A Pakistani court Monday suspended a detention order keeping the alleged planner of the Mumbai terror attacks in jail, possibly paving the way for his release, a government prosecutor said.
The development is the latest twist in the ongoing case of Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, one of seven men on trial in Pakistan in connection with the 2008 attack in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people.
Lakhvi is still in prison, pending the posting of his bail money, and Pakistani officials could try to fight the court's decision. An immediate condemnation by neighbouring India underscored how contentious the issue remains between the two countries.
The ruling came at a hearing in the capital of Islamabad, said prosecutor Jahanagir Jadoon.
A Pakistani court on Dec. 18 granted Lakhvi bail, saying there was not enough evidence to hold him.
The government immediately ordered his detention for 30 days under a law giving them leeway to detain certain suspects. Lakhvi then appealed the detention.
Monday's hearing was to hear that appeal. But judge Noorul Haq Qureshi said no grounds came up Monday to continue Lakhvi's detention, according to Jadoon.
The judge set another hearing date for Jan. 15 and said that if the interior secretary comes up with grounds to detain Lakhvi further, he could reverse the Monday order, Jadoon said.
A spokesman for the prime minister could not be reached for comment Monday, and Pakistani television reported that senior officials were meeting at the Interior Ministry to discuss the case.
News of Lakhvi's possible release has been extremely embarrassing to Pakistan at a time when it has vowed to take a hard line on militants following the Dec. 16 militant attack in the frontier city of Peshawar. Taliban militants stormed a school in the country's northwest, killing at least 148 people, mostly schoolchildren.
India has already reacted angrily to any suggestion that Lakhvi might be released. India summoned Pakistan's high commissioner to their Foreign Ministry Monday to voice their displeasure.
"It was once again conveyed that we expect the Government of Pakistan to abide by the commitment conveyed to us, including at the highest level, that expeditious steps would be taken to bring all those responsible for the heinous acts of terrorism in Mumbai to justice and that it was extremely disturbing that despite the assurances we have been receiving over the last 6 years, and the recent tragedies in Pakistan, there seems to be no end in sight to Pakistan remaining a safe-haven for well-known terror groups," the ministry said in a statement.