Saturday, March 14, 2015

Daily Times Editorial March 15, 2015

Lakhvi furore The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has struck down the detention order of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, accused of being the mastermind behind the November 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. The background to this development bears keeping in mind. Despite the passage of more than six years, the case has not been brought to conclusion. Naturally this has caused angst in New Delhi and, until recently, was the main obstacle in the restart of the Pakistan-India dialogue. India has time and again voiced its suspicion that the Pakistani authorities have not pursued the case with any consistency or vigour despite necessary evidence being provided by New Delhi. Pakistan denies this and argues the difficulties in the investigation, including alleged non-cooperation from India in gathering evidence has slowed down progress in the matter. The declaration by the IHC that the extension of the detention orders under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) for the third month in succession was unsustainable since despite repeated orders, the prosecution had failed to submit evidence to justify Lakhvi’s detention, has sparked off a diplomatic row between Pakistan and India. India was first off the starting blocks by summoning the Pakistani High Commissioner to register its strong protest at the IHC decision. Pakistan retaliated by summoning the Indian Deputy High Commissioner to deliver its broadside, including objecting to New Delhi’s hype on the issue, failure to address the same through normal diplomatic channels and lack of progress in the Samjhauta Express bombing case. This tit-for-tat script is so old and tired that even familiarity breeding contempt is too mild a description. Lakhvi and six other suspects were taken into custody in the wake of the Mumbai attacks in February 2009. Allegations were rife at the time that Ajmal Kasab and his companions carrying out the Mumbai attacks were being ‘handled’ from Pakistani soil. The case has seen more than its share of twists and turns. On May 3, 2013, the special prosecutor in the case, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, appointed in August 2009, was assassinated in Islamabad. The perpetrators have not been found to date. It would appear logical that the assassination produced a reluctance amongst the lawyers’ community to be associated with the prosecution of the case. While the case hung in limbo as a result, an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Islamabad saw fit to release Lakhvi on bail on December 18, 2014, just two days after the massacre of schoolchildren in the Army Public School in Peshawar. India and some other countries took grave exception to this development. Arguably, this is what forced the government to resort to the detention orders under MPO. On December 29, 20104, the IHC suspended the detention order, but the Supreme Court (SC) on January 7, 2015 restored it with the direction to the IHC to decide the matter only after hearing the federal government. Unfortunately, the ineptness with which the state prosecutors have pursued the case continued and provided the IHC with the justification for finally striking down the detention order. Of course, there is every likelihood of the decision being challenged in the IHC and the SC, but the damage to the infinitesimal forward movement in the Pakistan-India dialogue hoped for after the Indian foreign secretary’s recent visit to Islamabad has once again been thrown into doubt. It may also be recalled in passing that an appeal against the ATC bail decision is still pending in the IHC. The failure to prosecute Lakhvi and his collaborators of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, of which Lakhvi is the operations commander, is not only a failure of the previous PPP-led and the present PML-N governments, it is a failure of the state. When the bail and suspension of detention orders emerged, the government’s response was to resurrect a six-year-old kidnapping case against Lakhvi to prevent him walking free. This, in the words of the IHC, was a transparent attempt to keep Lakhvi behind bars. Pakistan needs to wake up to the fact that the dragging on without closure of the Lakhvi et al case risks not only Pakistan-India attempts to resolve their long standing and intractable issues and proceed towards normalisation and good neighbourly relations, all of which are crucial to the future of both countries, South Asia and further abroad, it is likely to invite the ire of other countries too. The US State Department spokesperson has already seen fit to ‘remind’ Pakistan of its commitment to prosecute the case to a satisfactory conclusion. It boggles the mind to think that Lakhvi and company, perhaps because they still enjoy the ‘patronage’ of powerful institutions, can hold Pakistan, India, and the world hostage to their nefarious and malign actions and purposes.

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