While recent American foreign policy has been a history of actions and unexpected blowback, few moves have blown up in the administration’s face as quickly as this week’s announcement of a $10 million bounty of Jamaat-ud Dawa head Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, which has turned the head of the banned charity into one of the most solidly backed public figures in Pakistan in a matter of days.
Since the bounty was announced, Pakistan’s call for evidence and the US State Department admission that they don’t have any were book-ended by two high profile public appearances by Saeed, surrounded by supporters and insisting he is willing to go to court at any time some evidence is actually found.
Though the US has regularly issued bounties on those it sought captured, Saeed is unique in that he was never in hiding, and the only reason Pakistan hasn’t successfully jailed him is that no one seems to be able to come up with real evidence he did anything wrong.
Indeed, a top official in the Pakistani government reported to Reuters today that Saeed has been helping the Pakistani government with “de-radicalization” activities, aimed at convincing militants to abandon violence and return to civilian life. Saeed’s own shift, from a founder of the militant Lashkar-e Taiba to the head of the respected, but nominally banned Jamaat-ud Dawa, would seem to give him a unique position in pushing this effort.
The nature of the US bounty, as well as the admission that they don’t have any evidence, has left Pakistan’s government with no real option but to back Saeed, and has opposition figures hoping to jump to his side to gain some credibility as an opponent of arbitrary US demands.
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