The conviction of Hafiz Saeed, a UN-designated terrorist whom India and the U.S. blame for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that killed 166, by a Lahore anti-terrorism court on terror finance charges shows that Pakistan can be forced to act against terror networks under international pressure. Saeed, in jail since July last year, was convicted in another case of terror financing in February this year. He is currently serving two sentences of five and a half years each. Saeed would not serve any additional jail term as the judge said he would serve the punishment concurrently with the other sentences. But the repeated convictions of someone who was a favourite of Pakistans military establishment till a few years ago, in terror financing cases, underscore the concerns India and the U.S. have about his operations. He first founded the LeT in the 1990s targeting India. When the terror group came under international pressure, he revived the JuD, supposedly an Islamic charity, in 2002, which India accuses of being an LeT front. Even after the Mumbai attack, Pakistan refused to act against Saeed and his networks. It was only after the U.S. declared a bounty on Saeeds head and the UN proscribed his organisations that Pakistan, facing pressure from the FATF, banned his organisations.
Unsurprisingly, the latest conviction comes a month after the FATF, a global dirty money watchdog, urged Pakistan to complete an internationally agreed action plan to fight terror financing. In February 2018, Pakistan endorsed a UN list of terrorist organisations operating in the country and enforced a nationwide ban on them, including the LeT and the JuD, just before a meeting of the FATF. But the FATF still placed Pakistan on its grey list in June 2018, and demanded more actions from Islamabad to avoid being blacklisted, which could invite economic sanctions. Ever since, Pakistan, which cannot afford to be blacklisted, especially when its economy is in a shambles, has moved against Saeed. The Anti-Terrorism Departments FIRs against Saeed and his aides accuse the JuD of financing terrorism from its fund collections in the name of charity through NGOs. While the authorities move against Saeed is welcome, the question is whether these are genuine attempts to fight terrorism or half-hearted measures to dodge international pressure. There are doubts because Pakistan had used anti-India and anti-Afghan terrorist networks for strategic advantages. It was this dual policy of fighting terror at home while nurturing terror groups that target its rivals abroad that has been responsible for Pakistans predicament. If it is serious about fighting terrorism, Pakistan should crack down on terror financing and terror infrastructure. The international community and organisations, including the FATF, should keep up the pressure until Islamabad shows tangible outcomes.