Only sentencing Hafiz will no do, Pakistan must ensure that all terrorists and groups operating on its soil face justice

By shredding reality to shambles, Pakistan is very smart in creating optics on issues which have high judicial, political, diplomatic and economic values not just inside the country, but outside it too. A few days before Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is to hold its plenary meet and review Pakistan’s steps in curbing terror funding and money laundering, a Lahore anti-terrorism court on February 12 convicted Hafiz Saeed, the 26/11 mastermind and UN-designated terrorist to five-and-a-half-year imprisonment and slapped a fine of Rs15,000 in two terror financing cases. India has though not commented officially on the development, but it has indicated through official sources that Pakistan must ensure all terrorists and groups operating on its soil face justice.

A common perception in India and the world is that Pakistan has taken a stand against Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, only to convince 37-member inter-governmental body that it is committed to fight against terrorism. Six-day plenary meet of the FATF starts on February 16. So far the group has placed Pakistan in the grey list. If it black lists Pakistan then it means it is pushed deep into financial crisis as no foreign investment will be made in the country. Also, it could put restrictions on Pakistan’s other financial activities. And at the time when Pakistan is reeling under huge debt, it could ill afford to annoy the FATF and face the consequences.

As per a data from the Pakistan central bank, the country was under more than $100 billion worth of external debt and liabilities till March, 2019. Each month, it has to give a huge amount of money in interest to the countries and funding agencies which offered it loans. Already, the country’s GDP is teetering around two per cent mark. Then food inflation is all-time high with 12 per cent, while unemployment situation is abysmally bad. Energy and gas prices are also very high. Amid this, the country is under tremendous pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bring down ballooning fiscal deficit, as its reviewing process for its further course on $6 billion aid to be given to the country has begun.

But unfortunately, international politics is riddled with myriad geo-political games. The US State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asia has described Pakistani court’s action against Hafiz Saeed as an “important step forward” in a tweet. The US is a key member of the FATF and its positive response on Pakistan’s action against the US-designated terrorist means the group may tone don its stridency against Pakistan and may allow it to remain in the grey list. This may give Islamabad some breather. Yet international community should realize that Pakistan has never been serious in containing terrorism. In 2018, Hafiz Saeed was placed under house arrest for 11 months, yet activities of the Jammat-ud-Dawa continued unabated. Not this alone, Pakistan’s Punjab province government watered down terror charges on him, leading to court making his house arrest untenable. Thus he was allowed to roam free and do his anti-India activity. In this background, Lahore anti-terrorism court’s verdict could be nothing but a gimmick.