It was Shahbaz vs. Malik in court, while Hafiz Saeed walked free
The Chief Minister of Pakistan's Punjab province and the federal Interior Minister blamed each other for jeopardising appeals filed by the government before the Supreme Court against the June 2009 Lahore High Court order releasing Hafiz Saeed from house arrest. File Photo | AP

The Chief Minister of Pakistan's Punjab province and the federal Interior Minister blamed each other for jeopardising appeals filed by the government before the Supreme Court against the June 2009 Lahore High Court order releasing Hafiz Saeed from house arrest.

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeals in May 2010.

U.S. diplomatic cables, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, relate a telling political game of pass-the-buck between the provincial Pakistan Muslim League (N) government, and the Pakistan People's Party-led federal government over a case that neither wanted to own because it was a domestic hot potato, but were forced to take up to douse an international furore over the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Saeed, the leader of the Jamat-ud-Dawa and a founder of the Laskhar-e-Taiba, the group accused of carrying out the Mumbai attacks, was placed under house arrest after the UN Security Council designated him and three others along with the JuD under Resolution 1272 after the 26/11 terrorist strike. Six months later, on June 2, 2009, the Lahore High Court struck down the house arrest order. After four weeks and plenty of international pressure, the Pakistan government worked itself up to petition the Supreme Court against the release. The appeal was considered crucial in creating the right atmospherics ahead of the July 15, 2009 Sharm-el Shaik meeting between the Prime Ministers of the two countries at which they were to explore the possibility of resuming peace talks that New Delhi had put on hold since November 2008.

As the Shahbaz Sharif-led PML(N) government in Punjab had detained Saeed, it initiated the Supreme Court appeal. The federal government filed an identical but separate appeal.

But a day before the scheduled India-Pakistan meeting in Egypt on July 14, the Punjab Advocate-General withdrew his government's appeal. He told the court that the provincial government had no evidence against Mr. Saeed.

Ambassador Anne W. Patterson asked around for an explanation. According to a cable dated July 15, 2009 (216732: confidential), the Interior Minister told her the Punjab government “is pulling their appeal to ‘embarrass' the federal government ahead of Prime Minister Gilani's meeting with Indian Prime Miniser Manmohan Singh at Sharm-el-Sheikh [ …] Other Post contacts surmise that the PML-N is using Saeed's popularity to gain points with religious conservatives.”

The cable noted that even before the Punjab government's announcement, Provincial Home Secretary Nadeem Hassan Asif had told a U.S. official at its Lahore Consulate that the Federal Investigation Agency had provided no evidence connecting him to the Mumbai attacks. According to a cable dated July 24, 2009, Chief Minister Sharif offered a similar explanation to Matthew Lowe, the Acting Principal Officer at the U.S. in Lahore (218043: confidential), that the federal government had “used” the Punjab government to prosecute Mr. Saeed, “without providing any evidence or support.”

The Chief Minister, who is the younger brother of PML(N) leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, told Mr. Lowe he had “requested evidence from [federal] Interior Minister Rehman Malik. ‘We have no evidence,' Malik responded. Shahbaz's frustration peaked when, after Malik promised that the Attorney General would show up in court, he failed to appear the next day. ‘At that point I ordered the withdrawal of the case,' [Sharif] stated.”

The Interior Minister “telephoned immediately, Mr. Sharif related to the U.S. official, “and pleaded with Shahbaz for Punjab to rejoin the prosecution for a few more days. ‘Malik hoped to drag on the case several more days until after the completion of the Sharm-el-Sheikh meetings,' Shahbaz opined. ‘But what kind of government is that that plays around with a serious crime? Do they think we will not meet Manmohan Singh again?' he wondered.”

For its part, the federal government denied not sharing evidence with the provincial government. In her cable Ambassador Patterson noted that Deputy Attorney-General Shah Khawar had told the U.S. Embassy Political Officer if the Punjab government did not change its mind and come back into the appeal, Saeed could be detained using the 1952 Security Act of Pakistan or the Anti-Terrorism Act

Ambassador Patterson noted that “Realizing the importance of Saeed's detention, Gilani and Malik are determined to use any law or means to keep him confined to his home. Given the JUD leader's popularity, the GOP will have to be careful to avoid the appearance of extra-judicial moves against Saeed.”

As it turned out, the Punjab government did return to the appeal in the Supreme Court. After many delays, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeals on May 25, 2010, on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Earlier, in September 2009, the federal government did slap two cases against the JuD chief under the Anti-Terrorism Act. But once again, its effort was undone because the Act applies only to banned groups; Pakistan is yet to ban the JuD. The Lahore High Court was easily persuaded to quash the cases when Saeed appealed to it.

The Pakistan Cables are being shared by The Hindu with NDTV in India and Dawn in Pakistan.

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