Conflict Alerts # 28, 19 February 2020
In the news
On 12 February, Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has been convicted by a Pakistani Anti-Terrorism Court. He has been served two prison sentences of five and half years for two counts of crimes. According to his lawyer, Saeed was found to be a member of a ‘proscribed organization’ and also for possessing illegal property.
Issues at large
While Hafiz Saeed claims to be not involved with any terror groups, he heads Jamaat-ud-Da’wa (JuD) which is the charitable arm of LeT, both of which have been listed as ‘banned’ organizations under Pakistani law.
Saeed was wanted by the US for long, which also announced a bounty of US$10 million on his head. India has accused him as the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack; his conviction has been a long-standing demand of New Delhi.
Though there have been arrests in the past, this is the first time Saeed is getting convicted since 2008. This comes days ahead of a meeting of the intergovernmental terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting (now being held) in Paris. It will decide whether Pakistan should be moved out of the ‘grey list’ or to ‘blacklist’ of uncooperative countries. A country in the blacklist would face international sanctions.
A FATF blacklist will be detrimental to Pakistan’s already struggling economy. Pakistan has been under international scrutiny for long for serving as the launchpad for terrorism in South Asia. Pakistan banned Saeed’s organization JuD fearing to blacklist by FATF only in 2019.
Pakistan has been lenient towards terrorist organizations in the past. The arrest and effectivity of Saeed’s conviction have been questioned earlier, with the government not pursuing a serious legal course and proper investigation, that would be tenable in the courts. As a result, Saeed was repeatedly released, despite the arrests, due to weak charges against him.
Even though Pakistan wants to send out a message that it is tightening its grip on terrorist organizations, the timing of Saeed’s conviction seems too convenient. Pakistan has to bring credibility and continue strengthening its policy towards organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba.