Hafiz Saeed’s ‘ten-year jail sentence’ is an eyewash; LeT chief stays emblem of Pakistani duplicity

Saeed has been in and out of house arrest since 2008, with the courts setting him free after the State seemed unable to frame charges

Hafiz Saeed's 'ten-year jail sentence' is an eyewash; LeT chief remains emblem of Pakistani duplicity

File image of JuD chief Hafiz Saeed. Reuters

It appears that Hafiz Saeed, leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba which is ostensibly banned in Pakistan, has been sentenced to ten years in jail by an anti-terrorism court, for the offence of terror financing. This hardly made headlines back in Pakistan, since this is hardly news. Saeed has been in and out of house arrest since 2008, with the courts setting him free after the State seemed unable to frame charges.

For sheer effrontery, try to imagine Osama bin Laden arriving with a escort of SUVs in court, and then being patted on the hand and told to go home. It would have been unthinkable in Riyadh, and completely unacceptable to the United States. Bin Laden and Saeed are responsible for two of the worst terrorist attacks in recent history. Yet the former is dead, while the other, according to reports, is still to be seen with his aides, and being treated with the courtesy due to a VIP. That’s Pakistan.

Let us back up a bit, and see the present situation for what it is. Pakistan has been forced, step by reluctant step, to start putting the brakes on terrorism since the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global watchdog that was set up in 1989 to deal with money laundering, began putting pressure on it. Post 9/11, the FATF’s remit was widened to include terrorist financing, even as its members increased to the present 39 countries. In June 2018, the group put Pakistan on a ‘grey list’ together with 7 others including Trinidad-Tobago, Ethiopia and others. Pakistan is the only large country, and that too with nuclear weapons. Don’t forget that the FATF mandate also applies in some part to the proliferation of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction).

Given that Pakistan has for years been a prime node for proliferation, it is entirely possible that the FATF has also been quietly examining its dark nuclear doings, particularly with Iran, North Korea and China.

To return to terrorism, after the grey listing, Pakistan decided to proscribe Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and eight other ‘trusts’ associated with it, including the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation. The Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation once worked on the ground in at least three other countries, including the Rakhine area of Myanmar. In July 2019, Saeed was ‘arrested,’ coincidentally, just about three months before the FATF was to meet. In December, he was indicted and in February, he was sentenced to five-and-a-half years for terrorism financing, and for possessing ‘illegal property’. A six-month-long component of that sentence was for being part of a ‘proscribed organisation’. Unsurprisingly again, this sentencing came just ahead of another FATF meeting. Saeed was then formally lodged in Kot Lakhpat jail. Not even those with the most fervent belief in Pakistan would believe that he was put in a dank rat-infested cell. More likely, the jail warden would have had to look for other quarters.

The present sentencing of Saeed is reported to be a total of ten years, running concurrently. Saeed has been given the benefit of Section 382(b), which provides for reduction of sentence undergone “by any period during which he was detained in custody for such offence”.

And here’s another thing. Under Clause 11F of the Anti-Terrorism Law, 1997, just being a member of a proscribed organisation, or even attending or organising a meeting of such a group, is liable to not less than a year of imprisonment. In this case, the accused is the founder of the group, and its loud hailer. Yet, the court hands him just six months. Add other clauses like ‘good behaviour’ or even old age ( he’s 70 plus) and the head of one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world could be out in less than a year.

There is one further possibility. Saeed is still to be seen at rallies, but not so much as before. He no longer has much operational control over the Lashkar, which was always in the hands of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi anyway. Lakhvi himself hasn’t been seen much, since he was out on bail in 2015. Everyone and anyone in counter terrorism circles has heard of Saeed, with him fast becoming an emblem of Pakistani duplicity. Given this, there is a possibility that Saeed may not come out of jail at all, allowing the leadership to pass to largely unrecognised hands.

For instance, look at the sudden death of far-right cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, who held Islamabad hostage on several instances. This included the recent protest against France, when embarrassingly large crowds marched from Rawalpindi to Islamabad, demanding cutting all ties with France, and the immediate expulsion of the French Ambassador. Khadim’s potential for mischief was considerable, and, at the minimum, it showed all the world just how extremist Pakistan had become. Rizvi, however, took ill and died suddenly after a meeting with officials. That puts paid to the 54- year-old, who had become a power to reckon with in the country.

Lakhvi is no protestor, and though firmly on the side of the establishment, he is fast becoming a huge embarrassment, while his oratorial skills can be replicated by others. Besides, a dead Saeed could be more useful than a living one who has to be shifted in and out of jail in the full gaze of the international community. Saeed as a dead martyr to the Kashmir cause, would, however make a pretty portrait for those upcoming rallies. A little airbrushing, and it’s done.

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