A Pakistani court on Thursday granted bail to 26/11 mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, sparking outrage in India which minced no words to condemn the decision as unacceptable and unfortunate.
His bail came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted a moratorium on the death penalty and pledged to wipe out terrorism from the region in the wake of the massacre of 132 schoolchildren in Peshawar.
Lakhvi is among seven Pakistani nationals accused of planning and abetting the brazen terror attack in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, that left 166 dead. He was the operational head of the banned Pakistani terror group and, along with LeT founder Hafiz Saeed, a key planner of the 60-hour siege.
He (Lakhvi) shouldnt hv got a bail no matter what, he shud be hanged: Sanjay Kathar (26/11 survivor) pic.twitter.com/wRe975Ux95— ANI (@ANI_news) December 18, 2014
Pak isnt serious abt 26/11 attack, case should be handed to India: Smita Salaskar (Vijay Salaskar’s wife) on Lakhvi pic.twitter.com/2ymZJA97h1— ANI (@ANI_news) December 18, 2014
Reactions in India on Lakhvi's bail was sharp and scathing, some calling it a Pakistani doublespeak after Sharif's pledge not to bracket terrorists as good or bad.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh said the court's decision was "unfortunate". "I believe whatever evidence India has given to Pakistan on Lakhvi are more than enough to nail him. Hope the Pakistani government will appeal in a higher court so that his bail is cancelled."
The external affairs ministry made it clear that the bail to Lakhvi, a key conspirator of the Mumbai attacks and a UN designated terrorist, cannot be accepted.
"We cannot accept that LeT's chief operation commander Zaki-ur Lakhvi, one of the key conspirators of the Mumbai terror attacks in which so many innocent people were slaughtered, a person designated as an international terrorist by the UNSC, is being released on bail," external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.
"We call upon the government of Pakistan to immediately take steps to reverse this decision. There can be no selective approaches to terrorism. Given the scale of the tragedy that Pakistan itself has faced in recent days , it is incumbent on it to realise that no compromise can ever be made with terrorists."
I hope that this is appealed in the upper court by Pak Govt so his bail is cancelled: Rajnath Singh on Lakhvi pic.twitter.com/GJa8u9vwNY— ANI (@ANI_news) December 18, 2014
We call upon Pak to reverse this decision, there can be no selective approach towards terrorism: MEA on Lakhvi pic.twitter.com/H6roD1n256— ANI (@ANI_news) December 18, 2014
Sources have already indicated that government was working with its mission in Pakistan to prepare a strong response to the Anti-Terrorism Court's verdict.
Lakhvi and six others had filed bail applications on Wednesday, even as lawyers were observing a strike to condemn the terrorist attack on an army-run school in Peshawar.
Ujjwal Nikam, public prosecutor in the 26/11 case, termed Thursday's development a setback and asked Pakistani authorities to ensure it was cancelled. "It is a big setback because now witnesses will not like to come forward and give evidence."
He rejected defence lawyers' claims that there was no evidence to directly link Lakhvi with 26/11. "If they don't have evidence, why was he not released earlier? India has provided enough evidence (to Pakistan)."
Refusing to make any comment on Lakhvi's bail, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said Pakistan should reciprocate with positive attitude in response to the maturity shown by India in standing by its side in the hour of grief following the Peshawar carnage.
"I would not comment on what other nations are doing but things are not working correctly."
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said Lakhvi's bail was proof that Pakistan had not learnt any lesson from the Peshawar carnage. "We have been asking for his arrest for a long time. We need to continue to put pressure."
Lakhvi was arrested in Pakistan in February 2009 and was indicted on November 25 that year but the failure to advance the trial over the past five years has been a source of irritation when the two nations try to improve frosty ties through dialogues and other measures.
India has long said there is evidence that "official agencies" in Pakistan were involved in plotting the 26/11attack. Islamabad denies the charge but LeT's charitable arm Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), headed by Hafiz Saeed and seen as a front for the terror group, operates openly in the country.
Saeed also leads a high-profile existence despite a $10 million US government bounty offered for his capture, regularly appearing on TV and addressing large public gatherings of his followers - the most recent being the one in Lahore early this month.
"If Pakistan wants to fight terrorism, they should fight terrorism emanating from inside. The Peshawar incident shook the world," Nikam said.
Reports said Peshawar could be a watershed for a country long accused by the world of treating terrorists as strategic assets. The military has been known to be too lenient towards Islamist militants who are used to carry out the army's bidding in Kashmir.