Western powers want action against terrorist Hafiz Saeed and his groups. Photo: Reuters / Mohsin Raza
Western powers want action against terrorist Hafiz Saeed and his groups. Photo: Reuters / Mohsin Raza

Nearly 10 years after the United States Treasury Department designated Hafiz Saeed as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist“, Pakistan has finally passed an order labeling him the same way at home.

While it is unclear what this means for Sayeed personally, the two groups associated with him, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) will face a nationwide ban.

Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain issued the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance 2018 on February 12, amending the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997. The decree imposes a nationwide ban on all terrorist groups listed by the United Nations.

The LeT has been accused of carrying out numerous attacks in India, including the terror assault on Mumbai on November 26, 2008. And now, LeT and its affiliate JuD are among 27 outfits declared as terror groups by the UN, with Hafiz Saeed also listed as a terrorist at home.

Sources within the Interior Ministry confirmed that the move came ahead of a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Paris due to run from February 18 to 23.The United States has moved a motion with the United Kingdom, Germany and France to put Pakistan on the FATF’s “grey list”. Pakistan was put on the ‘grey list’ in February 2012 but removed in 2015 after the FATF said Islamabad had taken steps to counter the funding of terrorism. But the threat has come back to haunt Pakistan and analysts in Pakistan and India feel the motion is likely to go through.

Pakistan on FATF’s ‘grey list’ again?

“There was concern that the US and India would increase pressure on us, which might force FATF to take action against Pakistan,” a government official told Asia Times. “The FATF has put a lot of pressure on Pakistan,” Muhammad Amir Rana, a security and political analyst and director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) said. “This isn’t just because these groups are operating in Pakistan, but also because they work outside the country. There are serious monetary transactions involved as well.”

In India, senior government officials dealing with Pakistan welcomed the news with cautious optimism. “The Americans have been instrumental in pushing the FATF to include Pakistan. Numerous instances of terror groups getting material and financial support from Pakistan surfaced last year,” a senior Indian government foreign ministry official told Asia Times.

However, while Indian security officials have been in touch with their US counterparts, and have shared intelligence on the LeT and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, they denied that spurred the move. “We are quite clear that the Pakistani support to militant groups in Afghanistan forced the Americans to act,” a senior government security analyst said. According to him, repeated instances of support to groups killing US soldiers in Afghanistan forced the Trump administration to move within FATF.

Meanwhile, multiple sources within the Pakistan Foreign Ministry have confirmed that Washington is regularly pushing for action against jihadi groups that it believes have been given safe havens in Pakistan.

Trump administration upset with Pakistan

In President Trump’s South Asia policy announced in August 2017 and the US national security strategy Pakistan has been identified clearly as a sponsor of terrorism globally. Washington has called on Pakistan to desist from engaging in “destabilizing behavior” in Afghanistan. Indeed, Trump’s New Year tweet blamed Pakistan for “lies and deceit” and sparked a furious war of words. In July 2012, Trump had also blamed Pakistan for harboring Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden.

The JuD’s leaders believe that Pakistan “succumbed to US and Indian wishes” by passing Anti-Terrorism Ordinance 2018. “We have always established that the current government is anti-Pakistan and its interest isn’t to go what’s best for the country. They want to do what their masters in the US and India want them to do,” JuD spokesman Nadeem Awan told Asia Times. Awan said that Hafiz Saeed was in Karachi when the amendment was passed and the group would work out a course of action once he returns to Lahore.

“We are exploring legal options after the Lahore High Court released Hafiz Saeed in November, owing to the baseless charges leading to the house arrest that was enforced under Indian dictation,” Awan said.

In December, the Pakistani government had already finalized plans to take over charities and financial assets linked to Saeed. Ironically, this came at a time when the Pakistani military leadership was planning to mainstream his groups into national politics. In fact, Sayeed was seen as a tool to counter to the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Growing tussle between army and civilian govt

Multiple military and government officials have confirmed that a row over the future of Hafiz Saeed is among the main points of friction between the Army and civilian leaders, which spurred the Dawn Leaks scandal in October 2016. It is suspected that a cabinet colleague of Nawaz Sharif leaked the minutes of a meeting in which civilian leaders blamed the army for Pakistan’s increasing isolation. The leaks led to a furor and heightened tensions between the elected government and the army.

“It is action over Hafiz Saeed and the desire to improve ties with India that resulted in the military establishment backing the ouster of Nawaz Sharif,” a leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) told Asia Times on the condition of anonymity.

“The tussle continues, and that explains why the military establishment have an understanding with Islamist parties like the Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and Milli Muslim League (MML) to get them into mainstream politics.”

The Milli Muslim League is the political front of the LeT and JuD, and contested a byelection in Lahore’s NA-120 constituency in September, with the Hafiz Saeed-backed Sheikh Yaqoob bagging 5,822 votes. Yaqoob has also opened an office in the seat as the hub of MML’s political activity.

It remains to be seen how effective the ban on Sayeed and his groups will be. For now, the decision of the FATF next week poses a major threat to Pakistan’s economic and political well being, as it could be subject to international sanctions.