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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

‘Now prosecute them’: US tells Pakistan about arrested LeT operatives

These new arrests and other long-overdue counter-terrorism measures by Pakistan are understood to be linked to the upcoming meeting — from October 13 to 18 — of the Financial Action Task Force in Paris.

world Updated: Oct 13, 2019 23:14 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 22, 2019.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 22, 2019. (Reuters file photo)
         

The United States has urged Pakistan, which has a long history of catching and releasing terrorists operating from its soil, to successfully prosecute top Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives it arrested recently, ahead of a crucial meeting of a global watchdog on terror financing next week.

“The victims of LeT’s vicious attacks deserve to see these individuals prosecuted now, along with LeT leader Hafiz Saeed,” Alice Wells, head of the US state department’s South and Central Asian bureau, wrote on Twitter on Sunday, welcoming the arrests and reminding Pakistan of its obligation to end its catch-and-release approach to dealing with terrorists.

Invoking Prime Minister Imran Khan’s own statements in this regard, Wells added, “Pakistan for its own future must prevent militant groups from operating on its soil.”

The Khan government announced the arrest of four top operatives of the LeT in the past week, calling them close aides of the outfit’s founder Saeed. They were identified as Zafar Iqbal, Yahya Aziz, Muhammad Ashraf and Abdul Salam. Saeed has been in custody since July.

ALSO WATCH | PM Modi will take care of it: Trump when asked about Pak-sponsored terror

These new arrests and other long-overdue counter-terrorism measures by Pakistan are understood to be linked to the upcoming meeting — from October 13 to 18 — of the Financial Action Task Force in Paris. It will decide, among other things, whether or not Pakistan has done enough to escape being moved from the “grey list” to the “black list” of egregious offenders.

Pakistan has a history of catching terrorists to deflect global attention when things get too hot and quietly release them later. Saeed, the LeT founder and mastermind of the Mumbai attacks of 2008, has been caught at least eight times since 2001 and released every time. He has moved around freely and had even tried to mainstream himself with a political party, which was denied permission to contest elections.

Saeed was arrested for the ninth time in July, a month after the FATF found Pakistan vastly short of targets set by the watchdog in 2018 to dismantle the financial structure that aided terrorist financing and money-laundering.

US diplomat Wells’s appeal for the prosecution of the arrested LeT operatives and Saeed, who carries a US reward of $10 million for his arrest, is only the latest in a series of US calls marked occasionally by frustration and irritation. After he was released from custody in 2017, the White House had angrily warned of “repercussions” if he wasn’t arrested immediately.

He wasn’t and the Trump administration suspended all security related aid to Pakistan after a few months, following a tweet from the president decrying “lies and deceit” by Pakistan.

There has been a softening of the rhetoric from the US towards Pakistan in recent months in view of Islamabad’s help in bringing the Taliban, another designated terrorist group it controls, to the negotiating table for peace in Afghanistan. And Prime Minister Khan was given a White House meeting with Trump as a part of that effort.