Sunday, June 20, 2021

Is The Indictment Of Hafiz Saeed A Farce Or Real?

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The United Nations (UN) designated terrorist, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief, and the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks Hafiz Saeed has been indicted by a Lahore Court on the charges of terror financing. In July, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of the Punjab police registered 23 FIRs against Saeed and his accomplices and sent them to Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat prison on judicial remand.  Saeed was reportedly in the court when the sentence was read. Pakistan’s anti-terrorism court had marked December 11 as the date for framing the charges against Saeed. The question is why now? Will the court now pursue the case against him seriously? These questions are being raised by everyone who knows the way Pakistani systems operate.

It has to be noted that Pakistan has come under tremendous international pressure to crack down on terror funding by the global anti-terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Following pressure from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Pakistan was forced to freeze Saeed’s financial assets including his bank accounts. Despite the curbs, Pakistan requested UNSC to allow him to withdraw money from his accounts in order to meet his family’s expenses. In addition to the pressure from FATF, India has been continuously demanding action against the LeT chief underlining that Hafiz Saeed is running a religious front for raising terror funds that is used to target India. The US has also offered a $10 million bounty for his capture.

The last review of FATF in October had noted that Pakistan will have to take extra measures for complete elimination of “terror financing” and “money laundering”. FATF has given Pakistan time till February 2020 to take such steps until which it will remain in the task force’s grey list. The indictment of Hafiz Saeed by the anti-terrorism court in Lahore on the charges of terror financing could be a strategy by Pakistan to avoid blacklisting in the next FATF review meeting.

Interestingly Saeed’s indictment comes just a week ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to the US where he is set to meet US President Donald Trump. The added pressure by the US on Pakistan to curb terror emanating from Pakistani soil and Washington’s tough statements on terror since the couple of years could have been another factor in the fast-track indictment of Saeed.

Interestingly, while on one hand, Hafiz Saeed was getting prepared to be indicted; his son Talha Saeed escaped an assassination attempt in a bombing last week while giving a speech to a gathering at a shop in the outskirts of Lahore. During the attempt on his life, one person was killed and seven Lashkar supporters were critically injured. It has to be noted that Talha Saeed is likely to succeed his father as the Lashkar chief in future. According to some reports, Talha’s control of the Lashkar finances has reportedly invited the anger of some senior leaders of the terror organisation. The attack on Talha Saeed could be a result of the internal power struggle within the Lashkar.

Although the US has welcomed the move to indict Saeed, India needs to watch carefully and see whether the Imran Khan government is any different from the previous Pakistani governments. Hafiz Saeed has been arrested before and sent to jail but finally ended up being released by the Pakistani authorities many times.

A few days before the indictment, Saeed was granted bail in a land-grabbing case despite having been charged with dozens of such cases. The sketchy details of his arrest reveal the lackadaisical attitude of how he was arrested while travelling by the CTD of Punjab. Pakistan’s seriousness to peruse the terror case against Saeed needs to be analyzed. Is Islamabad ready to comply with the 27 point plan of the FATF? Given Pakistan’s track-record, if Saeed is released without any charges, it remains to be seen; whether FATF would finally put Pakistan on its’ blacklist for failing to curb to terrorist financing.

Script: Dr. Zainab Akhter, Analyst on Pakistan

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