White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Saturday announced that the US “strongly condemns” the release from house arrest of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a Muslim cleric believed to be the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which 164 civilians perished, including six occupants of the local Chabad House.
President Donald Trump has accused Pakistan of harboring “agents of chaos,” and warned Pakistan to change its behavior or face tough US measures.
Huckabee Sanders said Saeed’s release “sends a deeply troubling message about Pakistan’s commitment to combating international terrorism and belies Pakistani claims that it will not provide sanctuary for terrorists on its soil,” adding that, “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.”
Saeed was placed under house arrest in Lahore, Pakistan, in January, in keeping with Pakistan’s antiterrorism laws. But on Friday Pakistani authorities released him after a court rejected a provincial government request to renew his detention for another 90 days.
India considers Saeed one of its most wanted terrorists because of his involvement in the Mumbai attack, as well as a 2006 Mumbai train bombing and a 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. He is listed on India’s National Investigation Agency’s Most Wanted list and his organization is banned in India, as well as in the US, the UK, the EU, Russia, and Australia.
The United States today engages in extensive economic, social, and scientific assistance as well as vital military relations with Pakistan, which is believed to own a stockpile of 80 to 100 nuclear weapons.
Pakistani intelligence has notoriously played a double game, tolerating and even supporting and sheltering terror groups it tries to sic on India and Afghanistan. This duplicitous role was illustrated by the killing of Bin Laden on Pakistani soil – and US suspicion that the Pakistani military and intelligence communities had been sheltering America’s public enemy number one.
Pakistani officials, for their part, have been irate at the US drone strikes that kill Pakistani civilians, and are not prepared to support the US involvement in the region – especially since it is temporary by definition.
But after all was said and done, the US still needs Pakistan in its war in Afghanistan, as well as in its policy of an alliance with the pro-Western and democratic India. And that harsh fact will likely mean the White House may huff and puff, but it can’t afford to bring down the Pakistan-US bilateral alliance.