Lashkar-e-Taiba founder and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed’s conviction by an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Lahore in two cases of terror financing is somewhat significant. Sentencing Hafiz Saeed has not been an easy task, as evidence and incontrovertible testimonies have been hard to come by. With weak prosecution and ill-prepared cases, Saeed and his alleged accomplices were unlikely to be found guilty as charged. Although he has been arrested in the past, or put under house arrest several times, this is the first time that Saeed has been sentenced. The court found him guilty of having links with terrorist groups and raising funds for terrorist acts. It has handed him a prison term of five and a half years and a fine of Rs 15,000 in each of the two cases. While he has been sentenced to a total jail term of 11 years, he will spend only five and a half years in jail as both sentences will run concurrently. Wanted in India for masterminding the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, Saeed, who is a United Nations-designated terrorist, carries a $10 million US bounty on his hand. Pakistani courts had dismissed several other cases against him saying there wasn’t evidence tying him to terrorism. This, despite India providing Pakistan with ample evidence to convict him for his role in the Mumbai attacks. His conviction and sentencing in terrorism-related cases now is therefore a small step forward.
However, neither India nor the rest of the international community should be impressed with Saeed’s conviction. It was long overdue. Besides, Saeed can appeal the verdict in the country’s higher courts. His patrons in the Pakistani military can be expected to pressure the high court to free him. Importantly, the verdict does not necessarily mean that Pakistan has become serious about bringing to justice terrorists like Saeed. 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. A plenary meeting of global anti-terror financing watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force, is just days away. The decision whether or not to blacklist Pakistan will be taken at this meeting. The possibility that the verdict against Saeed is aimed at impressing and convincing FATF members to keep Pakistan out of the blacklist cannot be ruled out. The genuineness of Pakistan’s commitment to bringing Saeed to justice will be evident in the months after the FATF meeting. The FATF and other global bodies and governments should be cautious in their response to the anti-terrorism court’s verdict against Saeed.
Just as a single swallow doesn’t make a summer, the conviction of a single or even a handful of terrorists, even important ones like Saeed, does not signal a change in Pakistan’s policy of supporting and using terrorists as instruments of its foreign policy. The Saeed verdict shows that Pakistan is responsive to global pressure as the latter has implications for its tottering economy. The FATF and others must keep up the pressure on Pakistan to get it to dismantle its infrastructure of terrorism.