For Saeed, the court is friendly territory. It cleared him in 2009 of charges that he masterminded the attacks that killed 166 people in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, the year before. He was also exonerated by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which declared that “the India lobby” ginned up the charges.
Saeed’s ability to evade U.S. and Indian calls for his arrest for almost four years can be attributed, observers say, to the dysfunction of Pakistan’s civilian and judicial institutions, which are nominally independent but subject to strong-arming by the powerful military.
Now the bounty on Saeed is playing into negotiations by the United States to restore its relationship with Pakistan, whose cooperation Washington needs to prosecute the war in Afghanistan and withdraw its troops.
The bounty announcement intensified the passionate anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis — from members of conservative religious parties to mainstream politicians — joined Saeed in decrying the bounty as a sop to historical adversary India and another example of U.S. meddling in sovereign affairs.
“Saeed appears to have gotten a public boost from it,” said American University professor Stephen Tankel, author of “Storming the World Stage,” a book about Lashkar-i-Taiba.
Before he was designated a top-tier terrorist in the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program this month, Saeed had irritated the United States with his vociferous campaign against the reopening of NATO supply routes through Pakistani territory; the routes were closed after U.S. airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
Parliament recently approved the convoys, which are expected to resume shortly. Now Saeed has called for mass civil disobedience in which followers would use their bodies to block the trucks and oil tankers.
Among Pakistanis, Saeed has built goodwill through his Lahore-based Jamaat-ud-Dawa, or Party of Truth, which operates schools, poverty-relief programs and health clinics.
The United States has also designated Jamaat-ud-Dawa as an international terrorist organization, but it is not banned in Pakistan. Saeed says it is a social welfare group that has nothing to do with Lashkar-i-Taiba.
Saeed enjoys the support of several pro-Taliban religious leaders and groups organized under the banner of the increasingly influential Defense of Pakistan Council, which serves as an outlet for Pakistani anger over CIA drone strikes in the country’s tribal territories and the war in Afghanistan.