Jail for 26/11 mastermind

The three five-year prison sentences for Mumbai attack mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, awarded by a Pakistani court, would have inspired some confidence if there were a hint of an inclination to act firmly and decisively against UN-proscribed terror actors. Instead, as India’s Ministry of External Affairs pointed out, the timing of the ‘farcical’ step against the Lashkar-e-Taiba operations commander revealed a deceitful ploy before meetings of global terror finance watchdogs. Like in the case of Hafiz Saeed, the action comes ahead of the meeting of the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering on Tuesday, and the Financial Action Task Force plenary in February-end. Pakistan has been on the ‘grey list’ since June 2018; it was given three more months to fully comply with the Action Plan last year.

New Delhi’s scepticism is not misplaced. Lakhvi is likely to be sent to Adiala jail in Rawalpindi — the same place where he was kept when first arrested in 2008; it was later reported how he lived a life of comfort, with privileges facilitated by the state. Incidentally, or by design, the grant of bail came a day after the Peshawar Army Public School massacre in 2014 — an indication, if any was needed, of the culture and environment of lawlessness and the organised support for terror activities the neighbour continues to nurture.

Placement on the FATF ‘grey list’ is a warning of being put on the ‘black list’, which can invite global sanctions for Pakistan for being branded as uncooperative and a haven for terror funding. The perception is that the routine exercise of arrests and convictions is carried out primarily to escape this eventuality. Pakistan has China’s backing, but its fate would also depend on how the Biden White House weighs the Taliban-Islamabad axis for the Trump-championed troop pullout. As India begins its two-year tenure at the UN Security Council, it gets to chair the crucial Taliban sanctions panel, and next year the Counter-Terror Committee, formed in the wake of 9/11 to bolster the ability of member states to prevent terror acts both within their borders and across regions. The task is cut out.

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