Hafiz Saeed's sentencing: Pakistan's deception games with the FATF
We have already seen this script. We've seen it playing so many times we've almost lost count, with little or no variations at all. It goes like this: each time you need to show the international community that you are not harbouring and training and supporting terrorists, announce a 'crackdown', against individual, against financial assets or both. Once the danger is gone, re.instate the status quo until the next time. So, the recent verdicts against Jamaat-ud-Dawa Supremo Hafiz Saeed, sentencing him to five years and an half in two terror financing cases by the Lahore Anti-Terrorism Court, have come as a surprise for few, particularly after the Court had accepted a plea seeking clubbing of all six cases against Saeed and his associates, just a day before February 11. The last episode had been playing months, ago, in October, when Pakistani Government appealed to UN asking the international organisation to allow a monthly 'pension' to Mohammed Hafiz Saeed because the founder of Lashkar-i-Toiba and Jamaat-u-Dawa needs to support his family. The same request, and this did not make headlines, had been made for Yahya Mujahid (Spokesperson JuD), Zafar Iqbal (Head of Education Wing), Haji Ashraf (Finance Wing) and Muhammad Bhutvi (Finance Wing). Previously, Pakistan had claimed to have arrested the four gentlemen above, and to have arrested Mohammed Hafiz Saeed too, and that their bank account had been frozen. Immediately after, the Government asked one lakh allowance for each one of them to support their families: and placed them not in a jail but in confortable rooms at Markaz Al Qadsia in Lahore, where they were and still are free to go on with their activities. And while FATF in Paris was playing its October session with all the fifty shades of grey to keep Pakistan out of the blacklist, the so called 'banned' organisations and the 'convicted' terrorists were busy, very busy, freely carrying out their activities as usual. Until few days ago. For those watching the hectic goings-on of the Financial Action Task Force whose next plenary to review Pakistan is coming up in Paris from February 16, the news was in fact a replay of the earlier actions taken by Pakistan always and only before an FATF plenary, including declaring closing of terror camps operating in the country or taking over the assets of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. The timing is key to understand. The verdict in Hafiz Saeed case was in fact expected on 18thj February, as indicated by the Court. But of course, the FATF session had been fixed for the 16th, and Pakistan would have been liable to be questioned for its lack of compliance in terror financing cases of proscribed individuals and entities, making it a potentially ripe candidate for inclusion in the FATF black list. The move is so patent even a child would understand it and not believe. Interestingly, even Hafiz Saeed's lawyer in these cases , while speaking to the media, argued that Saeed's conviction was due pressure ahead of the FATF meeting. The verdict itself has loopholes that can be used in Saeed's favour. For instance, the court has granted him the benefit of section 382-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure, that allows the government to reduce the period of Saeed's sentence. As a result, the possibility of Saeed being released , in case Pakistan is given a clean chit by the FATF cannot be ruled out. Further, the verdict is weak and admits only indirect association of Hafiz Saeed with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa. All these are issues which the FATF needs to look into carefully before coming to a decision on Pakistan. Pakistan’s record on promoting, aiding and abetting terrorism is well documented and while the FATF may prefer once more to stick to procedures and technicalities while reviewing Pakistan’s progress, or lack of it, the shadows from its past and its present could and should be playing on the minds of decision makers. Already late in demonstrating compliance on 27 action items under the FATF’s Action Plan, Pakistan would be hoping to play big the Hafiz Saeed verdict to disguise its inaction on many other fronts while keeping the doors open for their biggest 'strategic asset'. While Pakistan is in fact hoping to convince the FATF of its intent, at the same time it has done nothing to put a stop to activities of UN designated entities and individuals, which continue unabated with impunity. The JuD, Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM ) and their affiliates have been during all this time routinely holding fund raising events, conferences, rallies, Friday congregations and funeral processions to carry on their Jihadi propaganda as if they lived on another planet where FATF was not a thing. They demonstrate not just their impunity but a duplicity of their patrons who believe that the political quid-pro-quos, rather than demonstrable actions, determine outcomes in the real world. While the FATF may be a technical body, its intent is to stop the spread of modern world’s greatest scourge. It is important for the FATF also to recognize that actions should be consistent and real and not only, as usual, transitory and cosmetic. And that Pakistan should respect not only the technicalities but the spirit of FATF requests.