IN a move that bewildered many here, and much of the outside world too, the anti-terrorism court charged with trying Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders for their role in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks saw fit to grant bail to the principal accused Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi just days after the Peshawar school carnage that so shocked the world this week.
While the court may have acted according to the rules and within the letter of the law, there is also a context here that cannot be overlooked.
Consider that for five years the trial has remained in limbo, hearings repeatedly adjourned on one pretext or another — so why pick this week of all possible weeks to grant bail to Lakhvi?
It suggests a tone deafness that at the very least offends common sense at this sensitive, possibly pivotal, moment in the country’s history. Instead of building on the consensus that militancy needs to be systematically eradicated from all corners of the country, the national conversation is being pulled in unwelcome directions.
On the Mumbai-related trials the facts speak for themselves. The Pakistani state itself acknowledged that the attacks were planned and masterminded by individuals based in Pakistan.
During the course of the Indian investigation, the state here provided a great deal of evidence to help piece together how the attacks were carried out. Indeed, the ATC trials were triggered by that very process of the Pakistani state investigating and unearthing evidence against the architects of the Mumbai attacks.
Lakhvi, a top echelon leader of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, was at the centre of the evidence pieced together by not just Pakistani authorities, but also Indian and other international investigators. In no normal, fair and independent judicial system would the trial of Lakhvi go nowhere for years before resulting in his bail.
The government has rightly acted to keep him in custody for now, but that is only a fire-fighting measure. What is really needed is for the trials of Lakhvi and his co-accused to be taken up again with a seriousness of purpose and sound legal strategy. For in these Mumbai trials, Pakistan’s overall record in the fight against militancy is also on trial.
Both the political and military leadership of the country has stated repeatedly that there is no longer such a thing as a good militant. For that to be true, individuals like Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi cannot be allowed to simply walk away free men.
Published in Dawn December 20th , 2014