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US bounty scheme struggles in Pakistan

By Frank Gardner
BBC security correspondent

Baitullah Mehsud
The whereabouts of Baitullah Mehsud when this image was taken is unknown

This month the US state department has put up a $5m (£3.4m) bounty for information leading to the capture of one of the most wanted men in Pakistan.

Baitullah Mehsud heads the Pakistani Taleban and is believed to have been behind the murder of the Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto and the Marriott hotel bombing in Islamabad last year.

He has openly claimed responsibility for the attack on a police academy in Lahore that killed 8 cadets last month.

But is anyone likely to be tempted by this latest offer in what America calls its Rewards for Justice programme?

"Overall the Rewards for Justice programme has been very minimal," says Mike Scheuer, a former CIA intelligence officer who spent years trying to track down Osama Bin Laden.

"At least in terms of our Islamist enemies [it has had] almost no impact at all, no successes. The only big success was the 1993 World Trade Center bomber, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef.

"And it was worth getting him, it was a good investment. But he's the only one, in almost 20 years."

The Rewards for Justice programme has been going for years.

At the frontier with Pakistan's Taleban

In Afghanistan it has posters up of wanted men, their pictures printed on matchbooks, and leaflets distributed in local languages.

But both there and in Pakistan's tribal territories, where some of the most wanted jihadists are thought to be hiding, the US is up against a centuries-old tradition called "pashtunwali".

It is the Pashtun code of conduct that makes tribesmen resent any uninvited intruders, while protecting those seeking shelter.

Asif Durrani, the acting Pakistani high commissioner in London, believes this makes it harder for Washington to persuade local people to reveal the whereabouts of those accused of terrorism.

"I can tell you when it comes to honour, kicking the door itself is the biggest insult, so that also invites a sort of revenge," he says.

"No-one can dare kick my door," continues Mr Durrani, "it's not allowed, because you are then declaring war against my household."

Fear v temptation

But US government bounties have had their successes elsewhere, notably in Iraq.

Anyone caught betraying a fellow Muslim risks finding their family dishonoured for generations.

The former president, Saddam Hussein, was betrayed for money in 2003 and so were his two sons, Uday and Qusai.

No longer able to rule through fear and patronage, Saddam was just too tempting a prize for those who knew where he was hiding.

So why has the rewards system worked in Iraq and not in Pakistan?

Terry Pattar, a counter-terrorism expert at Jane's Strategic Advisory Services, thinks the key difference is that in Iraq it was clear that eventually the US would win whereas that is not the case in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"I think these kinds of rewards perhaps draw out the people who are more likely to give information where it's clear they'll be giving it to the side that is going to eventually win," he says.

Map
The most wanted militants are thought to be in Pakistan's tribal territories

"There's less fear of reprisals. They've got more chance of claiming the money and safely using it."

And that is just the problem.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal territories, where the Taleban and al-Qaeda are resurgent, the US does benefit from a loose network of informants.

But anyone caught betraying a fellow Muslim risks finding their family dishonoured for generations.

Mike Scheuer believes this explains why after all these years Osama Bin Laden is still a free man.

"It's very unlikely that any Muslim is going to turn him in to the Americans for money," says the former CIA officer, making reference to al-Qaeda's attacks on the US in 2001.

"He's been in Afghanistan since 9/11. It's the third poorest place on the planet. We have $200m of reward money outstanding, including $50m for Osama and no-one has come forward to take a cent.

"I think we need in the West to grow up a little bit, everything doesn't pivot on money."

"In the Islamic world, at least when it comes to Osama Bin Laden, it pivots off of religion," Mike Scheuer says.



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