On September 30 last year, a week after India cancelled the proposed bilateral meeting with Pakistan’s foreign minister in New York, a minister in the Imran Khan government shared the stage with Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jamat-ud-Dawa founder Hafiz Saeed.
It was India’s moment to say “I told you so” about Pakistan’s sincerity in cracking down on terrorist groups and their leaders. But, a larger takeaway for India was that this exposed Pakistan’s new Prime Minister — who had won the elections that July and been sworn in the following month — as cosying up to anti-India groups and leaders even as he talked peace and pushed for dialogue.
So, Pakistan’s latest moves against Saeed has not impressed many in South Block.
Pak action, India reaction
On Wednesday, Pakistan lodged 23 cases on charges of terrorist financing and facilitation against 26/11 mastermind Saeed and a dozen members of his groups, as well as five banned outfits showcasing themselves as charity organisations. Pakistan’s Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) said it has registered the cases in Lahore, Gujranwala and Multan for collection of funds for terror financing through assets or properties in the names of trusts or non-profit organisations.
“Large scale investigations launched into financing matters of proscribed organisations Jamat ud Dawa & Lashkar-e-Taiba in connection with the implementation of UN Sanctions against these Designated Entities & Persons as directed by NSC (National Security Committee) in its Meeting of 1st January 2019 chaired by the PM Imran Khan for implementing National Action Plan,” the CTD said in a statement.
According to CTD, on July 1 and 2, it registered the 23 cases against the leadership of JuD (Jamat ud Dawa), LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) & FIF (Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation) for making assets from terror financing through the following trusts and non-profit organisations: Dawat ul Irshad Trust, Muaz Bin Jabal Trust, Al-Anfaal Trust, Al Hamd Trust and Al Madina Foundation Trust.
Apart from Saeed, CTD also named other leaders of JuD & LeT who have been booked, including his aides Abdul Rehman Makki, Malik Zafar Iqbal, Ameer Hamza, Muhammad Yahya Aziz, Muhammad Naeem, Mohsin Bilal, Abdul Raqeeb, Ahmad Daud, Muhammad Ayub, Abdullah Ubaid, Muhammad Ali and Abdul Ghaffar.
India has reacted sharply, unimpressed by Pakistan’s moves. The Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Thursday, “Pakistan is trying to hoodwink the international community on taking action against terror groups. Let us not get fooled by cosmetic steps against terror groups by Pakistan.”
Having learnt from past experience, India is much more cautious this time.
Held, released, held…
Saeed was, possibly for the first time, detained in December 2001, after the Parliament attack. Pakistan took Saeed into custody on December 21, 2001 after India had built pressure and asserted that he was involved in the December 13, 2001 attack. Saeed was held until March 31, 2002, released, then taken back into custody on May 15. He was placed under house arrest until October 31, 2002 after his wife Maimoona Saeed sued the province of Punjab and the Pakistan federal government for what she claimed was an illegal detention.
After the July 11, 2006 Mumbai train bombings, the provincial government of Punjab (Pakistan) arrested him on August 9 and kept him under house arrest but he was released on August 28 after a Lahore High Court order. He was arrested again the same day by the provincial government and was kept in the Canal Rest House in Sheikhupura. He was released after a Lahore High Court order on October 17, 2006.
After the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, India submitted a request to the UN Security Council to put JuD and Saeed on the UN list of global terrorists. On December 11, 2008, he was again placed under house arrest when the UN declared JuD as an LeT front.
Saeed was held in house arrest under the Maintenance of Public Order law, which allowed authorities to detain temporarily individuals deemed likely to create disorder, until early June 2009 when the Lahore High Court, deeming the detention unconstitutional, ordered his release.
On July 6, 2009, Pakistan’s government filed an appeal against the court’s decision. Deputy Attorney General Shah Khawar told the Associated Press that “Hafiz Saeed at liberty is a security threat.”
On August 25, 2009, Interpol issued a Red Corner Notice against Saeed, along with Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, in response to Indian requests for his extradition. Saeed was again placed under house arrest by the Pakistani authorities in September 2009. On October 12, 2009, the Lahore High Court quashed all cases against him and set him free.
Frustrated with what it saw as Pakistan’s lack of seriousness, New Delhi even disclosed a list of 50 most wanted fugitives in May 2011.
In April 2012, the US announced a bounty of $10 million on Saeed for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. After the bountry, Saeed gave an interview and said, “I am living my life in the open and the US can contact me whenever they want.” Throughout, he has been giving anti-India speeches and roams around freely in Pakistan.
He was once again put under house arrest in January 2017, as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) started scrutinising Pakistan’s record against terrorism. In an unusual move, Pakistan’s Army said at that time that the detention was a “policy decision in the national interest” as the government announced that Saeed’s 90-day house arrest could be extended if required.
On November 24, 2017, Pakistani authorities announced that Saeed had been released from house arrest earlier in the week after the Lahore High Court concluded that there was “nothing tangible” in the evidence presented against him in a government request to extend his detention. The US and India released statements criticising the move.
So, much of the Indian establishment sees the latest FIRs as a replay of the past.
Why act now
Pakistan began its latest moves on July 1, the date when its all-weather ally China took over as the chair of FATF.
The moves came days after the G-20 declaration at the Osaka summit on June 28-29 gave primacy to the FATF’s “essential role” and called for the effective implementation of its standards. On June 21, at the FATF plenary session in Orlando, the US (the then FATF chair) had told Pakistan that it could face blacklisting at its next session in October if it did not adhere to its commitments to stop access to funds for terror groups.
Pakistan’s CTD statement said: “Large scale investigations have been launched into matters of JuD, LeT & FIF regarding their holding & use of Trusts to raise funds for terrorism financing. They made these assets from funds of terrorism financing, they held & used these assets to raise more funds for further terrorism financing. Hence, they committed multiple offences of terrorism financing & money laundering under Anti-Terrorism Act 1997. They will be prosecuted in ATCs (Anti Terrorism Courts) for commission of these offences. These Assets/NPOs have already been taken over by the government in compliance with UN Sanctions.”
The FATF once again takes up Pakistan’s case in September-October, and Pakistan’s action is being seen as a move to avoid being blacklisted and even come out of the grey-list. Its nod to Beijing, so that China lifted its technical hold and let Azhar be listed as a global terrorist, is also seen as a move in this direction. With China as the new FATF chair, Pakistan is building a case of good behaviour for itself in front of the international community.
That is the reason India has been demanding “credible, sustainable, visible and irreversible” action against these terror groups and their leaders. It believes Pakistan is taking these measures so that China can show to the world that its all-weather ally is serious about taking action against terrorists.
Until it is convinced of Islamabad’s and Rawlpindi’s sincerity, India will keep pushing for Pakistan to be blacklisted, which will have a debilitating effect on Pakistan’s economy. And Imran Khan and Pakistan’s Army – which is aware of these risks – are perceived to be taking these steps to ward off blacklisting and possibly get out of the grey-list.