It’s neither appropriate nor civil to accuse the judiciary of being biased, but then, exceptions are always there and Pakistan is one such example where just a year and a half ago, Justice Shaukat Siddiqui who was then a sitting judge of the Islamabad High Court made some very shocking revelations. The judge openly admitted that “…today the judiciary and media (in Pakistan) have come in the control of ‘Bandookwala’ (Pakistan Army) and the judiciary is not independent.” Then, Justice Siddiqui went into specifics and indicted Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan Army by saying that “…their (ISI) personnel get benches formed at their will.”
If Justice Siddiqui has exposed Pakistan Army’s proclivity for manipulating the judiciary, then by directing the government not to “harass” Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) co-founder and UN designated global terrorist Hafiz Saeed and permit him to undertake his “welfare activities,” Lahore High Court in its 2018 order demonstrated the judiciary’s brazen attempt to mollify a UN designated ‘Global terrorist’. But why blame the judiciary only when the Government of Pakistan (GoP) too has been dragging its feet in bringing Saeed to justice. Whereas it has placed him under house arrest many a times, but it was only because of international pressure and on each occasion the GoP ensured that public persecutors prepared such weak cases against the LeT founder that the courts promptly ordered his release.
So, while Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Affairs, Alice Wells called the sentencing of Saeed who was found guilty of being “being part of a banned terrorist outfit” and “having illegal property,” as being “an important step forward”, this accolade may be pre-emptive. Wells should not forget that Islamabad had virtually cocked a snook at Washington by refusing to act against Saeed even though US State Department had announced a $10 million bounty on him for masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people (including six US nationals) lost their lives and 293 (including two US nationals) were seriously injured.
Wells has probably hailed Saeed’s conviction by a court as an ‘important step forward’ on the premise that this would act as a precursor to “holding LeT accountable for its crimes” and help “Pakistan in meeting its international commitments to combat terrorist financing.” But this could well be a case of misplaced optimism because the way things are shaping, it’s very unlikely that the all-powerful Pakistan Army will permit the ‘sacrifice’ of its “strategic asset.”
With the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in a few days to decide whether Pakistan should be ‘blacklisted’ for its inaction to curb terrorist financing, the timing of Saeed’s trial, charge sheet filed against him and quantum of sentence awarded all point towards a well-planned strategy to deceive the international community.
The stratagem adopted by Rawalpindi vindicates this view. With pressure from FATF to act against terrorist financing, Saeed has cleverly been put on trial for using his charity organisations, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat, as fronts for funding LeT and on being found guilty given a prison sentence along with a fine imposed on him. The irony is that though awarded a cumulative prison term of 11 years on two counts, Saeed will be a free man in five and a half years as the courts have decided that these sentences will run concurrently.
But since Saeed would be eligible for remission of sentence on grounds of good behaviour, he could walk out of jail much earlier and paying the measly fine of Rs 15,000 shouldn’t be a problem at all! Besides this, he has the option of challenging his sentence in a higher court, which he’ll certainly exercise after the FATF meeting and in all probability get it quashed!
Yet all is not lost for Pakistan. Afghan Taliban, which is fighting against the US-led NATO forces is another ‘strategic asset’ created by Rawalpindi that could tip the scales in Islamabad’s favour. This is because while Washington is anxiously trying to extricate itself from Afghanistan, it can only secure an honourable exit if the Pakistan Army uses its sway over the Taliban to hammer out an agreement. Remember Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s advisor on Foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz’s 2016 admission that “We have some influence on them (Afghan Taliban) because their leadership is in Pakistan, and they get some medical facilities, their families are here.” By recounting US President Donald Trump’s mention to Prime Minister Imran Khan that he wished to see Pakistan out of the FATF grey list, and saying “So, we expect US officials to work for it now,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has made Islamabad’s expectation of a quid pro quo evident.
Islamabad requires the support of three countries to avoid being blacklisted and since China, Turkey and Malaysia will certainly vote in its favour, Pakistan is not worried on this account. But it needs 12 votes out of 39 for being struck-off the grey list, which would obviously be a major cause of worry for Islamabad and it’s here that Washington’s support would prove invaluable. Therefore, New Delhi will have to present its case for blacklisting (or at least retaining Pakistan in grey list) holistically and in a very convincing manner by delving on specifics like Pakistan’s failure to take action against those guilty of terror financing in the 2008 Mumbai attacks could be highlighted to expose Islamabad’s duplicity.
Some shocking terror financing issues revealed by former Director General (DG) of Federal Intelligence Agency (FIA) Tariq Khosa who investigated the Pakistani angle in the Mumbai attacks that could reveal terror financing details and convincingly establish ISI-LeT nexus are —
- Source of money to buy the fishing trawler used by the terrorists for hijacking an Indian trawler in which they sailed to Mumbai (which Khosa acknowledges were “connected to the accused”).
- Khosa has stated that “the engine of the dinghy abandoned by the terrorists near Mumbai harbour contained a patent number through which the investigators traced its import from Japan to Lahore and then to a Karachi sports shop from where an LeT-linked terrorist purchased it along with the dinghy. The money trail was followed and linked to the accused who was arrested.”
- As per Khosa, “a couple of foreign-based financiers and facilitators were arrested and brought to face trial.”
Since nationals of 25 countries either lost their lives or were seriously injured in the Mumbai attacks, India should muster international consensus on making this barbaric terrorist act the touchstone for FATF deliberations when Pakistan’s case comes up for discussion against its grey listing. Trying and sentencing a UN designated terrorist like Hafiz Saeed who has the blood of hundreds on his hands to just five-and-a-half-year prison term on unspecified charges is travesty of justice. Furthermore, a prison term in which he is eligible for parole as well as remission of sentence amounts to insulting the victims of terrorism.
It needs to be emphasised that no compromise whatsoever on the issue of terrorism related activities can be tolerated as this will only encourage acts of terrorism and make the already feeble FATF into a toothless organisation!