The White House has warned that serious repercussions are in store for U.S.-Pakistan relations unless Islamabad detains and charges freed Islamist militant Hafiz Saeed accused of masterminding a shocking, multi pronged assault on several locations in India's financial capital Mumbai in 2008. "(Hafiz) Saeed’s release, after Pakistan’s failure to prosecute or charge him, sends a deeply troubling message about Pakistan’s commitment to (combating) international terrorism and belies Pakistani claims that it will not provide sanctuary for terrorists on its soil,” the White House said in a statement. “If Pakistan does not take action to lawfully detain Saeed and charge him for his crimes, its inaction will have repercussions for bilateral relations and for Pakistan’s global reputation,” the Trump government said late Saturday afternoon Eastern Time.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the U.S. is urging Saeed's "immediate re-arrest and prosecution."
Saeed is (allegedly) the founder of a banned group linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 168 people. He has been designated a terrorist by the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. has a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction.
Saeed was released before dawn on Friday after a three-judge panel in Pakistan ended his detention in the eastern city of Lahore.
The move outraged both U.S. and Indian authorities. Saeed's spokesman Yahya Mujahid called it a "victory of truth."
"Hafiz Saeed was under house arrest on baseless allegations and jail officials came to his home last night and told him that he is now free," he said.
Saeed ran the Jamaat-ud-Dawa organization, widely believed to be a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, which India says was behind the Mumbai attack.
Pakistan has been detaining and freeing Saeed off and on since the attack.
The Trump administration has been intensifying pressure on Pakistan to fight extremists and drive them from hideouts in Pakistani territory.
The campaign appeared to produce some success this year when Pakistani security forces assisted with the release of a Taliban-held U.S.-Canadian family after five years in captivity. However, U.S. officials cautioned that move needed to be followed by additional measures to prove the country's commitment.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said during a visit to Washington in October that Pakistan was willing to cooperate fully with the Trump administration. He said Pakistan had wiped out militant hideouts with little help from the U.S., which has restricted hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Pakistan in recent years.
The U.S. in August said it would hold up $255 million in military assistance for Pakistan until it cracks down on extremist groups that threaten neighboring Afghanistan.
President Donald Trump's tough words about Pakistan, a troubled U.S. security partner, infuriated Islamabad and triggered anti-U.S. protests that Pakistani police have had to use tear gas to disperse.
Reactions came thick and fast after the Trump-style stinger to Pakistan. State Department officials, for years, have reacted with horror but stuck to polite diplomatic talk despite "Pakistan's terrorists travelling in open trucks on public roads as free men."
Pakistan has harbored terrorists for years and provides sanctuary to the Taliban. It is a mystery why they are designated and treated as a Major Non-NATO Ally when the reality is Pakistan is anything but. https://t.co/fZUb1Rfhql
— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) November 23, 2017
On several occasions at White House press briefings, especially after Trump took over, officials have reinforced the clear distinction between the US government's relationship with India and the one with Pakistan. Before Prime Minister Modi's visit to the US, a top aide of the US President said the "nature of the relationship with Pakistan is very different from the one we share with India and we all know that". This before the official went on to explain why India was getting the red carpet treatment in the Trump White House and the rich and layered engagement between the two countries over several decades. India enjoys the "major defense partner" tag in the US system and is treated "on par with America's strategic allies" although it is not a formal military ally. Within Trump's team, the number of strong India hands have grown in the last year. Trump's South Asia policy is driven by people who have not just expertise on the region but have spent several years there on the ground.
Here is the full text of the White House statement on Hafiz Saeed released earlier today:
The United States strongly condemns the release of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Saeed from house arrest in Pakistan and calls for his immediate re-arrest and prosecution.
LeT is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, including a number of American citizens. Saeed himself is a notorious terrorist who stands accused of having masterminded the November 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, including six American citizens.
A clear international consensus exists regarding Saeed’s culpability—he was designated by the United Nations under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1267 in December 2008. The Department of the Treasury has designated Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and the United States, since 2012, has offered a $10 million reward for information that brings Saeed to justice.
Saeed’s release, after Pakistan’s failure to prosecute or charge him, sends a deeply troubling message about Pakistan’s commitment to combatting international terrorism and belies Pakistani claims that it will not provide sanctuary for terrorists on its soil. If Pakistan does not take action to lawfully detain Saeed and charge him for his crimes, its inaction will have repercussions for bilateral relations and for Pakistan’s global reputation.
As President Donald J. Trump’s South Asia policy makes clear, the United States seeks a constructive relationship with Pakistan, but expects decisive action against militant and terrorist groups on Pakistani soil that are a threat to the region. The release of Saeed is a step in the wrong direction.
The Pakistani government now has an opportunity to demonstrate its seriousness in confronting all forms of terrorism, without distinction, by arresting and charging Hafiz Saeed for his crimes.
(With additional reporting by Nikhila Natarajan, Firstpost, US)
Updated Date: Nov 26, 2017 06:38 AM