Washington: A top American counter-terrorism expert has urged the Donald Trump administration to “rescind” the major non-NATO ally status given to Pakistan after a court in Lahore ordered to free Mumbai terror attack mastermind and banned JuD chief Hafiz Saeed from detention.
The banned Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) head, carrying a bounty of $10 million announced by the US for his role in terror activities, had been under detention since January 2017.
The Trump administration on Wednesday said Saeed is a terrorist leader designated by both the United Nations and the United States, hours after a Pakistani court ordered his release from detention.
“Nine years after 26/11, its mastermind still eludes justice. It is time to rescind Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally,” Bruce Riedel, a top US expert on security, South Asia and counter-terrorism said.
“In a word, the release is an outrage. Before long we will read news reports of Hafiz Saeed leading more rallies with thousands of people,” Alyssa Ayres, former State Department official who is currently with the Council on Foreign Relations, said after the Lahore High Court ordered the Pakistani government to free Saeed.
Saeed is a UN-sanctioned individual terrorist who leads a UN-sanctioned terrorist organisation, Ayres said, alleging that Pakistan does not see fit to follow through on its obligations to uphold UN Security Council (UNSC) terrorist designations.
“Pakistan cannot credibly claim to be fighting terrorism while failing its most basic security obligation to UNSC designations,” Ayres said.
According to Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson Center, one should not be surprised by this announcement.
“Pakistani legal authorities have frequently hinted they have insufficient evidence to justify his continued detention, so it was just a matter of time before this militant, who happens to be a critical Pakistani state asset, walks free.
“This news will certainly rankle US officials, who often point out that the dozens of casualties in the Mumbai terror attack included several Americans,” Kugelman said.
Saeed’s release will reinforce Washington’s longstanding belief that Pakistan embraces a selective policy toward terrorism that entails coddling militants that help serve Pakistani interests, he said.
“All this said, we should not overstate the impact this move will have on US-Pakistan relations,” Kugelman said.
For the Trump administration, whose policy towards Pakistan revolves above all around protecting American lives, the terror group of greatest concern in Pakistan is the Haqqani Network, which the US blames for various attacks on American and Western targets in Afghanistan.
“The LeT is certainly important for Washington, but compared to the Haqqani network it is presently a relative sideshow in US policy considerations,” Kugelman added.
The JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) which is responsible for carrying out the Mumbai attack.
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the US, attributed this to the mixed messaging coming from the Trump administration in the last few weeks.
US officials were trying to signal to Pakistan that if it takes action against the Haqqani terror network, that could be seen as a positive move and “may thwart” tougher actions against Islamabad, as promised by President Donald Trump in his new South Asia policy, he said.
“In the process they (the US) may have inadvertently made the Pakistani think that the US only wants action against the Haqqani network and not against groups like the LeT that are acting against India.
“My fear is that mixed signals will lead to a situation in which Pakistan fails to take decisive action against Afghan-oriented and India-oriented terrorist groups,” he said.
The United States, a State Department official said, is aware of media reports regarding Pakistan’s ordered release of Saeed from the house arrest. In May 2008, the United States Department of the Treasury designated Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224.
Saeed was also individually designated by the United Nations under UNSCR 1267 (UN Security Council Resolution) in December 2008 following the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The LeT and several of its front organisations, leaders, and operatives remain under both State Department and Treasury Department sanctions, the State Department has said.
“The United States reiterates its stance that LeT is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organisation responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, including a number of American citizens,” a state department spokesperson said.