The Imran Khan Government has jailed global terrorist Hafiz Saeed yet again to wriggle out of the FATF grey list
This is as anodyne as it can get, Pakistan imprisoning globally proscribed terrorist and mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks Hafiz Saeed. For the nth time. That too on terror-financing charges. Clearly, Pakistan is indulging in another round of tokenism to escape severe action by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the anti-money-laundering watchdog, something which would cost it international aid. With consistent lobbying, it managed to win over the monitoring panel recently when its members expressed satisfaction over its corrective compliances and counter-terrorism efforts. The crackdown on Saeed is another demonstrable tradeoff tool, with fringe benefits. This time he has been charged with routing money through his charity organisations, Jamaat-ud-Dawa’ah (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat, both fronts that funded his militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT). This is not the first time that Saeed, the arrowhead of Pakistan’s proxy war with India, has become a scapegoat to pacify world opinion at our behest. As and when there has been a concerted push against global terrorism, Pakistan has kept Saeed in and out of detention on various charges and even put him under house arrest, eight times since 2001, according to the US House foreign affairs committee. While these made for temporary optics, he has been roaming around that country at will. Not only that, Pakistan has abetted the mutation of several terrorist networks, eliminating them the moment their names have been put under the scanner and recasting them as new outfits. The charity route through socio-religious bodies is also tried and tested, with no means of tracking specific use of each grant that is funnelled through several conduits except those listed deliberately to deflect attention from the clandestine operatives. Remember, Saeed was also arrested last July and no less than US President Donald Trump — amping up Pakistan’s instrumentality in negotiating with the Taliban — had publicly scaled up a routine affair, saying it was possible only after a 10-year search. Neither has Saeed appeared broken or in retreat. In fact, before he was confined to his premises in 2017, he held a press conference on continuing jihad in Kashmir, exclaiming, “This order has travelled from New Delhi to Washington and then finally to Islamabad.” This is no different from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has made a habit of attributing every Western admonition of its excesses to pressure from India and its status as a significant market. Given these precedents, the latest move is also nothing but a hogwash.
Except that the endorsement of Pakistan should worry us a bit more this time, particularly now that US Senators are keeping a close watch on the lockdown in Kashmir and have even written to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to address it during the Trump visit to India. With Pakistan under review at FATF, the Kashmir issue is unwittingly being drawn into the discourse as a counterweight. Alice Wells, the top US diplomat for South Asia, who had expressed concern over continued detentions and internet shutdown in Kashmir, has now lauded Pakistan “in meeting its international commitments to combat terrorist financing.” Clearly, the US needs Pakistan for the Afghan pullout and bending the Taliban. It may also be yielding ground at FATF as freezing aid to Pakistan might just aggravate the economic instability in the region and have a cascading impact on politics. But at the last round of FATF, India’s was the lone voice of protest against the lenient view on Pakistan. Even the European Union (EU) and Japan were convinced by our neighbour. If indeed it gets out of the grey list, it can avail international funding and the conduits to Kashmir could be red hot again, not that they had stopped completely. Besides, the Pakistani economy is not exactly stuttering, Moody’s upgrading its status from negative to stable, its Arab benefactors investing and even Russia keen to put money in north-south gas pipelines. Global penalties won’t impact Pakistan’s proxy war with India; the Government-military configuration will always keep that on the boil, prioritising it as a strategic interest. Even while staying on the FATF watch, there has been no cessation of terrorist infiltration into Kashmir. A listing won’t change that ground reality. At the same time, India has to ensure that there is no change in the international opinion of “Kashmir is a bilateral issue” argument, the pin-pricking offers of mediation by Trump notwithstanding. The Government needs to demonstrate some optics, too, in assuaging criticism both in the US and EU, both of which are being pushed uncomfortably on human rights in Kashmir. Our hardening stance would mean that the world will relax its posturing towards our neighbour.