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Persistent Mischief: Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi's Arrest & Release

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By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) ‘commander’ and alleged mastermind of the November 26, 2008, Mumbai (Maharashtra, India) terror attacks (also known as 26/11), was released from Adiyala Jail in Rawalpindi, in the Punjab Province of Pakistan, in the night of April 9, 2015. He furnished a PKR two million in surety bonds.

According to Jail authorities, following his release, he was picked up by members of Jama'at-ud-Dawa (JuD), the LeT front organization amid ‘tight security’. His current location is not known. Earlier in the day, the Lahore High Court had dismissed the order of detention issued against him by the Okara District Coordination Officer (DCO) on March 14, 2014.   

Lakhvi was arrested on December 7, 2008, along with six others allegedly involved in the Mumbai attack, and challenged his indictment in the Lahore High Court on December 5, 2009. A bail plea filed by him was dismissed in August 2010, and he continued in Jail – albeit, according to reports, in extraordinary comfort and with a range of perks and privileges that provided him unprecedented access to cadres of his ostensibly banned terrorist group, the LeT. He was granted bail by the Islamabad Anti-Terrorism Court, citing ‘lack of evidence’ on December 18, 2014. Ironically, this was just two days after the December 16, 2014, Army Public School (APS) attack, in which 148 persons, including 135 children were killed, and in the wake of numerous declarations by the country’s political and military leadership that all forms of terrorism would be suppressed in Pakistan. A succession of maneuvers, thereafter, under intense pressure from India and the international community, has kept Lakhvi behind bars since then.

Meanwhile, the LeT founder and JuD 'chief' Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, also a close relative of Lakhvi, has roamed free across the country all these years under direct state patronage. Saeed, who has a USD 10 million US Government bounty on his head, is, according to Pakistani authorities, a “philanthropist”. Pakistan’s Minister for Defence Production, Rana Tanveer Hussain, on January 16, 2015, declared that Pakistan could not ban the JuD led by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed because it is a charitable and not a terrorist organisation. 

Unsurprisingly, despite several reports and claims of a ban on the ‘charitable’ JuD and the Haqqani Network (which operates under Pakistani state support against the Kabul regime in Afghanistan) in the aftermath of the Peshawar APS attack, it was subsequently confirmed that these outfits remained ‘legal’. Federal Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, while clarifying that the Government had not outlawed any group after the APS attack, declared, on February 11, 2015, "Yes we are a signatory to the United Nations (UN) Charter and we will devise a policy on this topic [but] so far, we have only added 10 organisations - proscribed by the UN - to our watch list." Interestingly, the Supreme Court on January 22, 2015, had directed the Federal Government to upload on its websites, details pertaining to terrorist outfits banned by the Government. The Court observed that no such record was available and friendly countries should also be informed in this regard. The Government had earlier claimed that it had banned 63 terrorist outfits, but no record or notification of such a list is in the public domain. It is, however, a fact that similar lists consisting of varying numbers of ‘banned’ terror groups had been released by the National Assembly in the past. It now emerges that all but 10 of these organizations are not banned but merely on a ‘watch list’ which places them under no legal restraint.

Amidst these developments, Islamabad continues with its deceptive posturing. Between December 17, 2014, a day after the APS attack, when the moratorium on execution of death penalties in terrorism-related cases was lifted, and March 10, 2015, when the Government decided to implement the death penalty in all cases, a total of 24 persons were executed. Of these, however, only eight have been involved in terror cases. Between March 10 and till April 10, 2015, another 46 prisoners were executed, of which none were terrorists. The eight terrorists who have been hanged include:

  • Niaz Mohammad, who was executed on December 31, 2014, in Peshawar Central Prison for his involvement in the assassination attempt on the life of then President General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, on December 25, 2003. Niaz was a close aide of Adnan Rasheed, the chief ‘operational commander’ of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)-linked Ansarul Aseer (Helpers of the Prisoners) - a unit which was founded to secure freedom for the imprisoned jihadis by conducting jail-break operations.

  • Ahmed Ali, who belonged to the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), was hanged at the New Central Jail of Multan in Punjab in the early morning of January 7, 2015. A resident of Shorkot, Jhang District, he was handed capital punishment for killing three men in an act of sectarian killing on January 7, 1998.

  • Ghulam Shabbir, also of SSP, was hanged at the New Central Jail of Multan in Punjab in the early morning of January 7, 2015. A resident of the Talamba area of Khanewal District, he had killed Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Anwar Khan and his driver Ghulam Murtaza on the Bohar Gate Road in Multan on August 4, 2000. Charges of sectarian violence were also proved against him.

  • Zulfikar Ali, who was convicted of killing two Policemen near the US Consulate General in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh, was hanged at Adiala jail in Rawalpindi on January 13, 2015. Ali, a resident of Naval Colony, Hub Road, in Karachi, was associated with al Qaeda
    .
  • Mohammad Saeed alias Maulvi was hanged at Karachi Central Jail in the morning of January 14, 2015. Saeed who was associated with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) was awarded the death sentence by Karachi ATC in April 2001 for the killing of DSP (Retd) Syed Sabir Hussain Shah and his son Syed Abid Hussain Shah on sectarian ground in an ambush near the Malir City Railway crossing in 2000. 
  • Ikramul Haq of SSP was hanged at Kot Lakhpat Central Jail, Lahore, in the morning of January 17, 2015. In 2004 an anti-terrorism court in Faisalabad had given him the death sentence in connection with the killing of a man, Nayyar Abbas, at Shorkot area of Jhang District on July 9, 2001. Abbas was a guard of Altaf Shah of the banned Sipah-i-Muhammad at an Imambargah (Shia place of worship) in Shorkot.

  • Mohammad Azam alias Sharif and Attaullah alias Qasim, who belonged to the LeJ, were hanged at the Karachi central prison in the early hours of February 3, 2015. Both Attaullah and Azam were sentenced to death by an ATC in July 2004 for their involvement in the killing of Dr. Ali Raza Peerani on sectarian grounds on June 26, 2001 in the Soldier Bazaar area of Karachi.

None of the terrorists hanged were from leadership ranks.

According to officials of the Ministries of Interior and Law and Justice and Human Rights there were around 8,261 prisoners on death row in more than five dozen jails of the country as of on December 17, 2014. Around 30 per cent of them were believed to be convicted under the Anti-terrorism Act by Special Courts after 2003-04.

Meanwhile, in response to hangings and executions of terrorists in Pakistan, domestically oriented terrorist groups, primarily the TTP and its splinters, such as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, have intensified their operations. According to partial data compile by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since the hanging of Aqeel alias Dr. Usman, the first terrorist to be hanged (on December 19, 2014) after the APS attack, at least 1,485 persons, including 354 civilians, 115 SF personnel and 1016 terrorists, have been killed in just 114 days (data till April 12, 2015). Overall fatalities in Pakistan in terrorism-related violence in the current year (2015) have already crossed at least 1,263 - 339 civilians, 103 SF personnel and 821 terrorists.

Pakistan continues with a two faced strategy of arbitrary and sporadic ruthlessness against domestic terrorists, on the one hand, and sustained support to externally directed terrorism, particularly in Afghanistan and India, on the other. In this, it has occasionally succeeded in deceiving elements within the international community into believing that it is acting against ‘terrorism’, and in turn securing the release of fairly regular doses of economic and military aid. In the process, it has created a domestic environment of extremism and endemic violence, within which all forms of terrorism continue to flourish. Pakistan has done grievous harm to its neighbourhood, and to the world, by long and continued support to Islamist extremism and terrorism, but it appears to have inflicted the greatest injury on itself.

[Source: SATP]

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