International pressure or not, the arrest of Hafiz Saeed has come at a time when Imran Khan is visiting the US and the military leadership is holding talks with the US administration
Once again, Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), is behind the bars. However, this time he has not been detained as an accused in the Mumbai attacks or jailed under Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) law but as chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a militant group alleged of cross-border infiltration into the Indian-held Kashmir.
In the FIRs of 23 cases lodged against the key leaders of the JuD, Saeed (mentioned as chief of LeT) and his aides are accused of terror financing and misusing of space donated by locals in different cities to spread terror and collect money used for terrorism purposes. The JuD leaders were booked in these cases in the first week of July under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.
"The Counterterrorism Department (CTD) Punjab has registered 23 cases against the leadership of JuD, LeT, FIF (Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation) for making assets from terrorism financing through various trusts," a CTD statement reads. "They made these assets from funds of terrorism financing, they held and used these assets to raise more funds for further terrorism financing. Hence, they committed multiple offences of terrorism financing and money laundering under Anti-Terrorism Act 1997. They will be prosecuted in anti-terrorism courts (ATCs) for commission of these offences," it adds.
The recent action against them is believed to be taken in connection with implementation of the United Nations’ sanctions imposed on these groups and as a follow-up of the decision of the National Security Committee (NSC) in January 2019 to speed up action against banned outfits.
The arrest of Saeed comes at a time when Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting the US and Pakistan’s military leadership is also holding talks with the US administration. Pakistan has been officially denying the presence of LeT in the country for the past many years.
The timing of the arrest is significant," says Raza Rumi, political analyst. "Pakistan also faces scrutiny by FATF for alleged financing of terror groups. Many steps have been taken in recent months but this one remains the most important. The identification of Saeed as LeT chief is also meaningful and is a clear acknowledgement of the international view. Pakistan’s gradual return Westwards is noteworthy," he explains.
The JuD is expected to challenge the cases against its leadership in the court. "We have seen such cases (associating leaders with the LeT and alleging them of terror financing) for the first time. This is quite new and strange for us," says Ahmad Nadeem Awan, spokesperson of the JuD, adding, "We have moved the court against these cases. In 2009, the Lahore High Court’s full bench cleared Saeed and his aides of these charges after the state failed to produce evidence."
AK Dogar, the council of Saeed in the Lahore High Court, says that superior courts have admitted that the JuD is not linked to any terrorist group or activity. "These new cases have been filed without any substantive evidence. Facts mentioned in the cases wrongly describe them as members of LeT and level unlawful allegations of terror financing."
In Lahore last week, an anti-terrorism court granted pre-arrest bail to Saeed and aides in a case till August 31. While the Lahore High Court issued notice to the CTD to submit a reply as the JuD moved court against these cases, the JuD claims that these cases do not have facts for referring these leaders as members of LeT and financing terror.
Hafiz Saeed founded the JuD in the mid-1980s and allegedly the LeT in early 1990s. Pakistan banned the LeT in 2002. Saeed was listed by the United Nations as an international terrorist in December 2008 for his alleged association with LeT, and al-Qaeda. A relief group, FIF, was founded to promote a soft image of the group by doing extensive relief work across the country. In 2012, the United States also announced a bounty of $10 million on Saeed for his alleged role in the Mumbai attacks.
Pakistan speeded up action against the JuD and its offshoots last year after country’s name was included in the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in June 2018. A recent meeting of the FATF decided to keep Pakistan in the grey list until next October. It said if the country does not meet the requirements to curb terror financing its name might be considered for the black list.
In February 2019, Pakistan banned the JuD for the first time. The government also announced taking over assets of these groups and froze their bank accounts. Similar action was taken in February, before the June 2018 meeting of the FATF, when the interior ministry, through a presidential ordinance, announced to take over the JuD and FIF assets -- moveable, immoveable and human resource.
Pakistan renewed its efforts during the past few weeks after a preliminary meeting of the FATF discussed placing the country on a watch-list with countries failing to prevent terrorism financing. In May 2019, Pakistan banned 10 offshoots of the JuD.
The July 2019 arrest is not Saeed’s first. He was put under house arrest in 2006 after Indian authorities sought his extradition, alleging him of masterminding Mumbai train bombing that killed 186 in 2006. After three months, the Punjab government released him from house arrest on court order. He was detained again in December 2008 after his alleged involvement in the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. Again, he was set free by the Lahore High Court in 2009 for having no proof against him. He was detained and later house-arrested under the MPO in January 2017 and was released by the court by the end of the year due to ‘lack of evidence’.
Muhammad Amir Rana, security analyst and executive director, Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), says it could be "different this time", referring to the history of Saeed’s arrests and releases in the past. "The CTD has to prove links of Saeed and his aides with the LeT, which were not proved in the past," he points out.
"Because Saeed had rebranded himself as the head of a charity network, the prosecution could not present hard evidence against him. He was given relief by the courts. Now the ball is in the court of the government. It must prove that it is serious about prosecuting him," says Rumi.
"If a weak case is submitted in the court again then the courts could repeat the past verdicts," adds Rumi, director at the Center for Independent Media, Ithaca College, USA.
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