Pakistan Criticizes US Reward for Militant
April 06, 2012
Brian Padden | Islamabad
The Pakistani government and opposition on Thursday criticized the $10 million U.S. reward posted for Hafiz Saeed, a militant leader accused of orchestrating the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. During a heated session of parliament, lawmakers called the reward ridiculous and warned it would further widen the trust deficit between the two countries.
Debate in Pakistan's parliament Thursday was supposed to focus on restoring diplomatic ties with the United States and re-opening vital NATO supply lines to Afghanistan that were virtually severed in November when a U.S. airstrike mistakenly killed 24 Pakistanis.
Instead, both the ruling party and opposition leaders railed against the $10 million reward being offered by the U.S. government for information leading to the capture or arrest of Hafiz Saeed. Saeed is accused of leading the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which allegedly plotted the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed 166 people - including six Americans.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the U.S. reward is an attempt to interfere in Pakistan's internal affairs and override the country's independent judiciary.
Gilani says the United States should have informed Pakistan before taking such a move, because there is no solid evidence against Saeed.
Pakistani authorities held Saeed under house arrest for about six months after the Mumbai attacks, but he was later released without charge. The cleric remains a prominent religious figure and has mocked Washington for placing a bounty on someone whose whereabouts are already known. In recent months, Saeed has used his high-profile status among right-wing groups in the country to help lead a protest movement against the reopening of NATO supply routes into Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Gilani said Pakistan will not give in to U.S. pressure, and that the issue will widen the trust deficit between the two countries.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, director of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, says while the anti-American anger in parliament may temporarily sidetrack the process underway to restore relations with the U.S., the damage most likely will not be permanent.
"If, I think, any more similar action is taken by the United States then of course things will get even more complicated," said Mehboob. "But if there is nothing more like this, then with the passage of time this thing may dissipate."
However, he says the controversy over the reward threatens to cast a shadow of contention over Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to India on Sunday.
"I think public opinion in India must be stirred by this thing and publicly it has made the environment a bit, little less conducive for any positive exchange of views," Mehboob added.
This will be President Zardari's first visit to India since he took office in 2008 and the first official visit by a Pakistani president since 2005.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
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