Pakistan Court Orders Release of 2008 Mumbai Attack Suspect

Updated on
  • Hafiz Saeed to be released from house arrest Thursday
  • Saeed accused of heading militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba

Pakistani police officials escort Hafiz Saeed as he arrives at a court in Lahore on Nov. 22, 2017.

Photographer: ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images

A Pakistan High Court ordered the release of Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, in a further blow for Pakistan and Indian relations.

Saeed, who was present in court amid tight security, is scheduled to be released on Thursday from house arrest after a three-judge panel in Lahore rejected a plea from Pakistan’s government for a month extension, his spokesman Habibullah Qamar said. Despite the U.S. and India accusing Saeed of planning the assault on Mumbai, he has consistently denied any involvement.

Saeed’s detention in Lahore since January was initially interpreted as an attempt to placate the U.S., which has recently taken a harsher tone on Pakistan since the election of President Donald Trump and has accused it of continuing to harbor terrorist outfits. Saeed has never been charged despite being detained multiple times in Pakistan. Saeed heads Islamic charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which the U.S. says is a front for militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“It’s a unanimous decision that indicates the detention was baseless and illegal,” Qamar said by phone from Lahore.

‘Very Suspicious’

The release of Saeed suggests Pakistan’s military, which has controlled the nation for much of its 70-year history, is once again asserting control over the country’s civilian authorities and that terrorism suspects will not be genuinely prosecuted by Islamabad, said Harsh Pant, an international relations professor at King’s College London. 

Since a September by-election in Lahore, where a number of right-wing religious groups strongly campaigned for independent candidates, Pakistan’s military has been accused of so-called “mainstreaming” extremist outfits and re-branding them as political entities to contest elections -- a charge the armed forces refute. Elements of the armed forces have historically fostered ties with insurgents targeting neighboring Afghanistan and India.

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“The whole process looks very suspicious, it doesn’t look like there was ever a serious process underway,” Pant said. “In some sense, this justifies the Trump administration’s harder approach on Pakistan.”

Major General Asif Ghafoor, the military’s main spokesman, didn’t answer calls seeking comment. India’s foreign ministry didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Low Ebb

With Beijing financing more than $55 billion of Pakistani infrastructure projects as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, some analysts have suggested that Pakistan can to some extent ignore pressure from the U.S.

India-Pakistan relations are already at a low ebb, particularly under the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, but this will reinforce the view from New Delhi that peace talks would be pointless while the military is allegedly overpowering civilian institutions, Pant said.

The point the Indian “government has been making is, who do we talk to?” he said. Pakistan’s “civil-military relations are at the point where the civilians seem to have completely lost the plot and the military is reasserting itself.”

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