ISLAMABAD - The recent conviction of banned Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed would help Pakistan either to get its name off the grey list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) or save it to downgrade further to its black list, security experts and government officials say.

A five-day plenary session of the 37-member global anti-money laundering watchdog — FATF – is set to begin in Paris on February 16 to decide whether to remove Pakistan from its grey list, or downgrade it further to the black list.

On Wednesday, a Lahore anti-terrorism court sentenced Mumbai attacks suspect Hafiz Saeed to rigorous imprisonment for five and a half years each in two terror financing cases. Saeed and his associate were booked in more than a dozen cases last year for allegedly using charitable organizations to collect funds destined for militant outfits and terror financing.

Security experts and government officials who have closely worked with the implementation process of the 27-point action plan of FATF believe that the conviction of banned JuD chief has strengthened Pakistan’s case before the plenary session that it is taking strict measures to choke terror financing. They argue that while the JuD chief has been put under house arrest or in jail for a number of times in the past but he was never put on trial or convicted in terror financing before.

“The conviction will help to create a good will of Pakistan as FATF is long demanding verifiable serious steps by Pakistan,” said Muhammad Amir Rana, the director of an Islamabad-based independent Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), in an interview to The Nation.

“The challenge for Pakistan is to avoid black listing, the conviction will add in Pakistan’s argument that it needs some more time to fully implement the remaining parts of the agreed action plan,” said Rana.

The officials of the ministries of finance and interior stress that Pakistan this time doesn’t face any risk of being further downgraded to the blacklist and are hopeful that the country’s name would be removed from the grey list now, background interviews with some officials indicate. They say that Pakistan has have enough material and evidence to satisfy the global watchdog that it has done its best  to implement the 27-point action plan asking for curbing money-laundering and terrorism financing.

A senior police officer, who served at the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) for many years, wishing not to be named, said that Pakistan would avoid downgrading further to the black list with the conviction of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant group.

The decision of conviction of Saeed has been hailed by the US as well. In the past, it was Washington that had spearheaded the campaign to place Pakistan on the grey list. 

US has been demanding of Pakistan for an action against Saeed for allegedly being the mastermind of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. US had designated him as a global terrorist, and in 2012, had announced a $10 million bounty for information leading to his arrest.

“The conviction of Hafiz Saeed and his associate is an important step forward – both towards holding LeT accountable for its crimes, and for Pakistan in meeting its international commitments to combat terrorist financing,” said senior US diplomat for South Asian affairs Ms Alice Wells in a Twitter statement.

FATF had placed Pakistan on its grey list in June 2018, following the watchdog found that its legal framework had loopholes to curb terrorism financing. Since then, the country has been struggling to get off the list and satisfy the international body that it has plugged all gaps to choke money laundering and terror financing.

FATF had cleared Pakistan of 14 out of the 27 points at its Asia Pacific Group meeting held in Beijing on January 21-23.

Pakistan would need 12 votes to get off the grey list and three votes to avoid blacklisting, says the FAFTF charter.