Pakistan's Supreme Court OKs release of militant linked to Mumbai attacks

Pakistan's highest court today upheld a decision to release Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, whom India says masterminded the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

K.M. Chaudary/AP/File
Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, center, leader of an Islamic charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, leaves under tight security after appearing before the judicial review board of High Court in Lahore, Pakistan on May 5, 2009. Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s decision to free the leader linked to the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s decision to free the leader of a militant group whom India blames for masterminding the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, leader of banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its charitable arm the Jamat-ud-Dawa, was placed under house arrest a month after the Mumbai attacks that left 160 dead in the Indian financial capital. But he was released a year ago by the provincial Lahore High Court on the grounds of insufficient evidence, which led the government to appeal the decision.

Tuesday’s decision provoked an immediate outcry in India, and will be seen as a setback for ties between the countries, which are slowly mending following an informal meeting between prime ministers Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani at the sidelines of the South Asian Association For Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Thimpu, Bhutan, last month.

“India hopes Pakistan will take meaningful action against Saeed. We are disappointed over at Saeed being let off by Pakistan," said Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao at a press conference in Delhi.

Pakistan has a long history of first arresting and then later releasing militant leaders when it feels they can be of use to its strategic aims, according to many analysts. But Tuesday’s decision was probably sound from a legal point of view, according to legal experts here.

Ahmed Bilal Soofi, a Supreme Court advocate and expert on international law, says the verdict comes as “no surprise,” as the prosecution was hampered by a lack of admissible evidence.

“Transnational crime prosecution between two countries is a very challenging assignment. Regrettably, in Pakistan as well as in India, there is no effective legislation for Mutual Legal Assistance, and the ultimate beneficiaries are the terrorists,” he says, referring to formal legal agreements between countries that govern how they will cooperate in criminal and public cases.

Pakistani courts deemed reams of documents and photographs handed over by the Indian government as inadmissible, on the basis that Indian authorities had failed to follow their India's legal procedures for confirming the veracity of that evidence.

The prosecution’s case was further complicated by the fact that a confession by Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving gunman from the Mumbai attacks, which implicated Hafiz Saeed, was later withdrawn. An Indian court sentenced Kasab to death earlier this month.

Mr. Soofi foresees similar difficulties in prosecuting Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a founding member of LeT, who is currently undergoing trial at an antiterror court along with six other suspects for his alleged role in the Mumbai attacks.

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