26/11 Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed and his aides being handed down a collective imprisonment of over 10 years in terror-financing cases is being viewed as yet another farcical exercise conducted by Pakistan to fool the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which has retained the deep state on its grey list since 2018. Not only was Saeed, a United Nations designated terrorist who is having a $10 million American bounty on his head, was escorted in and out of the Lahore Anti-Terrorism Court like a well-protected asset – and in a cavalcade of sophisticated SUVs instead of a prison van – the judge announcing the verdict made it clear that the sentence would run concurrently and the detention of the convicts during the trial period would be counted as “an undergone sentence”.
If this is the treatment a hardcore militant like Saeed, the founder of Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), is getting from the Pakistani authorities during his public appearances then one can easily imagine what a luxurious facility his detention centre would really be where he’s been “under detention” officially since July 2019. Five, 10 or 20 years – no terrorist would mind even spending his entire life enjoying such hospitality provided by the Imran Khan government.
The entire ‘sentence’ drama follows FATF’s decision of last month in which the global terror-financing watchdog had set February 2021 as the new deadline for Pakistan to work on some “very serious deficiencies” if it wants to avoid being blacklisted, the consequences of which Pakistan Prime Minister himself admits would be “destructive” like never before. Such ‘cosmetic’ efforts are also a big reason why Pakistan, a home to the largest number of listed terrorists internationally, is still failing terribly to convince the world about its seriousness to stop its land being used as a launch pad for global terror attacks.
In its ‘Country Reports on Terrorism 2019’ released in June earlier this year, the US State Department had detailed how Pakistan remains a safe harbor for regionally focused terrorist groups.
“It allowed groups targeting Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and affiliated HQN, as well as groups targeting India, including LeT and its affiliated front organizations, and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), to operate from its territory. It did not take action against other known terrorists such as JeM founder and UN-designated terrorist Masood Azhar and 2008 Mumbai attack “project manager” Sajid Mir, both of whom are believed to remain free in Pakistan,” the report mentioned.
It had also detailed how Hafiz Saeed is allowed to hoodwink the international agencies by frequently changing the names of Pakistan-based extremist organizations in an effort to avoid sanctions.
“Shortly after LeT being designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) on December 26, 2001, Saeed changed the group’s name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) and launched humanitarian projects to circumvent sanctions. LeT disseminates its message through JUD’s media outlets. Since the creation of JUD, LeT has repeatedly changed its name in an effort to avoid sanctions. Elements of LeT and Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) have combined with other groups like Hizbul Mujahideen to mount anti-India attacks,” the report states.
The game of Saeed’s “arrest. free. repeat” – as Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui had once pointed out – has continued since last few years, especially when the date of a FATF hearing is near. Even the Donald Trump administration frequently calling out and shaming Pakistan over funding terror hasn’t resulted in Pakistani deep state to sit back and reflect on the serious consequences of sponsoring cross-border terrorism in India.
“The two sides underlined the urgent need for Pakistan to take immediate, sustained, and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for terrorist attacks, and to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of such attacks, including 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot. The US reiterated its support for the people and government of India in the fight against terrorism,” said a joint statement issued after the 17th meeting of the India-US Counter Terrorism Joint Working Group in September.
And, how did Pakistan react to it? It rejected the joint statement, calling the reference to Pakistan “unwarranted” and insisted that it is they who are “most affected” by cross-border terrorism! Some things will never change.
Jumping in joy since US President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, many Pakistanis also believe that the development will also bring a change of fortune for their country in the coming times.
Hopefully, Biden revisits Trump’s statement on Pakistan made on January 1, 2018: “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more! The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools.”