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Sheikh acquittal nails Pakistan’s terror farce

Ghafoor Ahmad

The acquittal of notorious terrorist, Omar Saeed Sheikh, by the Supreme Court of Pakistan court is a grave travesty of justice and a clear pointer to how the Pakistan Army has subverted even the highest judiciary to protect its terrorist proteges.

Sheikh is not the first terrorist to be set free by Pakistani courts. Lashkar-e-Taiba chief and a designated global terrorist, Hafiz Saeed, has been released on several occasions by the high courts for want of evidence. In not one case, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, had found it urgent and necessary to take note of such disregard for rule of law, an indication of how the top judiciary for long been serving the interests of the army. The Supreme Court judges on many occasions have been too eager to ratify military coups in the past.

Sheikh, associated with al Qaeda and Jaish-e-Mohammad, is involved in the 2002 beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi besides several terrorist acts and activities stretching from Bosnia to Kashmir.

Sheikh, a British national of Pak origin, has been a key asset of ISI, the notorious intelligence agency of Pakistan Army. His association with the army came out into the open when he surrendered before a former senior ISI officer, Brigadier Ijaz Shah, who was then the Interior Secretary in the Punjab government. Shah was Saeed’s handler and a close confidant of President Pervez Musharraf.

Shah’s insidious influence in the deep state can be gauged from the fact that he is in the Imran Khan government as the Minister in charge of narcotics control. Prior to that he was the Interior Minister.

Shah, among others, has been a key conduit between terror organisations and the army. He had kept Sheikh at his house for a week before making him surrender after the US pressure. Shah has also been accused by a former Director General of ISI of protecting al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had named him as one of the persons who could be involved in the conspiracy to assassinate her. She was killed in December 2007.

Sheikh was one of the three terrorists which India was forced to release in exchange for passengers of an Indian Airlines flight, en route from Kathmandu to New Delhi, hijacked by Pakistani terrorists in December 1999. It is now known that ISI had a hand in the hijacking.

Sheikh’s acquittal shows to what lengths can the army go to protect its agents of violence and betrays the sham Pakistan’s entire judicial system has become.

This also raises serious questions about Pakistan’s recent hasty moves to prosecute Hafiz Saeed and other terrorist leaders in terrorist financing cases to comply with FATF conditions. The global anti-terrorist financing body, which has put Pakistan in the grey list, is set to hold its next meeting in February this year. Sheikh’s acquittal has exposed Pakistan’s claims of taking actions as per the FATF directions. Pakistan’s compliance report, yet to be submitted to FATF, has lost any legitimacy it might have had. There is little Pakistan can do to avoid the possible blacklisting.

The Biden administration, which has promised to pursue a global counter-terrorism agenda, should take note of Pakistan’s persistent mockery of international concerns and conventions on prosecuting terrorists. Daniel Pearl was an American citizen and its brutal assassination should not go unpunished.

No less grave is the unassailable reality of Pakistan proving itself to be a truly terrorist-sponsor state.

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