IN a ‘breaking news’ culture, it is not often that such a significant development in a high-profile case can be kept so low key. However, news of the conviction earlier this month by an anti-terrorism court in Lahore of Sajid Majeed Mir, a top operative of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, in a case of terror financing has trickled out only just now.
The court sentenced Mir, more well known as the alleged handler in the horrific Mumbai attacks of November 2008, to 15 and a half years behind bars and a fine of Rs420,000. His name had come up fairly early in investigations by US and Indian counterterrorism authorities into the attacks which killed 166 people, including 26 foreigners, at several sites in Mumbai.
After forensically examining intercepted phone calls recorded during the course of the attacks, the officials came to believe it was his voice directing the gunmen and urging them to kill. For several years, however, Pakistani authorities continued to insist that Mir was dead, a claim that the West refused to believe.
Weak prosecution and a poor conviction rate in terrorism cases were the final hurdle that Pakistan had to cross in order to be taken off the FATF grey list where it was placed in 2018. The conviction and sentencing of a senior-level LeT operative such as Mir no doubt carried considerable weight in the latest progress report submitted by Pakistan to FATF.
Just a couple of months earlier, the Jamaatud Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed was sentenced to 33 years behind bars in two cases of terror financing; he was already serving time for earlier convictions, also for terror financing. Taken together, the outcome of the prosecutions against Mir and Saeed was deemed, as indeed it should be, conclusive evidence of the country’s commitment to putting militant actors out of commission.
The watchdog body in its latest plenary concluded that the country had “substantially completed” the two action plans it was required to implement; all that remains for Pakistan to exit the grey list is an on-site visit by a technical team to verify the steps taken. The last four years have been a sobering journey. The perception that elements in Pakistan were turning a blind eye to militancy, or worse, has cost us dearly in terms of international goodwill and economic losses. Now that this country has been nudged towards a more rational path, it must continue to stay the course.
Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2022