Pakistan Bails Out Hafiz Saeed Again!

The news of a Pakistan anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Lahore granting pre-arrest bail to banned Jamaat-ud-Da’awa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and three others has come to the fore. This is not surprising! The case pertains to JuD’s illegal use of land for its seminary and terror financing. However, it has been reported that Saeed was arrested and sent to judicial custody by Pakistani authorities

Earlier, the interim bail was granted to Saeed, his brother Hafiz Masood and two of the co-founders of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Ameer Hamza, and Malik Zafar, until Aug 31, against surety bonds of PKR 50,000 each.

Both Hamza and Zafar have been responsible for fundraising for JuD. Unconfirmed reports suggested a year ago (in March 2018) that Hamza had earlier split away from LeT and founded his own terror outfit called Jaish-e-Manqafa.

Notably, in the first week of July, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of Pakistan, acting in accordance with the directive of the National Security Committee (NSC) under the National Action Plan (NAP) in February 2019, had registered as many as 23 FIRs against JuD leaders at the CTD police stations of Lahore, Gujranwala, Multan, Faisalabad and Sargodha. It had booked 13 JuD office bearers, including the four top leaders of the outfit. In May, Saeed’s brother-in-law Abdul Rehman Makki, along with another senior leader Mohammad Shahbaz were taken into custody.

The NSC ban on JuD and its charity wing Falah-i-Insaniyat (FiF), the CTD had found that JuD was engaged in terror financing through collection of massive funds through non-profit organisations like FiF, and several trusts including Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawat-ul-Irshad Trust and Muaz Bin Jabal Trust. It was claimed that the government had already taken over these organisations.

Against this backdrop, the grant of bail to three top JuD leaders by the Lahore ATC court clearly demonstrates not only the lack of seriousness on the part of the law enforcement agencies to prosecute the JuD leadership for their links to terror financing, but also the disjunction between different institutions in Pakistan, in this case the CTD and ATC court, while dealing with terror elements within the country.

The Pakistan government is not taking such perfunctory action for the first time. Hafiz Saeed was earlier released by a Lahore court in November 2017, after 10 months of house arrest. Saeed knows very well that state agencies will ensure minimum possible damage to him and his organisation, while such symbolic action will be widely advertised through media as a measure of Pakistan’s commitment to take action against terror outfits operating on its soil.

In reality, Pakistan has taken such measures only under pressure from the international community. In its review meeting in Orlando, USA last month, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) had expressed its concern about grey-listed Pakistan failing to complete its action plan items due May 2019, after skipping the January deadline.

It had urged “Pakistan to swiftly complete its action plan by October 2019”, failing which, the FATF would “decide the next step at that time for insufficient progress”, which could be black-listing of Pakistan as a country of concern.

It is thus incumbent on Pakistan to demonstrate “that terror financing prosecutions result in effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions and enhancing the capacity and support for prosecutors and the judiciary”.

That prosecution against Saeed and others have been poorly framed. This can be gauged from the petition filed by Saeed’s lawyer that the CTD had wrongly shown his and his colleagues as members of the LeT, which was banned in January 2002, while Saeed had left it in December 2001, as per the Lahore High Court verdict in 2003!

Apart from FATF’s pressure, the move could also have been timed well ahead of Imran Khan’s visit to the US later this week-end, to signal that Pakistan was ready to address US concerns’ about terror originating from its soil.

The structural linkages between Pakistan’s deep state and the terror groups like LeT are too strong for the state to take any conclusive action against global terrorists like Hafiz Saeed.

Script: Dr. Ashok Behuria, Coordinator South Asia Centre, Idsa