New Delhi: The Judicial Review Board of Pakistan’s Punjab province on Wednesday ordered the release from house arrest of Hafiz Saeed, head of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorist group and the man accused by India of being the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Saeed and four of his aides were put under house arrest in January for 90 days under local laws by the Punjab provincial government in Pakistan.
Speculation was then rife that this was due to fears that the new Trump administration in the US would be acting tough against terrorism and states harbouring terrorists. In a major foreign policy speech on South Asia and Afghanistan in August, US President Donald Trump slammed Pakistan as a “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror" and said that 20 US designated foreign terrorist organizations were active in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region—the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world.
Saeed’s house arrest was then extended several times but his four aides were set free by the court last month.
Saeed’s Jamaat-ud Dawah (JuD) was declared as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US in June 2014. The JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the banned LeT. The US has also put a $10 million bounty on Saeed’s head.
On Wedneday, the Judicial Review Board rejected a Punjab government plea to extend Saeed’s detention for another three months and ordered his release.
“The government is ordered to release JuD (Jamaat -ud- Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed if he is not wanted in any other case," the board said.
Last month, the board had allowed a 30-day extension on the detention of Saeed. The board’s order paves the way for Saeed’s release though Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani political and military analyst was of the view that the Punjab government could still press a case for his further detention if it wanted.
“It is possible for the Punjab government to present evidence that the board demanded to ensure the detention of Hafiz Saeed," Rizvi said by phone from Pakistan. “At any rate, Saeed is not expected to walk free before 24-48 hours," he said.
Previously, the Punjab government’s home department had said that JuD had planned to spread chaos in the country and should therefore be detained under house arrest.
On Tuesday, an official in Pakistan’s Punjab government told the judicial board that Saeed’s release could mean the imposition of international sanctions on Islamabad.
“We plead the board not to order release of Saeed as Pakistan may face international sanctions," the Punjab government official was quoted as saying by PTI.
New Delhi did not officially reacted to Saeed’s possible release from house arrest.