruths. Good to know you don’t think that of me.Recommend