Even as India's leadership rallied behind the United States' decision in announcing $10 million for information leading to the arrest of Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, New Delhi and several independent experts warned it is unlikely to push Pakistan to act against the alleged 26/11 perpetrator.
Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on Tuesday said he hoped the announcement would “prod the Pakistan government to take action.” He, however, expressed pessimism about the prospect, saying “Pakistan was in denial and continues to be in denial.”
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, in turn, claimed the U.S. decision reflected the “strengthened counter-terrorism cooperation” between the two countries.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari are scheduled to meet on April 8, but government sources said it remained unclear if the issue would figure in their discussions, since the Pakistani leader will be in India on a private visit.
Pakistan's Interior Minister Rahman Malik said he did not wish to comment on the issue since his office had received no official word on the bounty.
Ever since the 26/11 attacks, U.S. policymakers have debated their options on the Lashkar — options which range from putting key members of the group on the Joint Special Operation Command's targeting list for assassination, and imposing sanctions on ISI officials known to be linked to the group. In recent weeks, as Saeed addressed audiences of thousands in rallies called by the jihadist Difa-e-Pakistan coalition, the U.S.' ire has increased.
“Each time Saeed stands up in public and calls for violence against Americans,” said Georgetown University's C. Christine Fair, “it deepens the frustration in the U.S. about Pakistan's failure to sever its links with jihadist linked to the ISI. I think the decision to announce a reward for his arrest, and on Indian soil, is intended to signal our growing irritation to Pakistan.”
The $10-million reward is largely symbolic since the Lahore resident's whereabouts are already known. Saeed, a Lahore resident, mocked the decision in an interview to Doha-based broadcaster al-Jazeera, saying “we are not hiding in caves for bounties to be set on finding us.”
Farzana Sheikh, a scholar at Chatham House in London, said it was improbable that the U.S. decision would “impact on the Pakistan government.” “The fact is,” she said, “that Saeed enjoys a considerable degree of support in Punjab, and is even reported to enjoy the support of the ruling party there. In what will likely be an election year, no government will choose to take him on.”
The Rewards for Justice programme was founded in 1984, and is claimed to have led to several key breakthroughs in counter-terror operations — among them, the arrest of Ramzi Yousef, a Pakistani national who bombed New York's World Trade Center in 1993. It is administered by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The programme's website says the U.S. has so far paid out over $100 million to 70 individuals who have provided information.
Rewards for Justice lists just four individuals other than Saeed as carrying a $10- million bounty: al-Qaeda's Pakistan-based chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, Taliban chief Mullah Muhammad Omar, Iran-based al-Qaeda organiser Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil and Iraqi jihadist Ibrahim Awwad al-Badri.
Interestingly, the U.S. has been negotiating with at least one figure on the list — Mullah Omar who, the website says, “represents a continuing threat to America and its allies.”