Six years after he was accused of financing and executing the Mumbai attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is living in luxury in a jail in the Pakistani garrison city of Rawalpindi, with access to mobile phones and the internet and receiving scores of visitors every day.
Lakhvi, 55, and six other terror suspects indicted for the assault on India’s financial hub live in several rooms located next to the jailer’s office in the sprawling Adiala Jail. They have the jailer's permission to have a television, mobile phones, access to internet, and visitors, BBC Urdu reported .
"He (Lakhvi) can receive any number of guests, any time of day or night, seven days a week," one unnamed jail official was quoted as saying in the report. The visitors require no special permission and they do not even need to identify themselves to jail authorities.
The report also substantiated a claim that has for long been made by Indian and US officials – that Lakhvi continues to direct the LeT’s operations from jail. Lakhvi's “uninterrupted access to guests, mobile phone and the internet has kept him in effective contact with the LeT rank and file”, it said.
An unnamed jail official told BBC Urdu that even though, since his arrest, the day to day affairs of LeT are looked after by an acting chief known only as Ahmed, Lakhvi is still the banned group's operations chief.
"On an average, he receives about 100 visitors every day; they are escorted to his private quarters where they can meet him without the watch of jail guards, and can stay for as long as they like," he said.
The Indian and US media has reported several times in the past that Lakhvi has access to mobile phones which he uses to stay in touch with LeT operatives and direct the group’s operations. In the past, former Pakistan Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani did not act on a request from US military officials to take away Lakhvi’s mobile phones.
The report, which described Lakhvi as one of “Pakistan's most notorious prisoners”, said he was living in “relative luxury despite the government's protestations that it is cracking down on militants”.
“This would be unthinkable anywhere else, but elements in the Pakistani establishment are known to have provided such facilities to certain jailed militant commanders who they believe they may need in future for reasons of national security,” the report said.
Lakhvi was arrested on December 7, 2008 when Pakistani troops swooped down on a LeT training camp in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, following intense pressure from the world community over the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people and left hundreds injured.
But six years later, an anti-terrorism court trying Lakhvi and six other men for the Mumbai attacks ordered his release on bail. Lakhvi’s lawyer had claimed at the time that bail had been granted because the evidence against him was “deficient”.
The court’s ruling came just two days after the December 16 school massacre in Peshawar, and after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan would not differentiate between “good and bad” militants while cracking down on terrorism.
India reacted angrily to the development and the world community questioned Pakistan’s resolve to tackle terror. Authorities subsequently detained Lakhvi under the Maintenance of Public Order law and revived an old abduction case against him. Prosecutors also challenged his bail in a higher court.
The BBC report quoted unnamed officials as saying that the court’s order “also upset certain quarters in Washington and Beijing who thought Lakhvi's release could become a major scandal”.
Lakhvi was born in Okara district of Pakistan’s Punjab province – also the native district of Ajmal Kasab, the only gunman in the Mumbai attacks who was captured alive by Indian security forces and subsequently hanged after his conviction by a special court in Mumbai.
He is said to be a close relative of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, LeT's founder. Saeed now claims to head the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), described by the UN and US as a front for the LeT.
In 1990, Lakhvi joined Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, a Salafist movement funded by sources in the Middle East. Later he became a member of LeT, JAH's armed militant offshoot.
Through the 1990s, Lakhvi worked at LeT's head office near Muridke on the outskirts of Lahore, where the JuD now has its headquarters. During this period, he was actively involved in fighting and planning combat missions in Jammu and Kashmir, according to security sources. He became the LeT’s operations head in the late 1990s.
The evidence against Lakhvi in the Mumbai attacks includes Kasab’s confession, satellite and internet phone intercepts that show he directed the attackers from a control room in Karachi and evidence of bank deposits and payments that were traced to his close associates and LeT members.
Indian officials have said said Kasab identified Lakhvi as the person who helped "indoctrinate all the attackers".