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South Asia

Pakistan Still Wants to Have Its Jihadist Cake and Eat it Too

The country does barely enough to remain out of the FATF’s blacklist doghouse, which would entail crippling sanctions that could adversely impact the general population but not the junta.

The global money laundering and terror financing watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), has again decided to keep Pakistan on its so-called grey list. Previously, the country was on that list from 2012 to 2015. But this time around, Pakistan will remain on this list for over three years. The grey list implies enhanced monitoring of countries for “strategic deficiencies in their regimes to counter money laundering, terrorist financing, and proliferation financing”.

While being on grey list does not invoke international sanctions, it warns banking institutions and trade bodies of increased risks in transactions with the countries under the FATF’s enhanced monitoring regime. This translates into an increased need for due diligence measures and ultimately an increased cost, time and effort of doing business with the countries on the grey list. It does burden the financial and banking sectors of the country under watch.

The Asia Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering or the FATF’s Asia Secretariat is tasked with the ongoing evaluation, and has additional requirements that Pakistan needed to meet. Pakistan had showed ostensible compliance with the FATF/APG regimen via legislation passed in September 2020 and assorted other measures, but it flunked the critical provision for “investigation and prosecution of senior leaders and commanders of UN-designated terror groups”. And nothing shows the wilful and blatant flouting of that provision better than the kid-glove treatment that the UN-sanctioned terror group Jamat-ud-Da’wah (JuD) continues to receive in Pakistan.

bombing rocked Lahore’s Jauhar Town residential neighbourhood on June 23, killing at least four people and injuring over two dozen. While the Pakistani media fumbled with the nature of the blast, the Indian outlets – as if on cue – swiftly reported it as an attack targeting Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of the JuD, who is supposed to be serving a sentence in a Lahore prison. With visuals showing destroyed and damaged buildings and the size of the crater, and eyewitness reports of flying shrapnel and pellets, it was abundantly clear that it was not a gas cylinder or pipeline explosion but a terror attack using a massive bomb, likely planted in car. Finally, the provincial police chief conceded that the bomb had gone off near the residence of a high-value target. He stopped short of naming Hafiz Saeed but accused foreign agencies – a euphemism for the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) – for the attack.

There has been no formal confirmation or denial whether the terrorist leader was at his house, and no terror group has claimed responsibility either. But the official security detail, which effectively stopped the bomber from reaching Saeed’s house, reports that one of his personal guards perished in the attack, and the tight cordon post-attack indicates that the JuD honcho was at his residence, not in prison. One of the Pakistan army’s formally approved analysts also chimed in, corroborating the view that Saeed was indeed lounging at home and narrowly escaped.

Also read: With Repression at Home, General Bajwa’s Regional Peace Pledge Remains a Lie

This would not be the first time a JuD leader was living large during his sentence. Saeed himself has had numerous cushy house arrests. The 2008 Mumbai attacks mastermind and chief of the JuD’s Lashkar-e-Tayyabba (LeT) wing, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi sired a son while incarcerated at Rawalpindi’s high-security Adiala jail. The boy too is said to be a jihadist in training and the LeT operatives have nicknamed him Maulana Adialavi, after the prison where he was conceived. While the Pakistani law enforcement agencies continue to hunt for the plotters and perpetrators, the Hafiz Saeed angle has virtually disappeared from the media, which is tightly controlled by the army. After all, the terror attack is a huge embarrassment for the country’s intelligence agencies.

Ironically, the bombing came on a day when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was presiding over a meeting of the newly-minted National Intelligence Coordination Committee at the headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, which is supposed to lead the body. But more importantly, whoever targeted Saeed’s residence had timed it to coincide with the FATF’s fourth plenary session. The qualitative differences between this terror attack and the May 1, 2011, US military action killing Osama bin Laden notwithstanding, it certainly was planned to catch Saeed and his army patrons in the act. Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, however, had the nerve to declare that the FATF was “being used for political purposes”, and “some powers desire to keep the sword of the FATF hanging over Pakistan.”

File photo: Supporters shower Hafiz Saeed with flower petals as he walks to court in Lahore, Pakistan, in November 2017. Photo: Mohsin Raza/Reuters

The India-oriented jihadists are not the only ones enjoying the Pakistani security establishment’s benefaction. The Afghan Taliban, including its most lethal terrorist component, the Haqqani Network (HQN), remain alive and well in Pakistan, as most recently conceded by the country’s federal minister of interior. The Taliban leadership council, eponymously named the Quetta Shura, continues to operate out of Pakistani Balochistan’s capital. The former tribal areas, which have now been merged into the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, have seen a resurgence of the Taliban’s local affiliates. Independent reportsAfghan officials and Pashtun nationalist organisations in Pakistan have consistently warned that not only does the Afghan Taliban continue to enjoy sanctuary and support in Pakistan, but many of those released as a consequence of the US-Taliban peace deal and/or prisoner swap are returning to the frontline, including via Pakistan. The Taliban’s recent battlefield thrust and terror attacks against civilians clearly show both their bolstered logistics and leadership, as well as the intent to upend the existing order per force. And despite proclamations by the Pakistan army and its puppet civilian regime that they have shepherded the Taliban towards the peace process, they are fully backing the violent enterprise.

