The conviction of Hafiz Saeed by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan is the direct result of the intensifying gaze and pressure of the Financial Action Task Force, an international watchdog against terror financing. It was the FATF’s placement of Pakistan in the “grey list”, and repeated warnings that Pakistan’s non-compliance with commitments to clean up its act could result in a blacklisting, that led to a crackdown against Saeed and his Jamat ud Dawa/Lashkar-e-Toiba last year. Charges were laid against him and several others of the JuD under Pakistan’s 1998 Anti-Terrorist Act, leading to the conviction a couple days before the FATF is to meet to decide if Pakistan should be “blacklisted”. He has been sentenced for five and a half years in prison. In recent years, Delhi, which named Saeed and the LeT as the mastermind of the Mumbai 2008 terrorist attacks, has come to depend much on the FATF, a multilateral body powered by the United States Treasury, to get Pakistan to act against terrorists and terrorist groups that have India in their crosshairs. In this respect, the FATF has proved more effective than the listing of such entities by the UNSC 1267 committee. The designation of Saeed and Masood Azhar under 1267 has given India diplomatic victories to crow about, but little relief on the ground from these vicious men or the terrorist networks associated with them, especially in Kashmir. But an FATF blacklisting could get Pakistan excluded from the global financial system, from banking and non-banking lenders, which for a country whose economy is on life support from the International Monetary Fund, would be far more devastating.
This is why it is not wise of Delhi to dismiss Hafiz Saeed’s conviction as cosmetic, done to keep off international pressure. That seems to suggest that such pressure has little value, even though Delhi frequently asks the world to use its influence on Pakistan to act against terror groups on its soil. It also downplays the work of the FATF, which is doing more than most to rein in Pakistan’s free radicals. Of course the “efficacy” of Hafiz Saeed’s conviction will need to be tested against actions Pakistan takes as a result of this conviction. Saeed, who has spent most of the last dozen years in and out of house arrest, and had for the most part received a free pass from the judiciary, continues to have powerful patrons who would like to take India back to the 1990s in Kashmir. The recent “escape” of Ehsanullah Ehsan of the Pakistani Taliban, named in the 2014 massacre of children at the Army Public School in Peshawar, is a timely illustration that Pakistan’s pact with violent proxy groups can be broken only by structural changes.
Still, Saeed’s conviction is no small thing. This is the first time Pakistan has been forced to convict a man running a proxy army for its military and nurtured as a VIP for years, as a terrorist under its own law. India should welcome the sentencing as a good first step.
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