Pakistan’s actions against terrorists keep up appearances, but do not inspire confidence
The timing of Pakistan’s arrest of Zaki Ur Rahman Lakhvi, the LeT operations commander, and linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, just ahead of the next meet of global watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has been greeted with scepticism in India. Whenever Pakistan has faced a decision on its “grey list” status, it has carried out similar actions that appear to be aimed more at ensuring a better outcome for itself at the FATF. Its arrest and conviction of Hafiz Saeed and other LeT leaders in terror-financing cases, the passing of anti-terrorism and money laundering laws in the Pakistan Assembly to bring them in line with FATF-mandated international norms, and the publication of new lists of terrorists at various times, all timed before FATF reviews of Pakistan’s status, have been cited as more of the same. The FATF’s Asia Pacific Joint Group is to meet in January to prepare recommendations for a final decision on Pakistan’s status to be presented to the FATF plenary session in February. Pakistan was brought back onto the grey list in June 2018, and given a 27-point action plan list to be completed by October 2019. Since then, it received at least four reprieves, and was judged at last count to have completed 21 of 27 points, with six outstanding. The plenary session can choose one of three options therefore, in keeping Pakistan on the grey list, where it is subject to some financial restrictions, to downgrade it to the black list, where it will face stringent sanctions, or close the review and let Pakistan off the lists altogether. Pakistan will now hope that its progress in the action plan and having key terror figures in prison earn it a reprieve.
The fear for India is that if Pakistan earns that reprieve, it can reverse all its actions. India has watched the arrests of all these men and other terrorists on India’s “most wanted” lists in the past, only to find that they are released on bail, or let off over prosecutorial lapses once the world’s gaze is averted. Last month, a Pakistan court’s decision to overturn the conviction of al Qaeda leader Ahmed Omar Sheikh Saeed, a terrorist India was forced to release during the 1999 IC-814 hijacking, for the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, shows how Pakistan’s investigating agencies and judicial system treat terrorism. Hafiz Saeed has been convicted only of terror financing charges and faces concurrent sentencing of about six years at the most, as would Lakhvi, who faces similar charges, despite a long record in transnational terror attacks. Others like Masood Azhar continue to evade any kind of prosecution despite UN sanctions. For India and its battle to have Pakistan’s establishment held accountable on this issue, the FATF grey listing (from 2012-2015 and 2018-now) is a necessary lever to keep that process going.