The US, France and Israel have joined India in criticising the release on bail of LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, with Washington saying it was “gravely concerned” by the development.
Shortly after Lakhvi walked out of a jail in the Pakistani garrison city of Rawalpindi on Friday, the issue figured in talks between French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in Paris.
Hollande described the release of the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operations commander as "deeply shocking".
The US State Department said it had conveyed its concerns over Lakhvi’s release to Pakistan as recently as Thursday and urged Islamabad to deliver on its commitment to prosecute those responsible for the Mumbai attacks, which left 166 people dead, including six Americans.
“We are gravely concerned about the release on bail of alleged Mumbai attack mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. We have communicated that concern to senior Pakistani officials over the course of many months,” State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke told a news briefing on Friday.
“Pakistan has pledged its cooperation in bringing the perpetrators, financiers, and sponsors of the Mumbai terrorist attacks to justice, and we urge Pakistan to follow through on that commitment to ensure justice for the 166 innocent people, including six Americans, who lost their lives,” he said.
Rathke refused to comment on possible “consequences or repercussions” if Pakistan failed to act against those who carried out the attacks on India’s financial hub in November 2008.
“I’m not going to put a timeline on it…But certainly, bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attacks to justice is a key priority,” he added.
The US’ close ally Israel too expressed surprise and disappointment at the release of the terror mastermind.
Israel’s ambassador to India Daniel Carmon described it as a setback for international efforts in the war against terror in which India and Israel are close partners.
“Israel is surprised and disappointed by the release of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the mastermind of the Mumbai attack in which, as part of the horrific attack, also Israeli nationals and a Jewish centre - the Nariman House - were targeted,” he said.
“This release is a setback for the international efforts in the war against terror in which India and Israel are close partners.”
The attacks on the Jewish centre had left six people dead including rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife.
In Paris, French President Hollande said the release of a terrorist accused of a heinous crime such as the Mumbai attacks as “deeply shocking.”
French lawmakers too described Lakhvi’s release as “unfortunate” and said the development was not good for India or the world. The issue came up when Modi met a delegation of lawmakers led by National Assembly president Claude Bartolone.
“In this context, twice the French delegation raised the issue of the unfortunate release of the terrorist Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi in Pakistan…They strongly expressed their solidarity for India as it tackles the scourge of terrorism which knows no boundaries,” said external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.
During a joint media interaction with Hollande after their talks, Modi said: “There is a need for global action to deal with terrorism. All nations should commit that they will not provide shelter to terrorists but punish them.”
Soon after Lakhvi was released on the orders of the Lahore High Court, India had accused Pakistan of adopting a “dual policy” in dealing with terrorists. The Indian envoy in Islamabad met the Pakistani Foreign Secretary and registered the country’s strong concerns.
The envoy said the development “reinforced the perception that Pakistan has a dual policy on dealing with terrorists and those who have carried out attacks or are posing a threat to India are being dealt with differently and emphasized that this is a most negative development in so far as bilateral ties are concerned”, Akbaruddin said in a statement.
Lakhvi, who was arrested a week after the Mumbai attacks, was freed after the Islamabad High Court and Lahore High Court suspended his detention under a Pakistani law. He was earlier granted bail by the anti-terrorism court hearing the Mumbai attacks case in December.