Karachi: A Pakistani court ordered authorities to end the house arrest of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a banned charity allegedly linked to the militant group blamed for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The court said house arrest is against the law and ordered his immediate release, A.K. Dogar, Saeed’s lawyer, told reporters outside the Lahore high court on Tuesday.
Saeed’s release may heighten tensions between India and Pakistan at a time when Islamabad is battling a Taliban insurgency near its western border with Afghanistan. India has demanded the extradition of those behind the attacks and frozen peace talks with the nuclear-armed neighbour until it shows determination in tackling terrorism.
“We are unhappy that Pakistan has not shown the degree of seriousness and commitment that it should to bring to justice the perpetrators of the (Mumbai) crime,” Indian home minister P. Chidambaram told reporters in New Delhi on Tuesday. He said the development would not have any impact on India’s investigations into the Mumbai attacks.
Back in action: A file photo of police escorting Hafiz Muhammad Saeed (in white cap) outside a court as he leaves after a hearing in Lahore. Saeed’s release may heighten tensions between India and Pakistan. Arif Ali / AFP
“We have been helping India and have asked them to provide material relating to the investigation in English,” said Abdul Basit, spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry. Interior minister Rehman Malik said Saeed’s release won’t affect their Mumbai investigation, GEO television reported, without saying where it got the information.
This is a cycle Pakistan goes through every time, said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management, a New Delhi-based research group. It makes a few showcase arrests, makes sure no case is made against these people and gets them released through the court process.
Pakistani authorities on Tuesday said they planned to move the Supreme Court against the high court’s order.
Rana Sanaullah, the law minister of Punjab province, indicated a review petition would be filed against the decision to free Saeed and his close aide Colonel (retd) Nazir Ahmed.
Pakistan banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa in December, ordering police to seal its offices, put its members under house arrest and freeze bank accounts. A United Nations Security Council panel last year placed sanctions on four members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group accused of plotting the Mumbai attack, and said Jamaat-ud-Dawa was one of its front organizations.
India must join Pakistan in eliminating these elements because they are a common enemy to both as well as the international community, said Ishtiaq Ahmed, professor of international relations at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. One cannot expect Pakistan to go after these elements individually.
Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called on Tuesday for the resumption of talks with India aimed at a resolution of the issue of Kashmir, the Himalayan territory that’s at the centre of the dispute between the two nations. The Kashmir dispute holds the key to peace in the region, he said on Tuesday in Islamabad.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, divided between the two and claimed by both.
The attacks by 10 Pakistani gunmen on Mumbai in November killed 183 people and raised tensions afresh in the region. The trial of the sole gunman to survive the three-day siege last November, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, is under way in a court room inside a jail in Mumbai. Kasab, a Pakistani, has pleaded not guilty to charges of waging war and seeking to destabilize the government.
Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, identified by India as the chief plotter of the attack, and Saeed, Lashkar’s founder, were among the four men listed for sanctions, including an asset freeze and travel ban, according to the US state department. The Security Council’s Al Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee, acting after requests from India and the US, described the Pakistan-based charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa as an alias for Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Lakhvi is among at least 16 people arrested by Pakistani authorities after the 26-29 November assault on Mumbai.
Mint’s Liz Mathew, PTI and Mark Williams and Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi and Jay Shankar in Bangalore contributed to this story.