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India Criticizes Pakistan for Releasing Militant Leader - 2002-12-14

India has strongly criticized Pakistan for releasing the leader of a hard-line Islamic militant group. New Delhi blames him for sponsoring a string of militant attacks. A Lahore court has ordered the release of the leader of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad group.

India's foreign ministry has accused Pakistani authorities of not pursuing an investigation and charges against Maulana Masood Azhar with any seriousness.

The Lahore High Court ordered Mr. Azhar's release from house arrest, saying Pakistani authorities had failed to produce sufficient evidence to warrant his detention.

Mr. Azhar was detained in Pakistan last December shortly after an attack by suspected Islamic militants on the Indian parliament. New Delhi had accused the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba groups of sponsoring that attack.

Islamabad strongly denied any link to the deadly raid on the Indian parliament or the militant groups. It also banned the two hard-line groups and arrested their leaders.

Mr. Azhar's release comes a day after India observed the anniversary of the attack on its parliament. Foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna says the release of the militant leader reveals Pakistan's links to the two groups. "This is not surprising since it is well known that it is the Pakistani state and its agencies which have been involved in the building-up of terrorist structures such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba," he said.

India had earlier reacted strongly when the founder and former leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, was released by a Pakistani court last month.

The Indian foreign ministry spokesperson, Mr. Sarna, says the global battle against terrorism cannot succeed until the international community ignores what New Delhi called Pakistan's use of "terrorism as an instrument of state policy." "It is well known that al-Qaida and Taleban remnants are largely based in Pakistan, which is the epicenter for terrorism in the world," said Navtej Sarna. "Any strategy which seeks to ignore Pakistan's involvement with and sponsorship of terrorism and focuses even for a short term only on the unwilling and limited support provided in search for a few of the hardcore al-Qaida, will never see long term victory against the hydra-headed monster of terrorism."

Islamabad is a close ally in the U.S.-led war against terrorism, and strongly denies Indian allegations of supporting or sponsoring Islamic militants.

India Saturday also claimed to have found a Pakistani-made surface-to-air missile at a militant hide-out in Kashmir.