The United States does not intend to eliminate Pakistani military's posterboy terrorist Hafiz Saeed with a Drone attack or by any other means. The $ 10 million bounty announced this week by the Obama administration is aimed primarily at shutting down Saeed's terrorism operations even as Washington attempts to bring him to justice for the Mumbai carnage.
A close reading of the Rewards for Justice notification issued by the Justice Department reveals that the "up to $ 10 million" bounty is for "Information leading to the arrest or conviction of Hafiz Saeed," unlike the "Wanted" notice posted against Ayman Al Zawahiri and others with an implied call for their outright elimination.
"An informant could be eligible for a Rewards for Justice reward payment if his or her information were to lead to Saeed's conviction in any US or foreign court of law for his terrorist acts," an administration official clarified on Tuesday, implicitly discounting his elimination.
In effect, the US hopes that fear of arrest or conviction through evidentiary leak will compel Saeed to shut down future plans even if it does not result in his conviction for the Mumbai carnage, even though the State Department says he "participated in the planning of the four-day long terrorist attack."
"Saeed and his organization continue to spread ideology advocating terrorism, as well as virulent rhetoric condemning the United States, India, Israel, and other perceived enemies," the State Department said in a media note separate from the RfJ announcement.
Although administration officials did not directly explain why Saeed is being spared a death warrant, the scuttlebutt is that Washington does not want to aggravate the situation with the Pakistani security establishment, which engineered the Lashkar-e-taiba/Jamaat-ul-dawa and protects its supremo.
Saeed himself seldom goes beyond his lair in Lahore and Islamabad/Rawalpindi to be in the crosshairs of a Drone attack. On Tuesday, he was taunted on TV by a Pakistani lawmaker who challenged him to go and preach his anti-American message in Fata, with the implicit suggestion that he would be eviscerated by a Hellfire missile.
Instead, Saeed on Wednesday burrowed himself in Rawalpindi, the garrison city that is the Pakistani Army's headquarters, and in turn taunted the US to come and get him, offering them his address and future program so they could send him the bounty money.
Amid all this drama, a top Obama administration official flew to Pakistan to hold talks with the civilian government to restore a semblance of normalcy in the overwrought ties between the two sides. Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides is the highest ranking US official to engage Pakistan's disjointed and military-ruled government since the Salala checkpost shootout in which the US killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
From the time the US announced the bounty on Saeed, Washington has heard an earful about how it was aimed at pressuring Islamabad to re-open the Nato supply route and how it was done to please India etc, but US officials clarified on Tuesday that the notification was linked only to the 26/11 massacre (in which six American citizens died), that the process had been underway for some time, and nothing was done under pressure from India.
"(This process has been) in the works for quite a number of months. These things are somewhat complicated to work through all of the details. So the announcements were only able to be posted when the process was complete...we've been working on this for some time," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.
Nuland explained that the process involved an intelligence evaluation and a policy evaluation, followed by a discussion with Congress. Then there is an entire review process and an interagency rewards committee has to look through it before the Secretary of State has to sign off on the notification.
"This is a lot of money for the US. taxpayer to put up, and so that process takes some time. Things have to be correlated," Nuland said of the $ 10 million bounty. Significantly, she also revealed that the review process had to "determine in the first instance whether offering a bounty of this kind... is likely to lead to any results in the case," suggesting that US authorities had weighed their decision before going public with the bounty call.
Separately, the State Department revealed that since its inception, the Rewards for Justice program has paid more than $100 million to more than 70 people who provided information that prevented international terrorist attacks or helped bring to justice those involved in such acts.