Hours after Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, who guided 10 Lashkar-e-Toiba gunmen from a control room during the 26/11 Mumbai attack, walked free Friday, India lodged a strong protest with Pakistan, calling it the “most negative development” in bilateral relations.
Pakistan, in response, asked India not to cast aspersions on its commitment to fighting terrorism and blamed New Delhi for “inordinate delay” in extending cooperation which, it claimed, weakened the prosecution’s case.
Lakhvi, 55, mastermind of the nearly 60-hour siege, was released from Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi after authorities received the order from the Lahore High Court. The LeT operations commander had been under detention for six years.
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The Indian high commissioner in Islamabad, T C A Raghavan, lodged a protest with the Pakistan foreign ministry, telling the Pakistan foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry that this is the “most negative development” in bilateral relations between two countries. This is the sixth time the Indian government has reacted sharply since December last year, when a Lahore court ordered Lakhvi’s release.
External Affairs Ministry’s official spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin, in a statement issued from France, said, “Our high commissioner has registered our strong concerns with the foreign secretary of Pakistan at the release of a principal accused in the Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008. He underlined that this has reinforced the perception that Pakistan has a dual policy on dealing with terrorists and that those who have carried out attacks or are posing a threat to India are being dealt with differently. He also emphasised that this is a most negative development in so far as bilateral ties are concerned.”
Home Minister Rajnath Singh called it an “unfortunate and disappointing” development and said such decisions affect mutual relations between the two countries.
“India wants talks with Pakistan but the present development is unfortunate and disappointing,” he told reporters in Lucknow. “Such decisions affect mutual relations between two countries,” he added.
A member of Lakhvi’s legal team submitted Friday the Lahore High Court order to the jail authorities and they subsequently released him at 1.40 pm.The Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson Tasneem Aslam reacted to India’s criticism, saying that an “inordinate delay” in extending cooperation by India weakened the prosecution.
“The case of Mumbai attack suspects is sub judice. It would not be proper to cast aspersions on Pakistan’s commitment to countering terrorism at a time when Pakistan has entered a critical stage of defeating the menace of terrorism. As I had mentioned earlier also, inordinate delay in extending cooperation by India complicated the case and weakened the prosecution. We respect the judicial process and are confident that it would serve the interest of justice,” she said.
In Rawalpindi, Jamaat-ud-Dawa supporters were present outside the prison to receive Lakhvi. Some four to five cars reached outside the Adiala Jail at around 1 pm and as soon Lakhvi came out of the jail, he got into his car and left for his Islamabad residence.
JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid did not offer any comment on Lakhvi’s release when PTI contacted him.
“We have released Lakhvi after a member of his legal team presented the LHC order. There has been no direction from the government to either detain or release him,” a jail official told PTI.
On Thursday, the Lahore High Court had suspended the Punjab government’s order to detain Lakhvi under a security act and ordered his immediate release.
Earlier in the day, the government’s legal team discussed several options to keep Lakhvi behind the bars. However, it could not offer any legal ground to further detain him.
A government law officer earlier said it was difficult for the government to go for the option of detaining Lakhvi again under the Maintenance of Public Order which had been suspended twice by the Islamabad High Court and Lahore High Court.
Lakhvi’s counsel Raja Rizwan Abbasi said, “The government was left with no other ‘legal option’ but to release (Lakhvi) after the LHC suspended his detention. Neither the government nor the Adiala Jail authorities could violate the court’s order this time.”
Lakhvi and six others have been charged with planning and executing the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 166 people and wounded over 300 others.
A close relative of LeT founder and JuD chief Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi was arrested in December 2008 and was indicted along with the six others on November 25, 2009 in connection with the 26/11 attack case. The trial has been underway since 2009.
With PTI inputs