LAHORE, July 14 The federal government may initiate fresh legal proceedings to send Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the chief of outlawed charity Jamaatud Dawa, behind bars if the Punjab government withdraws its petition against his release.

On Tuesday, Punjab Advocate General Raza Farooq told a three-member bench of the Supreme Court that it was not possible to pursue the petition on the basis of the evidence that the provincial government had against him.

He said he had instructions from the Punjab government to withdraw the petition.

Though the petition does not stand withdrawn as of now, legal experts have a consensus that the federal government will have no choice but to let this happen if the provincial government so desires.

The Lahore High Court released Hafiz Saeed on June 2, 2009, declaring that the Punjab government had failed to justify his detention under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO).

“If Punjab believes that it does not have sufficient grounds to challenge the high court's verdict, the federal government will have no legal basis to keep pursuing the appeal as it exists now,” says a senior lawyer well informed on the details of the case.

“If Punjab withdraws the petition, the legal position is that it will stand withdrawn,” he says, without wanting to be named because the issue is sensitive.

But federal government officials working on the case believe that letting Saeed remain free will be a public relations disaster that Pakistan can ill afford in its exiting international situation.

“The federal authorities, therefore, may invoke some law that allows it to hold and arrest Saeed without having to involve the provincial government which somehow seems reluctant to take action against him,” one of the officials says, asking his identity to be kept secret because he is not authorised to talk to the media.

“The laws that the federal government may invoke will have a much larger scope (than the MPO Saeed was earlier detained under) and could cover his activities allegedly injurious to both internal and external order,” he explains.

Former attorney general Malik Qayyum says the federal government does not have powers to detain anyone; the provincial government can.

“Detention is meant to prevent someone from doing something. This is exclusively the provincial domain. Still the federal government can arrest people for acts they have already allegedly committed,” he explains.

“Though I am not privy to the details of this case, the government has this option of arresting Saeed to try him for his alleged deeds,” Malik Qayyum adds.

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