The US today said it is concerned about the release of Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed from house arrest in Pakistan, but made it clear that this has got nothing to do with the suspension of over USD 1.1 billion in security assistance to Islamabad.
Saeed, the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), was recently released from house arrest. The US has labelled JuD and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) the "terrorist fronts" for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a group Saeed founded in 1987 and which Washington and India blame for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.
"We have certainly expressed our concern about the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks being let out of house arrest in Pakistan. To my knowledge, that has nothing to do with that," State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters at her daily news conference.
Nauert was responding to a question if the suspension of security assistance was related to Saeed's release.
"There is a USD 10 million reward out for information leading to his re-arrest, the person who is the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks who was let go in Pakistan. So we've been very clear about our displeasure with that individual being let go," Nauert said.
A senior State Department official told reporters that the US continues to have conversation with Pakistan not only on the Haqqani network, and Taliban, but also on India-centric terrorist groups like the LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
"We can't continue to have a relationship that has a business as usual with Pakistan. This conversation is not new to this administration. There have been concerns about Pakistan's issue of sanctuaries for the Haqqani network and the Taliban. But we have concerns about their nuclear programme. We have concerns about the ability of anti-India groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish e Mohammed to fundraise and operate," the official who spoke on anonymity said.
"This administration felt that we needed to take additional steps to underscore that we're not going to be able to continue the relationship on autopilot. We can't continue a status quo relationship. We need to be able to move beyond these challenges and put our relationship on a more solid footing," the official said.
Responding to a question, the official disputed the general impression coming out of Pakistan that it will not re-arrest Saeed as being demanded by the US.
"I have not seen them say they're not going to take any of these steps. What the Pakistani government has objected to is our characterisation of the situation on the ground. But I have never heard the Pakistani government say they're not going to re-arrest Hafiz Saeed or they're not going to prosecute him," the official said.