Just six days after his arrest on January 2, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the known Lashkar-e-Taiba mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror strikes, was sentenced to a five-year jail term on terror financing charges on January 8.
The speed with which the wheels of justice turned in Pakistan in the case of Lahkhvi’s terror financing case are in sharp contrast to the years he remained charged in the Mumbai attack case, in which he was eventually bailed out.
It’s evident that where Indian pressure and American prodding didn’t work in ensuring Lakhvi’s conviction in the Mumbai terror strikes, in which 166 persons were killed, Islamabad’s fears about punitive action from the Financial Action Task Force, or FATF, seem to have done the trick.
Islamabad has been facing the heat from the financial watchdog for some time on the issue of terror financing and has called upon Pakistan to make sure it complies fully with its action plan prior to a key FATF meeting in February.
Lakhvi’s sentence is also in line with that of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed’s conviction in four terror-financing cases in November and February 2020. In October 2020, FATF decided that Pakistan would remain on its grey list, pending full compliance with its action plan.
In a statement, FATF said Pakistan needed to work in four areas to address “strategic deficiencies” as far as terror financing was concerned. Among other things, Pakistan needed to demonstrate effective implementation of targeted financial sanctions against all “[UN-mandated] 1267 and 1373 designated terrorists”.
So, here we have the context behind all the “action” from the Pakistani establishment relating to Lakhvi and Saeed, who prospered and thrived in the warm embrace of the Pakistani establishment for decades. They are now being treated as a public liability and, hence, the arrests and rather speedy convictions.
Also, key for the Pakistan Army/ intelligence establishment is that their convictions are not in relation to an India-related terrorist case. Bending before India, or being seen to be bending before India, is not good policy for any Pakistani establishment. The fallout of an India-terror related conviction would be a hot potato to handle, given that many key figures in the Pakistani establishment said at the time of the Mumbai terror strikes that these had been conducted by India itself.
Also read: India terms action against Lakhvi a farce
In Lakhvi’s case, the prosecution seems to have had its way with the Lahore anti-terrorism court judge. “The court was informed that Lakhvi was a founding member of the banned LeT, which was proscribed in the country in 2002 due to its involvement in terrorism, while the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) has also imposed financial restrictions on him,” The Express Tribune reported on Friday. The court held that a “dispensary” was under Lashkar’s charge and being used for “terrorist purposes”.
In all, the Dawn newspaper reported that the Pakistani Punjab’s counter-terrorist department had registered 41 FIRs against Jamaat-ud-Dawa (the parent wing of the Lashkar) leaders, of which trial courts had “decided” as many as 27 cases.
It’s clear that a strategic decision has been taken to shut down the JuD-Lashkar combine by the Pakistani establishment. However, even during his time as an “under trial” detainee in Adiala jail, Rawalpindi, Lakhvi could receive guests and use the Internet, access a mobile phone and watch television. He is even believed to have fathered a child while in jail. So, the jury will have to wait and watch what kind of “jail treatment” awaits Lakhvi this time.
The secrecy with which the Pakistani deep State operates makes it difficult to assess what exactly is happening. A recent arrest warrant for Masood Azhar, leader of the Jaish-e-Muhammad, confirms after years the presence of the wanted terrorist in Pakistan. Remember that Azhar was one of the terrorists exchanged by India in return for the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in December 1999. Given their being creatures of the Pakistani establishment, and the enduring interest in using non-State actors to foment trouble in Jammu and Kashmir, it’s quite likely that new outfits may have already received the blessings of the deep State. For now, Lakhvi and Saeed are in jail. Azhar’s fate will be keenly watched in India.