Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed's release has raised questions about the efficacy of Pakistan's campaign against terror and the adequacy of the country's legal framework for dealing with militant leaders, the Pakistani media said on Thursday.
Saeed and his aide Colonel (retired) Nazir Ahmed were freed by the Lahore High Court on Tuesday, nearly six months after they were detained in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. The court said the government had not produced any evidence that showed the need to detain Saeed. "The release of Hafiz Saeed raises many questions about the sincerity and efficacy of the state in quashing jehadi networks that operate on its soil," the influential Dawn newspaper said in an editorial titled "Wanted: better laws". It noted that the court was "left with little option" as the government had relied on "weak grounds" for seeking an extension of Saeed's detention. "At the heart of the issue here is really the question of whether Pakistan's legal framework is adequate for dealing with men such as Saeed who are the ideological leaders and figureheads of groups which may be engaged in terrorist activities either abroad or on Pakistani soil," the Dawn said. "Do we have the laws that can put such people out of business while acknowledging the difficulty of tracing any particular crime to a group's top leadership? It appears not".
The Daily Times said the government told the court that Saeed was put under house arrest in pursuance of a UN resolution, which only required freezing JuD's assets and banning its members from travelling abroad rather than detaining them. It noted that Saeed had founded the LeT in 1985 and was blamed for attacks in Mumbai and Delhi in 2003, 2005 and 2008.
The LeT was banned by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2002, following which Saeed renamed it the JuD. In August 2006, Saeed was detained as head of JuD, was later released. The News daily, in its editorial, said Saeed was freed after being arrested in 2006 because no charges had been brought against him. "It is of course quite possible that Indian accusations against (LeT) are wholly inaccurate, but then we must ask why two governments in Pakistan acted to ban it. They must, we assume, have had some evidence at hand when they did so," it added. This evidence, it said, needs to be produced before people. "We must tackle terror wherever it exists. This is also key to eliminating groups that fuel it and by doing so distancing them from people who still have doubts about their role". The daily said the "failure to prove charges against men accused of involvement in violence in the past has been a key factor in their growth".
"One can only wonder why it has proved so difficult to nab a man who is accused of heading organisations involved in multiple terrorist attacks," said the Daily Times. The News said it was up to law enforcement agencies to "explain why they have been unable to produce no charges at all against a man for whom full-fledged raids were conducted under the full glare of TV cameras late last year". The Dawn also highlighted need for Pakistan's parliament to debate efficacy of existing anti-terror legislation and to draw up a new set of laws that would help prosecute militant leaders like Taliban commanders Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah.
Referring to India's unhappiness at the release of Saeed and his aides, the daily said the development "sends a bad sign that the government here is perhaps not up to the task of prosecuting them even if evidence is adduced". "The Pakistan government must urgently explain what it plans to do next, or else risk losing another opportunity for peace now that elections have concluded in India," it added. The Daily Times said Saeed's release reflected "a clash between politics and requirements of justice" and would lead to negative international political repercussions. It added: "It is moot whether the state even intended to go through with the process without endangering government, but the bare fact is that international political repercussions will be negative, getting worse as Pakistan proves incompetent to fulfil the other requirements of (UN SC) Resolution 1267 that the court has not rejected".