ISLAMABAD / WASHINGTON: In its first official reaction to the $10 million US bounty on Jamaatud Dawa founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Pakistan on Wednesday said it would ‘prefer concrete evidence’ against the man than to engage in a public discussion on the matter.
“In a democratic country like Pakistan, where the judiciary is independent, evidence against anyone must withstand judicial scrutiny,” said Foreign Office spokesperson Abdul Basit in a statement.
The US State Department, meanwhile, seemingly indulged in damage-control as the legitimacy of announcing a bounty on a man who openly taunted the US came into question.
“He [Hafiz Saeed] is free to do that, unfortunately, up to this moment. But we hope to put him behind bars,” spokesperson Mark Toner said when asked about Saeed’s public appearance at a public function in Rawalpindi on Wednesday.
Toner sought to clarify the US reward, saying that Washington was offering money not for his capture but for information that would allow his prosecution in a court in the United States or elsewhere.
“We all know where he is — you know, every journalist in Pakistan and in the region knows how to find him – but we’re looking for information that can be usable to convict him in a court of law,” Toner said.
He denied that the United States was trying to make new demands of authorities in Pakistan, which is completing a review aimed at resetting relations with Washington after months of crisis between the war partners.
“It’s not to put pressure on any one government. But we wanted to be able to provide Pakistan with the tools that they need to prosecute this individual,” Toner said.
Earlier, Hafiz Saeed in a defiant public appearance goaded the United States on Wednesday, mocking his $10 million US bounty.
The 62-year-old former engineering and Arabic professor appeared on stage at a specially-convened Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) press conference at the Flashman Hotel in Rawalpindi.
Saeed said he was ready to face “any American court” to answer charges.
“If the United States wants to contact me, I am present, they can contact me. I am also ready to face any American court, or wherever there is proof against me,” he told reporters.
Saeed, who makes regular public appearances in Pakistan, mocked the idea of offering a bounty for someone who lives so openly.
“Americans seriously lack information. Don’t they know where I go and where I live and what I do?” he said.
“These rewards are usually announced for people who are hiding in mountains or caves. I wish the Americans would give this reward money to me.”
Saeed went on to add that the DPC had written letters to the federal government and parliament while efforts were underway to address their concerns to US authorities in Islamabad.
President’s trip to India
Meanwhile, members of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) urged the federal government and parliament to respond to the US bounty on Saeed and even advised President Asif Ali Zardari to cancel his planned visit to India on April 8, saying the US decision had been simply made to gratify India.
Members of the DPC, including its chairman Maulana Samiul Haq condemned the muted response of the Pakistani government, adding that the DPC would observe a black day on Friday to condemn the US decision.
Links to Osama bin Laden
Meanwhile, a former American intelligence official has claimed that the US bounty on Hafiz Saeed was placed after the US obtained evidence that he had been in close contact with Osama bin Laden, planning terrorist attacks, The Telegraph reported.
Documents found by US special forces at Bin Laden’s final hideaway in Abbottabad last year apparently linked Hafiz Saeed, founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), with the al-Qaeda leader.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and advisor to Barack Obama on Afghanistan and Pakistan told The Daily Telegraph that the evidence showed Bin Laden played a key role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
“OBL communicated with Saeed and others via courier. He practised very good opsec [operations security]. The two had a long-standing relationship going back to the creation of LeT in the 1980s,” he said.
“OBL provided some of the seed money to start the group,” Riedel added. (With additional input from Agencies)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2012.