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Pakistan bans terrorist Hafiz Saeed’s charities, seizes his offices, assets

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WASHINGTON/ ISLAMABAD: The Trump administration’s tough approach towards Pakistan on terrorism may be yielding some results. Castigated and called out publicly by the new dispensation in Washington — in contrast to the previous administration’s kid glove treatment — Islamabad is purportedly rolling up its state-sponsored terror groups in the face of imminent financial sanctions and blacklisting for its use of terror proxies in the region.

Pakistan on Wednesday made a big show of seizing assets and funds of Jamaatud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation run by the 26/11 Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed. Jamaatud-Dawa is believed to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is involved in terrorist attacks in Kashmir.

However, Saeed is still free, and according some reports, in hiding. The operation of Saeed’s huge network of schools, seminaries, hospitals, publications and vehicles in Pakistan was a matter of serious concern for the US. Washington had offered $10 million for information leading to Saeed’s arrest and conviction.

Punjab’s provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah said, “We have received the interior ministry directions, and according to that Hafiz Saeed and his charities, like JuD and FIF, have been banned to operate in Pakistan.” However, American mistrust of Pakistani bona fides in winding down terror groups was evident in comments from senior officials who continued to speak of Pakistan non-compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions on terrorism.

The immediate reason for Pakistan being galvanized into pretending it has given up on its policy of using terror groups is the upcoming meeting in Paris of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) starting February 18. Having long bluffed the global community that is does not support or host terror groups, a claim made by its army chief as recently as Monday, Pakistan has had its feet held to the fire in recent weeks by Washington, which not only suspended bilateral aid but warned greater pain with the support of UK, India, and rest of the global community.

“The US has consistently expressed our long-standing concern about ongoing deficiencies in Pakistan’s implementation of its anti-money laundering/counterterrorism finance (AML/CFT) regime,” a State Department spokesperson said on Wednesday, while warning that the February Plenary of FATFwill be determining appropriate next steps. The remarks suggested Washington remains leery of Islamabad’s pretensions of rolling up terrorism, a view expressed by the US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats at a hearing on Tuesday when he accused Pakistan’s military of holding back counter-terrorism cooperation with Washington while continuing to go easy on militant groups based in the country.

“Pakistan-based militant groups continue to take advantage of their safe haven to conduct attacks in India, in Afghanistan, and including US interests therein,” Coats said, while surmising that the “ongoing Pakistani military operations against the Taliban and associated groups probably reflect the desire to appear more proactive and responsive to our requests for more actions against these groups.”

News that Pakistan is in the FATF firing line was first disclosed by Pakistani officials — partly to explain to its people the action against Saeed’s outfits — who claimed that the US and India are spearheading an effort to get Pakistan included in the FATF “grey list”. While virtually confirming the report, US officials indicated there was a broader international consensus over bringing Pakistan to book.

One US official told a news agency that “in addition to broader systemic concerns, this also includes Pakistan’s non-compliance with its commitments under UN Security Council Resolution 1267”. The resolution broadly enjoins sanctions against countries that fail to take steps against designated terror groups.

Despite being forced to act against its proxies, Pakistani officials continued their bluster before the global community, with the country’s interior minister Ahsan Iqbal warning in an interview on CNN that “any unilateral action in Pakistan (by the US) will be a red line for Pakistan”.

Any effort to try to bully Pakistan or force Pakistan will be counterproductive, Ahsan said. Not since 1993, when the then Bush Sr administration considered designating Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, has Islamabad been in such dire straits. Sanctions under FATF would severely impair the country’s already parlous economy.

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