India welcomes US bounty on Lashkar founder Hafiz Saeed
The United States offered yesterday a $10 million bounty for the founder of the Pakistani militant group blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people, a move that could complicate US-Pakistan relations at a tense time.
The US also offered up to $2 million for Lashkar-e-Taiba’s deputy leader, Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki. The bounties were posted on the U.S. State Department Rewards for Justice website late Monday.
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said this move was a step forward in the united war against terrorism and one that sent a strong signal to the LeT.
“India welcomes the notification under the Rewards for Justice Programme. It reflects the commitment of India and the United States to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attack to justice and continuing efforts to combat terrorism. It also sends a strong signal to LeT as also its members and patrons that the international community remains united in combating terrorism,” External Affairs Minister S M Krishna told reporters.
He also said Saeed, the brain behind the terror attack on Mumbai, was “safely tucked away” somewhere in Pakistan.
MEA official spokesman Syed Akbaruddin tweeted: “India welcomes US notification under the Rewards for Justice Programme. (It) sends a strong signal to LeT as also its members and patrons that the international community remains united in combating terrorism.”
He said the announcement of the bounty reflects the commitment of India and the US to bring perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attack to justice and to the continuing efforts to combat terrorism.
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, on a visit to India at the moment, announced the rewards yesterday.
In a statement, Akbaruddin also said the US maintains both Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ul-Dawa are foreign terrorist organisations which have also individually designated Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and deputy Abdul Rahman Makki for terrorist activities.
“In recent years, India and the United States have deepened mutual understanding on the nature of terrorism challenges emanating from India’s neighbourhood,” he said.
The two sides agree that all terrorist organisations, including LeT, should be defeated and have called for the elimination of terrorist safe havens and infrastructure inside Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He also said India and the US have strengthened their counter-terrorism cooperation through the Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism, Counter-terrorism Cooperation Initiative, the Homeland Security Dialogue and regular exchanges between intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Hafiz Saeed founded Lashkar-e-Taiba in the 1980s, allegedly with Pakistani support to pressure India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Pakistan banned the group in 2002 under pressure from the US but has done little to crack down on its activities.
Saeed operates openly in the country, giving public speeches and appearing on TV talk shows.
Saeed is on India’s most wanted list. After the Mumbai attacks, India asked Pakistan to hand him over.
The reward for Saeed is one of the highest offered by the program and is equal to the amount for Taliban chief Mullah Omar. Only Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as al-Qaida chief, fetches a higher, $25 million bounty.
The move comes at a particularly tense time in the troubled relationship with the US and Pakistan. Pakistan’s Parliament is currently debating a revised framework for relations with the US in the wake of American airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November at two posts along the Afghan border.
Pakistan retaliated by kicking the US out of a base used by American drones and closing its border crossings to supplies meant for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The US hopes the parliamentary debate will result in Pakistan reopening the supply lines. The closure has been a headache for the US because it has had to spend more money sending supplies through an alternate route that runs through Central Asia. It also needs the route to withdraw equipment as it seeks to pull most of its combat forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
But it’s unclear whether the U.S. will be willing to meet Pakistan’s demands, which include higher transit fees for the supplies and an unconditional apology for the airstrikes, which the US has said were an accident. Pakistan has also demanded an end to American drone strikes in Pakistan, but it’s unclear if that will be tied to the reopening of the supply line.
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