Islamabad: Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, walked out of a Pakistani jail on Friday after a court ordered his release.
India reacted angrily to the development, condemning the release of the operations chief of the banned terror group as an “insult” to the victims of the Mumbai carnage.
Lakhvi was freed from the high-security Adiala Jail in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where he had been held since he was arrested during an army raid on a LeT camp in Muzaffarabad days after the Mumbai attacks.
After an anti-terrorism court conducting the trial of seven men charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks granted bail to 55-year-old Lakhvi in December, Pakistani authorities detained him four times under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) law.
But the orders to detain Lakhvi under the MPO were suspended by both the Islamabad High Court and the Lahore High Court, making it virtually impossible for Pakistani authorities to hold him in prison any longer.
On Thursday, the Lahore High Court suspended Lakhvi’s detention and ordered his release on the payment of a Rs 2 million rupee ($20,000) bond.
There was confusion about the whereabouts of Lakhvi after his release from jail. It could not immediately be ascertained whether he had left with activists of the LeT or Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), a front for the LeT, or had been whisked away by Pakistani intelligence operatives.
Lakhvi was free and “in a secure place”, a senior JuD representative told AFP. “We can’t say exactly where is he at the moment for security reasons,” the representative claimed.
India had repeatedly expressed its concerns over the orders issued by Pakistani courts to free Lakhvi. Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit was even summoned to the external affairs ministry to convey these concerns, but Islamabad claimed the government could not interfere in the actions of the independent judiciary.
After the Lahore High Court issued a fresh order on Thursday to release Lakhvi, external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the move would erode assurances made by Pakistan about tackling terrorism directed against India.
” O ur concerns on this issue have been made known to the Government of Pakistan in the past. These shall be reiterated. The fact is that known terrorists not being effectively prosecuted constitutes a real security threat for India and the world. This also erodes the value of assurances repeatedly conveyed to us with regard to cross border terrorism, ” Akbaruddin said .
Union home minister Rajnath Singh described Lakhvi’s release as a disappointing development. He told reporters: “India wants talks with Pakistan but the present development (Lakhvi’s release) is unfortunate and disappointing.”
Lakhvi and six others have been charged with planning, financing and executing the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people and injured more than 300.
He was initially granted bail by the anti-terrorism court on December 18 last year, two days after a Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar killed 132 children. The attack triggered protests round the world, including in India, and the fact that Lakhvi was granted bail just two days after the atrocity forced the Pakistan government to detain the LeT commander under the MPO law.
Sambit Patra, a spokesman for the ruling BJP, noted that Pakistan did not appear to be prepared to deliver on its solemn pledges to tackle terrorism after the Peshawar school attack.
“Every Indian is disappointed with the decision to release Lakhvi and so is every sane mind in Pakistan…The Indian government will take a befitting step,” Patra said.