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Saeed in the dock

The Lahore anti-terrorism court has sentenced the man to imprisonment for five-and-a-half years and a fine of Rs 15,000 in each of the two cases.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

The conviction and sentence of the Jamatud Dawa leader, Hafiz Saeed, in two terror financing cases ~ incidentally close to 12 years after the butchery in Mumbai ~ would appear to be rather mild in the context of the enormity of the crime related to the financing of terror and the perpetration thereof.

The Lahore anti-terrorism court has sentenced the man to imprisonment for five-and-a-half years and a fine of Rs 15,000 in each of the two cases ~ for “being part of a banned terrorist outfit” and for “having illegal property”, not to forget the larger perspective of fund-raising for the purpose of terror. He has even been granted the benefit provided by a section of the Code of Criminal Procedure, specifically reduction of the period of sentence of imprisonment.

Wednesday’s verdict will almost certainly be greeted with a measure of cynicism by India and the United States. Both countries have repeatedly accused Saeed of masterminding the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, killing no fewer than 166 people. Furthermore, he was declared a global terrorist by the US and the United Nations over his alleged role in the Mumbai outrage.

The perceptions of India and the US are similar ~ JuD is considered to be a front for Lashkar-eTayeba, the militant group blamed for the Mumbai catastrophe. Considering the ramifications of his operations, the verdict is arguably lenient in the overall construct. According to the Counter Terrorism Department, JuD was financing terrorism from the massive funds collected through non-profit organisations and trusts including Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawatul Irshad Trust, Muaz Bin Jabal Trust, etc.

These non-profit organisations were banned in April last year as the CTD, during detailed investigations, found that they had links with JuD and its top leadership. Deeply significant must be the timing of the sentence. It has been pronounced days before the Paris plenary of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which will, on 16 February, decide whether or not Pakistan needs to be blacklisted for failing to act against terror. Its standing in the credibility stakes has been under a cloud for a while.

Islamabad desperately wants to get off the “grey list”. Small wonder that the government has referred to the court’s action as a renewed effort by the country to comply with commitments to FATF, specifically to curb terror financing and money laundering. That contention has been clothed with the assertion that “it is important to remember that Saeed has not been convicted in the Mumbai attack case”.

It is hard not to wonder whether that ghastly outrage has been relegated to the footnotes in the Pakistani narrative. There is little doubt that the government is anxious not to be caught with all defences down at the Paris conference. Is Pakistan “black” or “grey”? This is the cardinal issue that will be thrashed out at the FATF meeting. Imran Khan can’t risk it. He can at least flaunt a toned down verdict to boast.