WASHINGTON: The United States was not trying to influence President Asif Ali Zardari’s forthcoming visit to India by announcing a $10 million bounty for Hafiz Saeed, the US State Department said on Thursday.
“It’s a win-win situation when Pakistan and India are engaging in dialogue or talking to each other and are building better cooperation,” the department’s spokesman Mark Toner said at a briefing.
Mr Toner, however, clarified that the US had played no role in arranging the visit but wanted these talks to succeed.
The spokesman had to face a barrage of questions as journalists tried to determine why the State Department announced the reward at a time when the Obama administration was trying to rebuild its relationship with Pakistan.
Some journalists also focused on the possible impact of this reward on India-Pakistan relations, particularly at a time when both were apparently trying to improve ties.
A journalist observed that Hafiz Saeed was not yet indicted in a US court and asked why the US had based this move on “just an allegation”.
“An allegation based on our conviction that he is, in fact, guilty of these crimes,” Mr Toner said, adding that he could not get into details of an intelligence matter.
“What we’re looking for is evidence that can be used to prosecute him in a court of law in Pakistan or elsewhere and $10 million is that sweetener, if you will, to encourage people to come forward,” he said.
A journalist suggested that the US effort had apparently backfired as it made Hafiz Saeed a media celebrity in Pakistan.
“He’s clearly trying to bask in the media attention. We just hope — and reiterate — that our offer is very real, that if anybody knows or can produce evidence that ties him to the Mumbai bombings and other terrorist acts, that they step forward.”
Another journalist pointed out that the US move encouraged conservative groups in Pakistan to urge President Zardari to cancel his visit to India.
“There’s no relation here. We certainly don’t want it to impact on his visit to India. We think his visit to India actually is very constructive, and we’re all for it,” Mr Toner replied.
“By issuing this notice, are you trying to create a split in Lashkar-e-Taiba?” asked another journalist.
“We’re not. We’re asking for an individual to step forward who can produce evidence that ties him to these attacks,” the spokesman said. “We’re not playing some sort of strategic game here.”
Responding to another question, Mr Toner said the US had been in “very close contact” with the Indian government on this issue.