India sceptical but US lauds Pak for Hafiz's conviction

India sceptical but US lauds Pakistan for conviction of Hafiz Saeed

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of the banned Islamic charity Jamat-ud-Dawa, looks over the crowed as they end a "Kashmir Caravan" from Lahore with a protest in Islamabad. (Reuters Photo)

India remained sceptical about Pakistan’s sincerity in squeezing flow of fund to terrorist outfits and combatting the menace of terror, even as the United States lauded Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government in Islamabad after a court in the neighbouring country sentenced Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed to imprisonment for 11 years after convicting him in two cases.

A day after the Anti-Terrorism Court at Lahore in Pakistan convicted Hafiz Saeed and his aide Malik Zafar Iqbal of money-laundering and raising fund for terrorist outfits, New Delhi noted that it was among the long-pending international obligation of the government of the neighbouring country to "put an end to support to terrorism".

Alice Wells, acting US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, however, said that the conviction of Hafiz Saeed and his associate was "an important step forward" by Pakistan – "both toward holding (the) LeT accountable for its crimes" and for meeting the "international commitments" of the Khan government in Islamabad to "combat terrorist financing".

Also read — Ahead of FATF plenary, Pakistan court convicts Hafiz Saeed for terror funding

Saeed leads the Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which is a front of the outlawed terrorist organisation LeT. He has masterminded the LeT’s November 26-28, 2008 carnage in Mumbai as well as several other terrorist attacks in India, but was allowed to live free in Pakistan till July 17, 2019, when growing pressure from the United States forced Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government in Islamabad to arrest him.

He was, however, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced for his role in arranging funds to run terrorist organisations, not for masterminding the cross-border terror strikes the LeT operatives from Pakistan conducted in India.

Saeed was convicted and sentenced just ahead of an international scrutiny of Pakistan government’s efforts to plug the loopholes in its legislative and administrative mechanism to check the flow of funds to terrorist organisations.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – an intergovernmental organisation – will hold its plenary in Paris from February 16 to 21. The organisation coordinates global efforts to combat money laundering and terror financing. It put Pakistan on its "Grey List" in 2018 for "strategic deficiencies in its legal regime to check money laundering and terrorist financing". During its plenary in Paris next week, the FATF is likely to review the progress made by the Khan government in Islamabad in stopping illicit flow of fund to terrorist organisations in Pakistan.

Pakistan has been lobbying hard with China, the US and other western nations to ensure a favourable outcome of the FATF scrutiny – either removal from the "Grey List" or at least preventing further downslide into the "Black List".

A source in the government of India in New Delhi noted that Saeed had been convicted and sentenced by the Anti-Terrorism Court in Pakistan just on the eve of FATF plenary meeting. "Hence, the efficacy of this decision remains to be seen," said the source.

Saeed was designated by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as an "individual" linked to Al Qaeda and Taliban on December 10, 2008 – just days after the 26/11 terror attacks. The US government too had announced a $10 million bounty on him in April 2012. He, however, was allowed, not only to live free in Pakistan but also to regularly spew venom against India.

He was placed under house arrest in Pakistan several times in the past – in December 2001 after the terror attack on Parliament of India in New Delhi, in July 2006 after explosions on trains in Mumbai and in December 2008 after the 26/11 attacks in the financial capital of India. He was, however, released just a few weeks or months later every time. He was last placed under house arrest in January 2017 but was released after a few months.

It was after the FATF stepped up pressure on the Khan government after grey-listing Pakistan, Saeed was arrested in July 2019 and sent to jail.

"It has to also be seen whether Pakistan would take action against other all terrorist entities and individuals operating from territories under its control, and bring perpetrators of cross border terrorist attacks, including in Mumbai and Pathankot to justice expeditiously," government sources in New Delhi said.

The 26/11 carnage was carried out by 10 LeT terrorists from Pakistan. They had sailed from Karachi to Mumbai and killed over 166 people over three days in November 2008. Though LeT commander Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, who had coordinated the attack from a "control room" set up in Karachi in Pakistan, was arrested in the neighbouring country after the attack, he was released on bail in 2015 while the trial of his six aides has been going on at a snail’s pace over the past 11 years.

After the January 2016 terrorist attack at the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot in Punjab, India had allowed a team of investigators from Pakistan to visit the scene. The probe launched in the neighbouring country did not lead to any breakthrough though.

 

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