ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - The United States warned Pakistan on Saturday that there would be “repercussions” in bilateral relations unless Islamabad immediately re-arrested and prosecuted an Islamist leader accused of masterminding the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
The warning came after Pakistani authorities on Friday acted on a court order and freed Hafiz Saeed, a U.S.-designated global terrorist, from months of house arrest for a lack of evidence. Detention of the firebrand cleric had stemmed from allegations of terrorism.
Washington has been offering a $10 million reward since 2012 for information that would lead to bringing Saeed to justice for plotting the Mumbai bloodshed through his outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) global terrorist organization.
The White House on Saturday condemned Saeed’s release, saying it “sends a deeply troubling message” about Pakistan’s international counterterrorism commitment and “belies” claims the country 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,” the statement said.
It also reminded Islamabad of U.S. President Donald Trump’s South Asia policy, which seeks a constructive U.S.-Pakistan relationship but expects decisive action against militant and terrorist groups operating out of 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,” the statement said.
Saeed heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) Islamic charity. But the U.S. and the United Nations both have listed JuD as a global terrorist group, calling it a front for LeT, also founded by Saeed and later outlawed by Pakistan. Saeed denies any link to the massacre in Mumbai.
The Pakistan foreign ministry, while responding to the criticism over Saeed’s release from house arrest, said Friday that the country’s courts were determined to uphold the rule of law and due process for all Pakistani citizens.
“Legal processes are anchored in rule of law, not dictates of politics and posturing,” the ministry spokesman said. He reiterated that Pakistan condemns all forms of terrorism by any individual or group and says its successes in the fight against terrorism are "unmatched."
U.S., Indian pressure
Saeed claimed his detention was the outcome of U.S. and Indian pressure on the Pakistani government. Meanwhile, New Delhi asserts that supporters of the Pakistani cleric are assisting armed Muslim separatists in the divided Kashmir region.
Hours after his release from house arrest, the cleric addressed a massive Friday congregation of supporters at a Lahore mosque, urging the government not to engage in talks with India until the rival country had withdrawn its troops from Kashmir.
Saeed credited Pakistan’s independent judiciary for his freedom, saying he had been put under house arrest for highlighting the Indian “atrocities” against Kashmiris.
“I want Kashmir's freedom from India, and this is my crime. I was arrested for it," he told worshippers, who chanted, "God is great.”
Saeed’s release angered India, prompting foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar to call him a “self-confessed and U.N.-proscribed terrorist ... being allowed to walk free and continue with his evil agenda.”
A statement quoted Kumar alleging the cleric “was not only the mastermind, he was the prime organizer of the Mumbai terror attacks, in which many innocent Indians and many people from other nationalities were killed.”
Islamabad maintains that neither Washington nor New Delhi has offered any evidence linking Saeed to attacks in Mumbai.