With the upcoming Financial Action Task Force (FATF) review in June, Hafiz Saeed could not have picked a worse time to seek judicial reprieve. The Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief has filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) challenging the presidential ordinance under which his group has been banned, for being on the watch list of the United Nations.

The concerned ordinance is one that was promulgated by President Mamnoon Hussain last month, amending the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 with regards to proscription of terrorist individuals and organisations to include entities listed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) — in a move to declare Hafiz Saeed-linked JuD and Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) as proscribed groups. This move was widely considered as a pre-emptive measure to avoid Pakistan being blacklisted by FATF.

Legally, due process of law should absolutely be held at all costs, and it is certainly Hafiz Saeed’s right to challenge any law that he likes. The merits of his case however, are harder to see.

The President too has the right to promulgate ordinances which can amend laws. Changing the definition of people and organisations that fall under the preview of Anti-Terror laws is an act perfectly within his power. Hafiz Saeed contending that he is in fact not a ‘terrorist’ - even if take his assertions on face value - does not change the legality of that power. Which means it does not make the act of the president “ultra vires” and hence unconstitutional. Such black and white cases should be summarily dismissed, but stranger judicial decisions have been delivered in the past and the government should not rest on its arguments alone. Considering that mainstreaming of Saeed’s party is an explicit objective of the establishment. there may be more sides to this story than the strictly legal one

However, there is much on the line here. With US and Pakistan relations finally cooling down, it is risky for Pakistan to go soft yet again on internationally declared terrorists. Not only this, but ordinary Pakistani lives also are at risk, as Saeed’s inflammatory rhetoric is being mainstreamed.

Post-FATF, this is the first test of the government’s resolve to clamp down on terrorist networks. Let’s see if the government - and the establishment - can match their words with action.