Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi could walk free any time. Sushant Singh explains the case against the Lashkar operations commander, and what his release means.
What has the Islamabad High Court ordered?
Justice Noorul Haq N Qureshi has declared the detention of the 26/11 attacks mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi illegal and an infringement of the fundamental rights of a Pakistani citizen, and ordered his release. A Pakistani can’t be detained under external pressure, the court said.
How did the matter reach the IHC?
The Islamabad administration issued the detention orders under Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Act last December, and subsequently extended it thrice. The IHC suspended the order on December 29, but the federal government appealed, which was upheld by the Pakistan Supreme Court on January 7. The court directed the IHC to decide the matter after hearing the federal government.
What does Friday’s order mean?
Once the order is served before the superintendent of Adiala Jail where Lakhvi is being held, the authorities will be bound to release him. Lakhvi has already got bail in both the cases he faces: the Mumbai terror attacks, and a six-year-old case on the kidnapping of an Afghan national. On March 2, the IHC had directed the Pak government not to register any new case against Lakhvi without informing the court. This rules out further use of the MPO Act — unless the government goes back to the Supreme Court. If the top court is not approached immediately, Lakhvi is likely to walk in the next 48-72 hours.
Did the IHC take note of India’s concerns in the case?
Arguing for the federal government, Pakistan’s Additional Attorney General Afnan Karim Kundi had told IHC that Pakistan was facing pressure from 13 countries, including India, over Lakhvi, and that his release could hit ties with other countries. Kundi also submitted some “classified documents” on Tuesday, but the court declined to take cognizance of them, and upheld the objection of Lakhvi’s counsel that the statements submitted by India were in Hindi.
What is the status of the 26/11 case now?
Pakistan took Lakhvi and other suspects into custody in February 2009 for “facilitating” the attacks. In 2009, the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) registered an FIR against Lakhvi and six others: Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hamad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younis Anjum. In August 2009, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali — who was prosecutor in the Benazir assassination case — was appointed special prosecutor, and Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry was appointed senior prosecutor. On May 3, 2013, Chaudhry Zulfiqar was murdered, and FIA handed his job to Abuzar Hasnain Pirzada.
The judge of the anti-terrorism court has been changed eight times since the trial began in 2009, with the last judge taking charge in January 2015. The FIA has confessed that prosecuting a commander of Lashkar-e-Toiba is “difficult” — in a petition seeking cancellation of bail, the special prosecutor said, “The fact remained that being the prosecution in such cases has been the most difficult job in our country for the last many years… The learned trial judge (of the anti-terror court) after the terrorist attack on Islamabad courts (in March 2013) refused to visit Adiala Jail for a long time due to security reasons. Even the prosecutors of this case have been receiving threats through cell phones… Witnesses are also not secured, and reluctant to depose against the accused persons…”
What was Lakhvi’s role in 26/11?
He was one of the 35 wanted accused named in the Mumbai Police chargesheet. The first page of the document stresses that Lakhvi is “listed [by the UN Security Council] as the (LeT) terror group’s chief of anti-India operations”. The chargesheet accuses Lakhvi of “abetting in executing these attacks after military precision-like planning and training between December 2007 to November 2008.” He is named as one of 15 key trainers of the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai. Ajmal Kasab identified him as the man who briefed the assault team in LeT camps near Muzaffarabad and Azizabad. He described Lakhvi as the most important person in the LeT, and the mastermind of the Mumbai operation.
Lakhvi had instructed the terrorists to plant RDX around their targets, so that the blasts could cause traffic jams, and kill many, including policemen. He was allegedly present at the LeT media wing control room when Kasab and the others were shown the roads leading to their targets on a large screen. He also told them to contact the media from Nariman House, Oberoi and Taj on mobile phones.
In his confessional statement, Syed Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, who was deported from Saudi Arabia in June 2012, said Lakhvi was in the LeT control room in Karachi, passing on tactical instructions to the assault team. Lakhvi was allegedly also the handler of David Coleman Headley, who scoped out Mumbai for the attacks.