Terror and punishment: On Hafiz Saeed conviction

Pakistan must give up its strategy of using terrorism for geopolitical leverage

Updated - February 14, 2020 01:20 am IST

Published - February 14, 2020 12:05 am IST

The Pakistani government, which for years tried to protect Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, finally got a conviction and a jail term for the cleric in two terror financing cases. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief and his close aide Malik Zafar Iqbal have been sentenced to five-and-a-half years by an anti-terrorism court, vindicating India’s years-long position that Saeed had been using his organisations to finance terrorist activities. While the conviction is a welcome step, Pakistan has to do more if it wants the international community to take its self-declared resolve to fight terror seriously. This is because Pakistan’s actions in the past against terrorist outfits have hardly been convincing. It started cracking down on Saeed’s groups in 2018 only after it was threatened to be put on the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) , an inter-governmental body fighting money laundering and terror financing. The government endorsed the UN ban on these organisations in February 2018, just a few days ahead of an FATF meeting. Despite these actions, Pakistan was placed on the grey list.

Unsurprisingly, the conviction of Saeed and Iqbal comes a few days ahead of another crucial FATF meeting. In the 2019 October meeting, the organisation had warned Islamabad to take “extra measures” for the “complete” elimination of terror financing and money laundering. And if the FATF is not satisfied with Pakistan’s actions, the country faces the risk of being downgraded to the “black list”, which could bring tough sanctions on its financial system. So, Pakistan is evidently under international pressure. The question is whether its actions are half-hearted steps aimed at avoiding the wrath of the international community or part of a genuine drive against terror. One can’t blame if India, Afghanistan or any other country doubts Pakistan’s intentions, given that Islamabad had avoided taking action against Saeed and his groups for years. Saeed was put under house arrest several times, only to be released once the international attention turned away. The fundamental problem is Pakistan’s policy of exporting terrorism to its neighbours for geopolitical leverage. Historically, Pakistan has adopted a dual policy towards terrorism — fight it at home but export it through proxies to its neighbours. Unless it changes this policy and joins the regional drive against terrorism, peace and stability would elude the region. This remains a critical issue in Indo-Pak ties as well. So, the international community shouldn’t let up its pressure on Pakistan. Islamabad should be asked to take, not just legal action against terror financing, but also hard measures against terror groups and infrastructure.

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