Ahead of crucial FATF meeting, Pakistan arrests LeT leader Lakhvi

Ahead of crucial FATF meeting, Pakistan arrests LeT leader Lakhvi

India questions seriousness of the action, terms it routine.

Nearly five years after he was released on bail in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks case, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operations commander Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi was arrested in Pakistan by its Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) on charges of using terror funds. The timing of the arrest is significant as it comes ahead of meetings of the global watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in January and February, which will consider Pakistan ‘greylist’ status, meant for countries “under increased monitoring”.

“[Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi] is accused of running a dispensary using funds collected for terrorism financing. He and others also collected funds from this dispensary and used them for further terrorism financing and for personal expenses,” said the Counter Terrorism Department police spokesperson of the Pakistani province of Punjab, adding that Lakhvi’s offences were compounded by the fact that he is on the United Nation’s Security Council list of banned terrorists (under the UNSC 1267/1373 committee), and thus cannot have recourse to any funds without special clearance. The case is expected to be heard by the Anti-Terrorism court in Lahore, the statement said.

However, Indian officials questioned the seriousness of the actions, saying it had become routine for Pakistan to showcase arrests of key terrorist figures just before FATF meetings. The arrest of LeT founder Hafiz Saeed in July 2019, three months before an FATF plenary session, was due to decide on downgrading Pakistan to the ‘blacklist’ or “High Risk Jurisdictions” that face severe financial sanctions. Pakistan has been retained on the greylist, but faces a blacklisting if it fails to complete a 27-point action plan to curb terrorism financing and money laundering.

In its previous plenary session in October 2020, the 39-member FATF had decided to give Pakistan three months more to complete the action plan, in which it has cleared 21 of the 27 points, with six outstanding. In particular, the FATF plenary outcomes had told Pakistan’s government that it must demonstrate “effective implementation of targeted financial sanctions against all [UNSC] 1267 and 1373 designated terrorists and those acting for or on their behalf, preventing the raising and moving of funds, identifying and freezing assets, and prohibiting access to funds and financial services” and show effective prosecution against them as well. At least 146 U.N. banned terrorists are Pakistani citizens, but India has been closely pursuing the prosecution of Hafiz Saeed, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar through international channels like FATF for their role in continuing terror attacks.

“Action against Lakhvi is long overdue. Had Pakistan acted against Lakhvi and Azhar last year, they would have been near a conviction, like Hafiz Saeed who has now been convicted. With this ‘one-by-one’ prolonged approach, Pakistan is harming its own strategic interests, and delaying completing the action plan it has been given,” explained an official who asked not to be identified.

Lakhvi was designated a terrorist on December 10, 2008 by the U.N. Security Council Sanctions committee (QDi.264) for directing the LeT operations in Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and south-east Asia. Under pressure after the Mumbai attacks on November 26-28, 2008, Pakistani authorities had arrested Lakhvi, who was accused of training the 10 gunmen in Pakistan and directing their brutal actions in Mumbai that left 166 people dead, from a control room in Karachi. He was held at Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail until he was granted bail, and released by the Lahore High Court in April 2015.

India and the U.S. had protested the release, especially since Lakhvi was able to pay Pakistan Rs. 2 million (₹20 lakhs) as his bail amount, without providing evidence of his sources. Since then, officials had maintained that he was untraceable. Last year, the government had even removed Lakhvi’s name along with thousands of others from its own list of terrorists, an action that was subsequently reversed after it was raised at the FATF proceedings. The action against Lakhvi now is therefore understood to be ahead of the Asia-Pacific Joint Group later this month, which will make its recommendations about whether to continue Pakistan’s greylisting, downgrade it to the blacklist, or take it off the FATF’s watchlist altogether. The FATF’s plenary, due to be held in Paris, or virtually from February 21-26 will make the final decision. Officials say it is unclear which way the FATF will rule, given its own internal procedures.

“The FATF has its own mechanism to decide things and it is for the membership of the FATF and the Plenary meeting to see whatever progress has been made on the action plan which was given to them. I don’t think I’ll be able to comment on this right now. It’s for the Plenary is to take a decision,” said Mahaveer Singhvi, MEA Joint Secretary on Counter-Terrorism, speaking earlier this week at a conference organised by think-tank Global Counter Terrorism Council (GCTC) in Delhi.

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