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Can U.S. Bounty Bring In Pakistani Militant Leader?

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e Taiba, attends a news conference in Rawalpindi on April 4.
Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e Taiba, attends a news conference in Rawalpindi on April 4.
Usually when governments offer bounties, it means a wanted man is in hiding and the public's help is needed to find him.

But Washington's announcement on April 2 of a $10 million bounty for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed breaks that mold.

Saeed may be wanted by Washington and by New Delhi, which has charged him in absentia with masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. But he is not wanted in Pakistan, where he lives.

The Pakistani Supreme Court ordered Saeed freed in 2009 after he challenged Islamabad's grounds for keeping him under house arrest over implications his organization was involved in the attacks.

He is the founder of Lashkar-e Taiba, an armed militant group that fought against Indian control in Kashmir and was banned in 2002 after being linked to an attack on India's parliament. He then set up the religious charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which Indian and U.S. officials say serves as a front for the banned militant wing.

Just hours after the U.S. State Department announced the bounty on April 2, Saeed appeared on Pakistan's Geo TV. He said he was a free man and was ready to speak with U.S. officials at any time.

"They called me a terrorist. But I went to the court and asked them to decide my case. India sent four dossiers against me. The case proceedings continued for six months," Saeed said.

"And the full bench of the high court decided that neither me nor my group has any connection with the Mumbai attacks or [any other] terrorist activities."

Not Wanted In Pakistan

Calls by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal to Pakistan's Interior Ministry and Foreign Ministry on April 4 confirmed that there are no outstanding arrest warrants against Saeed.

Not only is Saeed not wanted in Pakistan, he regularly appears in public. On April 3, he addressed a rally of his organization in Abbottabad, about an hour north of the capital.

Even the Pakistani government appeared to be caught off-guard by Washington's bounty offer. "We have not received any communication through official channels, through diplomatic channels, so hence I would still insist that we should wait for the official communications," Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on April 2.

Washington placed the bounty award on the website of the U.S. State Department's Rewards for Justice program. The reward amount is one of the highest offered by the program and is comparable to that for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Putting Pressure On Pakistan

If Washington offered the bounty unilaterally, it not only raises the question of how Pakistan will respond, but also what Washington hopes to achieve.

Without the Pakistani authorities' full cooperation in acting upon any information tipsters provide, it is unclear how it can lead to his arrest and conviction.

"At the moment, there is no sign that Pakistan will arrest him and hand him over to the United States because this is not the policy right now," says Hassan Askari, a political analyst in Islamabad. "What will happen after a few years, nothing can be said for sure."

The bounty notice may be an effort to ramp up pressure on Islamabad to change how it deals with the leaders of radical organizations today.

For years, Pakistan has followed a policy of trying to control militant leaders by placing them under house arrest when their organizations behave violently or are suspected of wrongdoing.

Immediately after the Mumbai attack, Pakistani police placed Saeed under house arrest. When he challenged the home detention, a high court ordered him freed, but that verdict was in turn challenged by the Interior Ministry. He was only released from house arrest after the Supreme Court confirmed the high court's order to free him.

But that policy of control by official harassment makes Islamabad a weaker ally in the war against terrorism than Washington desires. U.S. officials want Islamabad not only to eliminate armed militants in the country but also to root out leaders of movements that provide them support and protection.