Islamabad: Underlining that it cannot take action against Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafeez Saeed in the absence of concrete proof, Pakistan on Thursday said that even the US does not possess any evidence linking the Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief to terrorism.
Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said it was "strange" that the US State Department had offered a bounty of millions of dollars for evidence and information against Saeed and his deputy, Abdul Rahman Makki.
The clarification about the bounty issued by the State Department spokesman yesterday made it clear that "even the US does not possess evidence against the two individuals," he said.
"We have clearly stated our position that there is no concrete evidence (against Saeed). Pakistan would prefer to have concrete evidence to initiate a legal process but in the absence of that, we cannot do anything," Basit said during the weekly news briefing that was dominated by questions about the bounty for Saeed.
The US has offered a reward of $10 million for Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Toiba that was blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and a bounty of $2 million for Makki.
Pakistan on Wednesday sought "concrete evidence" against the two men from the US. Basit refused to be drawn out on the purpose of the US bounties and whether the move was aimed at influencing Pakistan's ongoing parliamentary review of its relationship with the US.
The review was ordered by the government after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a cross-border NATO air strike last year. A joint session of parliament is debating new terms of engagement with the US.
"Obviously, Pakistan would not come under any pressure because ours is a principled and legal position," Basit said. Pakistan believes the US has "respect for our judicial system" and both countries "should be mindful of each other's limitations", he added.
In response to a question, Basit said he was not aware if there is a provision for offering a bounty under international law. "A national government can take any step that is not in violation of the international law. I am not sure whether a bounty is covered under international law," he added.
Basit refused to state whether Saeed had figured in discussions yesterday between Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, saying only that the two leaders had discussed "all issues".
Issues such as the bounty for Saeed "have to be addressed through a legal procedure" and it is not "desirable to get into public discussion" on such matters, the spokesman said.
The spokesman also shot down the impression that the US and Pakistan could reach some sort of tacit understanding on Saeed on the lines of the agreement on drone strikes that was finalised under the previous military regime.
"When we say that we do not have any concrete evidence to proceed legally against any individual, I do not see any discrepancy. The government of Pakistan cannot proceed against any individual without undeniable evidence. I see no discrepancy or dichotomy in our stated position and what we have actually been saying to the US," Basit said.
The spokesman refused to comment on former CIA official Bruce Riedel's claim that Saeed had been in contact with Osama bin Laden before the al Qaeda leader was killed in a US raid in Abbottabad in May 2011.
The Pakistan government could not act "on the basis of speculation and hearsay when it comes to legal matters", he remarked.
Saeed, who has for long been accused of having close links to the security establishment, on Wednesday dared the US to carry out a raid against him like the one that killed bin Laden.
Addressing a news conference at a hotel near the Pakistan Army's headquarters in Rawalpindi, Saeed taunted the US to hand over the bounty to him as he himself could inform American authorities about his whereabouts.
Unlike other terrorists for whom bounties have been offered under the US Rewards for Justice programme, Saeed and Makki are not in hiding. Over the past few months, Saeed has participated in several rallies organised against the US and India by the Defa-e-Pakistan Council, a grouping of over 40 hardline and extremist organisations.