Washington, Apr 25: Pakistan's release of the suspected mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks has the potential of throwing off the dynamic the US has with both New Delhi and Islamabad, according to a national security expert.
The Lahore High Court's approval of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leader Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi's release from prison "thoroughly tanked any near-term prospects for improved relations between the two countries," Whitney Kassel wrote in Foreign Policy magazine
"The court's decision has left Indian leaders fuming and has drawn criticism from the US government," noted Kassel, a director focused on strategic analysis and risk management at The Arkin Group, a private intelligence firm in New York City.
"A deterioration in Pakistan's relations with either nation will be detrimental to regional and global security and, in the case of bilateral India-Pakistan ties, the ultimate stability of both countries," she wrote.
Lakhvi's release "came as disappointing but not entirely unexpected news to many Indians who, again, expect that certain actors in Pakistan will behave in ways that preclude peace with India," Kassel wrote.
Pakistani authorities, on the other hand, cited legal reasons for Lakhvi's release, claiming there was insufficient evidence to support his continued detention.
But few seemed convinced by Pakistan's procedural explanation, she noted and pointed to the possibility that Pakistani security services exerted pressure on or even withheld evidence from the courts to protect Lakhvi.
"LeT, Lakhvi's terrorist outfit, has long been considered an ally and even beneficiary of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)," Kassel noted.
His "release appeared to confirm Indian claims that Pakistan continues to pick and choose which terrorist groups to attack and which to protect and foster as potential foreign policy instruments - in this case against India, primarily in Kashmir," she wrote.
The decision on Lakhvi also fuels India's argument to the US that their attempts to "engender cooperation from Pakistan are futile and naive, as Pakistan will not truly change its stripes," Kassel wrote.
Having recently approved a $952 million sale of helicopters and missiles to Pakistan, the US clearly remains invested in its counterterrorism partnership with Pakistan, she wrote.
But "with the release of Lakhvi, however, critics in both India and the United States are already calling for greater oversight and perhaps even a suspension of US military aid to Pakistan," she noted.
"It is unlikely that Lakhvi's release will be enough to shut down the pipeline of US military assistance, given the importance of that bilateral relationship," Kassel wrote.
"But it certainly tips the scales towards those who hold Pakistan's commitment to counter terrorism in doubt," she wrote.
"In the case of India, it will almost certainly preclude any further talks for some time to come."