The only complaint New Delhi can have with the decision of the United States government to add the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief, Hafiz Saeed, and one of his lieutenants to its ‘Rewards for Justice’ programme is to say that this should have been done earlier. By putting the equivalent of a $10 million bounty on the head of the terrorist leader, the US has sent among its strongest signals yet that it sees the Lashkar as a threat not merely to India but to itself and the wider world as well.
No one should expect Saeed to suddenly be accosted by shadowy men, bundled into a helicopter and flown to Guanta-namo Bay. Among all the world’s leading terrorists he has been exceptional in the openness with which he could operate: holding rallies in Lahore, speaking to the media and reportedly considering a run for an assembly seat. Though the US reward for his capture means he is a legitimate target for a drone strike, Saeed will be safe in the knowledge that Washington cannot dare attack so deep in the Pakistani heartland. His safety also flows from the protection he receives from the Pakistani military and support he gets from large swathes of the populace.
What, then, does putting a price on his head accomplish? This should be seen in the context of India’s long-term strategy of trying to isolate and pressure Islamabad over Lashkar. Pakistan had originally argued that Lashkar was a derivative of the Kashmir dispute, an argument once broadly accepted by much of the world. The restoration of normal politics in Kashmir, the decline of insurgency and, most recently, the expansion of Lashkar’s terrorist operations to other parts of the world has slowly eroded Islamabad’s case.
The US also began to move against Lashkar as much because its cohorts began attacking coalition troops in Afghanistan as Indian warnings that Lashkar was a terror threat to all. Evidence gleaned from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s lair is believed to have shown a stronger relationship between Lashkar and al-Qaeda than had been thought to have existed. The self-interested motives for the US decision are not unexpected.
However, they represent further evidence of a convergence of interests that India and the US have been seeing in foreign policy and security issues. Most importantly, they also indicate a convergence of vision regarding Pakistan — something that is crucial not only for the relationship but also for the future stability of Pakistan itself.