A Pakistani court on Thursday gave Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed, held responsible by India for masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and two close aides prison sentences totalling ten-and-a-half years in two cases of terror financing — a decision likely influenced by the pressure brought to bear on Islamabad by the Financial Action Task Force. It is also being seen as an indication of Saeed’s decreasing utility to Pakistan
Besides Saeed, the others sentenced by the anti-terrorism court in Lahore are Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) leaders Zafar Iqbal and Yahya Mujahid, who served as JuD’s spokesperson for many years. All three have been sanctioned by the UN Security Council.
Saeed’s brother-in-law Abdul Rehman Makki, also a top leader of JuD, was given a six-month sentence in the same cases. Saeed, currently serving a prison term in connection with other terror financing cases, was produced for the sentencing by anti-terrorism court judge Arshad Hussain Bhutta.
Saeed was given two separate five-year prison terms under provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act for using and providing funds for acts of terrorism. He was also given a six-month prison term for being a member of a banned group. The judge ordered the seizure of Saeed’s “movable and immovable property” and directed him to pay fines totalling Pakistani ₹110,000.
All three sentences will run concurrently. Since Saeed is already in jail serving two sentences of five-and-a-half-years given to him in February, he will not serve any extra jail time.
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“Since the convict has already been convicted… by this court vide judgment dated 12.02.2020, so the punishment awarded to him in this case shall also run concurrently with punishment in said cases,” the court’s order said.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity the sentencing of Saeed was largely due to pressure on Pakistan from western powers and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to crack down on terror groups and terror financing, including prosecution of those funnelling funds to terrorists.
The people added Saeed’s conviction in four separate cases this year could be an indication the military establishment no longer considers him an asset. Virtually all of Saeed’s top aides have been arrested and put on trial, and there are indications that they are no longer playing a role in directing LeT’s operations.
“It appears that LeT operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who was arrested for the Mumbai attacks and later released on bail in 2015, is the main person directing the operations (of the terror group),” said one of the people cited above. Lakhvi’s current whereabouts are not known.
A total of 41 cases were registered against Saeed and his aides by Punjab Police after he was arrested in July 2019. Of these cases, two were decided on Thursday, bringing the tally of cases decided so far to 24. The rest are still being heard by anti-terrorism courts. Saeed and his aides are being held in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.
There was no immediate reaction from Indian officials to Saeed’s sentencing.
Asked about Pakistan-backed terror groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir at a weekly news briefing, external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said India had protested against Pakistan’s “continued support to cross-border terrorist infiltration into India” and reminded Islamabad of its bilateral commitment to now allow any territory under its control to be used for terrorism.
Srivastava also the “incessant infiltration of terrorists and induction of weapons to fuel terror activities continues unabated” and these activities weren’t possible without the support of Pakistani forces deployed along the Line of Control.
Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, said Pakistan could say after Saeed’s sentencing in several cases that it has delivered on FATF’s demand for prosecution of those involved in terror financing, and claim a moral victory. “But it’s more important to see what Saeed does next, including the outcome of any appeals in higher courts. The Pakistani establishment may have sacrificed Saeed but his network remains and his son Talha Saeed and Lakhvi are still active. The game is not over yet,” he said.
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