A three-member bench of the Lahore High Court held that the house arrest of Professor Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the Amir of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the political wing of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, and his associate Colonel (retired) Nazir Ahmed illegal and ordered their release on Tuesday. The court has not yet given the reasons for its order. These will be announced later.
In the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist strike, carried out by 10 terrorists of the LeT, the government of Pakistan took two actions. It ordered the arrest of five members of the LeT against whom specific evidence had been produced by the government of India. It was reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had also collected independence evidence against them. A case against them has been registered for investigation and prosecution and their judicial remand is being extended from time to time by an anti-terrorism court of Islamabad. A charge-sheet against them is yet to be filed. Only when the Pakistani authorities do so, can one say definitely how serious they are about their intention to prosecute them and get them convicted.
The second action was the placing Saeed and Nazir Ahmed under house arrest not on the ground of their involvement in the Mumbai attack, but on the ground that they belonged to an organisation, which had been designated by the counter-terrorism sanctions committee of the UN Security Council as a terrorist organisation. While placing them under house arrest, the government did not officially ban their organisation as a terrorist set-up.
The review board set up by the government to review the legality of the house arrests had upheld the government decision. However, Saeed and Ahmed had challenged their house arrest as illegal before the Lahore High Court. Their lawyer appealed to the court to set aside their house arrest on two grounds. The first was that they were not supplied with the grounds of their house arrest as required under the law within the time-limit laid down. This vitiated the procedure followed. The second ground was that the government had passed its order of house arrest purely on the basis of the resolution of the UN sanctions committee, without any independent evidence of its own necessitating their house arrest.
In response to these arguments, the government contended that it had independent evidence, including evidence of the LeT's links with Al Qaeda, and showed the evidence privately to the bench without sharing it with the lawyers of Saeed and his associate. The lawyers held this also as illegal since their clients had been deprived of their right to know all the grounds for their house arrest including the evidence on which they were based.
It is after considering these arguments that the court has passed the orders for their release. From the way the case was handled from the beginning, it was evident that the government, while acting against those LeT operatives whose involvement in the Mumbai attack was not deniable, wanted to protect Saeed, his organisation and their terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory. The whole case was handled in such a manner as to make their release by the court inevitable.
Reports regarding the equal lack of seriousness seen in the other case too against five operatives of the LeT for their involvement in the Mumbai attack make it likely that the second case might also meet with a similar fate.
International pressure made Pakistan act against Saeed and Nazir Ahmed as well as the five involved in the Mumbai attack. Now, the Pakistan government calculates that the international pressure will be less because of the appreciation for the strong action it has supposedly taken against the Taliban, which is of greater concern to the US and the West than the LeT. It hopes to take advantage of this for once again ensuring that the LeT and its capability for terrorism against India remain unimpaired.
Even if it tries to pass a fresh order of house arrest against Saeed and Ahmed in order to quieten concerns in the West, its intentions and sincerity will continue to be suspect.