Pakistani Lawmakers Criticize U.S. Reward For Militant Leader

The Pakistani government and opposition on Thursday united in criticism of a newly announced $10 million American bounty for Hafiz Saeed, a militant leader accused of orchestrating the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, during a heated session of Parliament in which lawmakers demanded that Washington provide proof of Mr. Saeed’s terrorist credentials.

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed terms suicide bombings un-Islamic, saying that attacks on Muslims by Muslims could never be a Jihad.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani government and opposition on Thursday united in criticism of a newly announced $10 million American bounty for Hafiz Saeed, a militant leader accused of orchestrating the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, during a heated session of Parliament in which lawmakers demanded that Washington provide proof of Mr. Saeed’s terrorist credentials.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani warned that the American reward, which was announced by a senior State Department official in India on Monday, was a “negative message” and would “further widen the trust deficit” between the two countries.

Parliament is in the throes of a contentious debate about ties with the United States, which have been virtually frozen since American warplanes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers during a disputed border clash in November. Now, it seems, Mr. Saeed’s fate may present a new hurdle.

Opposition lawmakers said the American offer of $10 million for information leading to the capture or arrest of Mr. Saeed, who is accused of leading the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and who lives openly in the eastern city of Lahore, was “mind boggling” and “ridiculous.”

“Today, Hafiz Saeed has been targeted. Tomorrow, any other ordinary Pakistani citizen can get the same treatment,” said Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the leader of the opposition in the national assembly.

Pakistan’s courts have consistently failed to prosecute Mr. Saeed, an imposing bearded man who commands one of South Asia’s most disciplined militant outfits, despite numerous accusations of orchestrating violence. In recent months he has emerged at the vanguard of a stridently anti-American lobby coalition.

Analysts speculate that the short-term goal of the American bounty may be to reduce his public profile, but if that is true it has certainly failed so far.

In news media appearances in recent days, Mr. Saeed has relished the limelight and mocked the American bounty, which was authorized by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On Wednesday, he appeared before reporters at a hotel across the street from the military headquarters in Rawalpindi — a symbolic gesture that suggested his traditionally close ties with the military intelligence remain strong. “America can contact me whenever it wants,” he said with a defiant smile.

Mr. Saeed’s main political forum is the Defense of Pakistan Council, an alliance of 14 religious parties and militant groups that includes Lashkar-e-Taiba. In recent months it has held rallies across Pakistan aimed at preventing the reopening of NATO supply lines into Afghanistan.

On Thursday, right-wing lawyers in Lahore came to Mr. Saeed’s defense. “Pakistani courts have freed Hafiz Saeed from all charges as there was no proof against him,” said Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, the leader of the Lahore District Bar Association, while addressing a lawyers convention. “We believe America is the biggest international terrorist,” Mr. Ali said. “So, it is President Obama who is a terrorist, not Hafiz Saeed.”

The furor is a further headache for President Asif Ali Zardari’s government, which is already struggling to bring the long-delayed debate on ties with the United States to a conclusion.

“The American decision regarding Hafiz Saeed is very ill timed,” said Raza Rabbani, the head of the national security committee.

Hina Rabbani Khar, the Pakistani foreign minister, said Pakistan would need hard evidence to prosecute Mr. Saeed. “Clearly, it doesn’t bode well for the environment under which the Parliament is functioning,” she said.