OPINION

Flip-flop on terror

Pakistan’s decision to withdraw terror charges against Hafiz Saeed, chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa/Lashkar-e-Toiba, is an outrage, and calls into question its professed seriousness to address terrorist violence emanating from its territory. Saeed, the mastermind of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, had been detained by the Punjab provincial government in January this year under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). But last week the government said it was not including charges of terrorism in a new order for his detention. He is still in detention under the milder Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance and under which bail is obtainable. Saeed’s house arrest this year appeared to have been prompted by a tough message from the U.S. government; it was also effected to avoid sanctions by the UN’s body on terror funding, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which has been conducting a review of Pakistan’s actions this year. The fact is that since 2002, when the LeT was first designated a terror group by the UN Security Council’s Taliban/al-Qaeda sanctions committee, Pakistan has done very little to hold Saeed to account, which is a sign of the immense power he wields given the LeT/JuD’s reach and its role in the intelligence agencies’ operations. Despite all the evidence and testimonies detailing Saeed’s visits to the 26/11 terror training camps, his instructions during the attacks, and his call for violent attacks in India, the Pakistani government has allowed, if not enabled, him to build a virtual citadel in the town of Muridke near the provincial capital Lahore.

Oddly enough, it was only a few weeks ago that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif held that Saeed was a “liability”. It may, therefore, be no coincidence that the terror charges were dropped at a time when the U.S. President has openly praised Pakistan for cooperating in the release of American hostages. Also, the U.S. and Afghanistan have only just revived talks with Pakistan on reining in the Taliban. Regardless of the reasons, if Pakistan doesn’t take steps to reverse this latest move on Saeed, it will be seen as an open challenge to India, the U.S. and the international community. While the UN has strict sanctions on Saeed, the U.S. too has designated him a terrorist, with a $10 million bounty, for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in which American citizens too were killed. This is, in essence, a test of U.S. President Donald Trump’s new South Asia policy, in which he has vowed reprisals if Pakistan fails to take action against all terror groups on its territory, not just those targeting the U.S. in Afghanistan. If India’s persistent endeavour to bring Saeed to justice for his role in the Mumbai attacks continues to fall on deaf ears in Pakistan, then all the international declarations on terrorism will carry little weight. The next round of the FATF, which is due at the end of this month, must be used to send a tough message to Pakistan.