ISLAMABAD - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday cancelled a detention order against the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, potentially paving the way for his release.

Operational commander of Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT) Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, accused over the terror siege that left 166 dead in Indian port city, has been in detention under Maintenance of Public Order (MPO).

A single bench of IHC comprising Justice Noor-ul-Haq N Qureshi declared Lakhvi’s detention as capricious and illegal. He announced the decision which was reserved by the same bench a couple of days ago after hearing the arguments of both the sides.

The latest ruling means the LeT commander could be released as early as Saturday, though the government can still appeal to the Supreme Court and for now he remains in jail. Lakhvi was granted bail by an anti-terror court in December, infuriating New Delhi, but quickly slapped with a detention order under public order laws. The Islamabad High Court suspended that order, only for the Supreme Court to reinstate it in January.

On Friday the high court once again set aside the detention order and issued a detailed order saying government lawyers had failed to provide evidence to justify Lakhvi’s detention. Justice Qureshi stated in his verdict that allegations leveled against the detainee have neither been substantiated by any material despite required by the court nor did the same was appended with the reply submitted by the respondents.

Justice Qureshi in his judgment noted, “Under the garb of provision provided by Section 3 of Maintenance of Public Ordinance, 1960, the respondents have avoided to produce any material before this court”. He further noted, “Severally, this court asked the respondents to produce the said material but learned Advocate General Islamabad as well as learned additional Attorney General with lame excuses submitted that they intend to produce the said record before the Review Board.”

The verdict continued that therefore, in any humble view, on the basis of oral assertions, detention of the present petitioner cannot be declared justifiable. Earlier, the petitioner (Lakhvi) also filed a writ petition, wherein reports were called from the government, which after collecting reports from all the provinces confirmed that there is no case against the petitioner except those cited in the impugned detention order, wherein he is already facing trial and has been granted bail by the court of competent jurisdiction, Qureshi mentioned in his verdict.

The judgment noted: “Besides above, there is no other material on the basis of which it could be ascertained that detention of the petitioner is justified.” It added that under the above narrated circumstances, when the case of the respondents is entirely based upon the material circumvented by the respondents as apparent from the enhanced grounds for detention.

“Therefore, while relying upon the case law reported above i.e. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed’s case, I have reached to the conclusion that impugned detention order issued by respondent No 2 (federal government) is capricious, malafide and without legal foundation therefore, the same is hereby quashed,” noted Justice Qureshi.

In his petition, Lakhvi had challenged before the IHC his third time detention orders and his counsel Raja Rizwan Abbasi advocate had contended that detention of his client for three months is illegal despite the fact that an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) of Islamabad had granted bail to him.

On the other hand, Advocate General for Islamabad Mian Abdur Rauf had adopted before the court that the application was non-maintainable and requested the court to dismiss this application. Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi is an alleged mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008. An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) judge Syed Kausar Abbas Zaidi had granted post arrest bail to Lakhvi against one million surety bonds on December 18, 2014. Later, federal government issued Lakhvi’s detention orders under Section 3 of MPO that were further extended on January 18 and February 18 for 30 days each.