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Hafeez Saeed’s imprisonment a farce?

Hafeez Saeed image source Twitter user @nailainayat
Hafeez Saeed image source Twitter user @nailainayat

The fall of the Imran Khan government after weeks of drama in Pakistan, is another nail in the coffin of democracy of a country beleaguered by military coups. The latest, quiet a while in offing, has returned the power to the military in the guise of a caretaker government and shadowed key happenings in Pakistan which also have a direct effect on global security. 

The sentencing of terrorist mastermind, Hafiz Saeed, to over 31 years by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan for terrorist financing might seem a surprising turnaround but in reality merely a stage-managed show for the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog. 

Pakistan, grey listed by FATF in the past few years, is desperate to prove that it was serious about putting an end to terrorist financing operating in the country. Such gestures are not new for Pakistan—Saeed and his cohorts have been charged and sentenced on numerous occasions, particularly after the 2008 November Mumbai attack which killed over 170 persons. But every time, the prosecution is challenged in a higher court and the judges have been eager to throw the cases out. 

Hafiz Saeed is not new to terrorism—he has been around since before the more-infamous Osama bin Laden came to the scene. In fact, Saeed is the oldest living terrorist mastermind in the world. He has survived all kinds of scrutiny and sanctions and lived to tell the tale of Pakistan’s deep relationship with jihad. Saeed lives in plain sight of every one, heads a big family with several wives, runs a corporate empire and has long relationship with the Pakistan Army and several political leaders. He is also the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a global terrorist group involved in several global terrorist attacks including the one on Mumbai. 

Saeed and his group, including Jamat-ud Dawa and various other charity fronts, have been fundraising for years through various means. The most prominent has been voluntary contributions from businessmen, political leaders and others. Pakistan is yet to identity such individual entities who continue to keep the jihadi fire alive. Millions flowed from international charities like Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawatul Irshad Trust and Muaz Bin Jabal Trust among others. Huge amounts came from Bangladesh, Maldives, Saudi Arabia and various other Muslim countries. 

Another important source of funds for the terror group has been the provincial government in Punjab. The group has drawn millions of rupees (close to Rs 90 million) from the government for its charity work—in fact, the Punjab government, under Shehbaz Sharif, brother of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has been a generous donor to the cause of Hafiz Saeed. No one in the bureaucracy or political party has been accused of being accessory to terrorism. These are not new facts—all these have been in public domain since the 1990s, published widely in respected English magazines like Herald and various books on terrorist groups in Pakistan. 

So what happened in July 2019 that the Pakistan government finally woke up to these facts and ordered action to be taken against Saeed and his group for terrorist financing? More than 40 cases were filed against Saeed and other group leaders. The investigating officers found the terrorist group’s fundraising efforts “diverse and systematic”—sale of animal hides to donation boxes in public places. In 2009, the group reportedly earned $1.2 million alone from sale of hides. 

In June 2018, Pakistan was first time grey-listed by FATF and was given one year to fulfill the a checklist of requirements to be white-listed. Grey-listing put at risk IMG funds and other donations. A year later, no progress was found and FATF increased the pressure. Then, as Pakistan dithered classically, FATF leaned heavily, raising the possibility of a blacklist if its requirements were not complied with. As international lending agencies began quoting Pakistan’s deliberate game of delays at FATF in holding back critical lending commitments, the Imran Khan government had no choice but to give up pussyfooting on terrorist groups like LeT. The army too fell in place as international pressure was difficult to deflect and money was scarce. Add to that its chief protegee, the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, suddenly financial requirements increased on the Afghan front. The Pakistan government, army and intelligence services had calculated that they may be able to get funding on the Afghan end given the imminent starvation of the Afghan people. This was not to be. Now with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is very little hope of any recognition of the Taliban, with the burden of financing operations in Afghanistan on the Pakistani establishment.

Four years after being sanctioned, Pakistan seems finally to be moving against LeT and its leadership. Saeed has been in prison for close to two years and charged with several cases, all of which are related to terrorist financing. So, is Pakistan serious about prosecuting terror masterminds? If it was, then Saeed should long ago been charged with terrorism, tried and prosecuted under harsh anti-terrorism laws. Then, as past experience shows, higher courts always offer a perfect alibi for Pakistan establishment’s real intention—to let terrorist masterminds like Hafiz Saeed remain loyal to the state policy of jihad. 

About the Author
Sergio Restelli is an Italian political advisor, author and geopolitical expert. He served in the Craxi government in the 1990's as the special assistant to the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Martelli and worked closely with anti-mafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino. Over the past decades he has been involved in peace building and diplomacy efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. He has written for Geopolitica and several Italian online and print media. In 2020 his first fiction "Napoli sta bene" was published.
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