WASHINGTON - Anti-terrorism analysts in Washington and New Delhi are critical of Pakistan's decision to release a man accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed 160, but some say they are not surprised by the move. U.S. officials say Hafiz Saeed is a terrorist.
He was set free by Pakistani authorities after 11 months of house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore on Friday. Earlier last week, a judicial panel of Lahore High Court said there was not enough evidence to continue Saeed’s detention.
While the news of Saeed’s release has caught worldwide attention, some experts on South Asian affairs say Pakistan's move was bound to happen - sooner or later. “I see Saeed's release as totally unsurprising. This is a story that's played out multiple times in recent history: He is put under house arrest only to be released,” Michael Kugelman, a Washington-based South Asian analyst associated with the Woodrow Wilson Center told VOA.
“Pakistani legal authorities had said all along that there was not sufficient evidence to keep him detained, so it was just a matter of time before he was released,” Kugelman added.
Hafiz Saeed is the head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa group (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat foundation (FIF), both of which have been declared terrorist organizations by the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council. Jamaat-ud-Dawa is widely believed to be the front of Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) which was included into the U.N.’s terrorist groups list in 2005.
US ‘deeply concerned’
U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Saeed should be arrested and charged for his crimes. “The United States is deeply concerned that Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Saeed has been released from the house arrest in Pakistan. LeT is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians in terrorist attacks, including a number of American citizens,” Nauert said.
India, which alleges Saeed was mastermind of Mumbai carnage in 2008, has also reacted strongly to his release. India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said that a “self-confessed and U.N.-proscribed terrorist was being allowed to walk free and continue with his evil agenda.”
Some political analysts in India also seem to be agitated by Saeed’s release and say it will only further complicate the already strained relations between the two rival nations.
“His release only reinforces the popular belief in India that the Pakistani establishment is either not interested or it’s incapable of putting Saeed on trial in the Mumbai case,” Vinod Sharma, Delhi based political editor of the Hindustan Times told VOA. “In either case it increases the trust deficit between the two countries."
Insufficient evidence, says Pakistan
Lawmakers in Pakistan dismiss the allegations and maintain India and the U.S. provided insufficient evidence to put Hafiz Saeed behind bars or declare him a terrorist.
“The criticism by the United States is wrong and India’s anger makes no sense as Pakistan is a democratic country where courts are powerful and work with full authority,” Abdul Qayyum, a prominent member of the ruling party PML-N told VOA. “Until and unless there is solid evidence against Hafiz Saeed, how can you arrest or punish him? We have strict rules for terrorists and we do not spare them at any cost,” Qayyum added.
Some experts on South Asian affairs point out that Hafiz Saeed’s release orders came out within days after the U.S. Congress removed a provision from the National Defense Authorization Act 2018 that delinks Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) from the Haqqani Network to reimburse Pakistan for its cooperation in the war on terror.
Ashley Tellis, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington called the amendment an “unfortunate move." "It will give Pakistan a way to differentiate between good and bad terrorists and they will make less effort to satisfy the United States against the war on terror,” Tellis told VOA.
Aman Azhar of VOA's Urdu Service contributed to this report.