April 08, 2012

No strategic message in $10m bounty on Saeed: US

Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN | Apr 7, 2012, 05.49AM IST


WASHINGTON: The United States has welcomedPakistan president Asif Ali Zardari's one-off private trip to India this weekend while insisting the $10 million bounty on terrorist provocateurHafiz Saeed has nothing to do with the politics of the region and was aimed strictly at inviting information to prosecute him.

Obama administration officials faced searching questions from the media, both American and subcontinental, about why it chose this point in time, when there was intense political activity and multiple exchanges in the region, to put Saeed on a terrorist bounty list.

Has Saeed been indicted in a US court? Why did the administration pick this week to put out the bounty notice, when it had the best chance of screwing up diplomacy? Hasn't it backfired? Isn't Saeed thumbing his nose at the US? State department spokesman Mark Toner, who took the brunt of the questions , maintained that the intent of the bounty notice was to secure information to ensure that Saeed was prosecuted for terrorism crimes.

"We're not playing some sort of strategic game here. We're just trying to prosecute this individual," Toner said amid off-the-wall speculation, particularly in Pakistan, that the bounty was meant to ramp up pressure on Islamabad to re-open Nato supply routes and also put Zardari on notice ahead of his India visit.

Pakistani hardliners are also blaming the "Indian lobby" in US for the bounty on a man whose toxic and hateful speeches propagating terrorism are in public domain.

But US officials have discounted India's role in the Hafiz bounty announcement while acknowledging there are close consultations between Washington and New Delhi. Toner said the US view was that Zardari's visit to India would actually be "very constructive and we're all for it" . The US certainly didn't want the bounty call to impact on Zardari's visit to India , he added.

Asked about Hafiz Saeed thumbing his nose at the US in a public spectacle, Toner said "everyone and their mother know at this point, he's hiding in plain sight in Pakistan", and what the US is seeking is not his whereabouts , but information that can be used to prosecute him in a court of law in Pakistan or elsewhere.

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