One indication of where the Pakistan army’s priorities remain, is how it has tried to muzzle every voice critical of its jihadist policy and practice, and even more specifically of its Afghan Taliban project. The leadership of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM or Pashtun Defence League), including its two members of the National Assembly, has constantly faced fabricated terror charges and imprisonmentban on entry into one region or the other and even death at the hands of the security agencies, for simply speaking up against turning the Pashtun region of Balochistan and the tribal districts into bridgeheads for launching the Taliban across the Durand Line into Afghanistan.

Recently, police in the country’s northwestern Bannu district shot and killed peaceful protestors, largely affiliated with the PTM, when the crowds tried to march towards Islamabad after a month-long sit-in demonstration demanding an end to systemic re-Talibanisation of the region. The agitation had started after a local anti-Taliban tribal leader was killed by the jihadists. Before that the Taliban had killed several young men, sparking a similar protest. A spate of targeted killings has dogged the North Waziristan district, which locals blame on the resurgence of the so-called good Taliban, who are pro-army. Though not of the same magnitude yet, the violence is reminiscent of the mid-2000s when the Taliban of assorted varieties had unleashed a reign of terror, killing hundreds of Pashtun tribal elders.

Most recently, president of the Pashtun nationalist Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party’s (PMAP) Balochistan chapter, Senator Usman Khan Kakar was found dead at his residence in Quetta. Kakar, whom I had known personally, was an upright politician and outspoken critic of the army’s Taliban project. His family and the PMAP have alleged that Kakar was assassinated by two men. Three months ago, Kakar had concluded his farewell speech in the Senate of Pakistan by stating that he was receiving life threats and if something were to happen to him, “two intelligence agencies would be responsible for it”, a likely reference to the ISI and the Military Intelligence. His funeral was attended by tens of thousands of people from across the political spectrum, but the army-controlled media blacked it out completely.

Watch: ‘LoC Ceasefire Has General Bajwa’s Support, Backchannel Used’: Ex Pak Foreign Secretaries

Banishing both jihadist activities and the criticism of them from the public discourse points to the Pakistan army still wanting to have its jihadist cake and eat it too. The JuD remains the army’s wholly owned subsidiary, the Taliban its trusted proxy, and the HQN is the ISI’s veritable arm. The post-9/11 experience and its duplicitous but deft handling of the American presence in the region shows that the Pakistan army is willing to go to any length to keep these force-multipliers, who remain deeply loyal to it, intact.

The nuclear umbrella has afforded the army a high level of impunity to continue prosecuting its revisionist foreign policy goals through jihadist proxies. In fact, acting as an arsonist and a fireman both at home and in the region has given Pakistan army a stranglehold over power domestically and an ability to continue seeking rent from world power for its ostensible services rendered regionally. While Pakistan’s foreign minister alleges that the FATF decisions are politically motivated, the country’s effort to get off the grey list is also by leveraging its geopolitical spoiler value. Regardless, the FATF regimen has its limitations and over the years has not impacted Pakistan’s behaviour or economy, which remains measly for assorted other reasons, in a serious way.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. Photo: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

It seems that the country does barely enough to remain out of the FATF’s blacklist doghouse, which would entail crippling sanctions that could adversely impact the general population but not the junta. For a country that has suffered upwards of 70,000 casualties due to the deadly blowback of its jihadist policies gone awry, it would be intuitive for Pakistan to curb terror financing, indict, prosecute and punish terrorists, in its own best interest, not for the FATF or America’s sake. But when an army has got the state by its throat, it is its institutional interests that inform the state’s worldview.

As a former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations, Brigadier A.R. Siddiqi had written, with the disproportionately large size, power and organisation of the army since the country’s inception: “A sort of Prussianism has been born to produce an army with a nation in place of a nation with an army.”

The Pakistani state thus controlled by the army, unfortunately, does not plan to cut this Gordian knot of jihadism, as in its view, it furthers its economic interests and organisational preeminence. The army-intelligence-jihadist complex may actually be getting its ducks in a row for the next round of death and destruction in the region. As the US troops withdrawal, with NATO in tandem, from Afghanistan proceeds at breakneck speed, a sense of desperation seems to be setting in in that country.

With the Taliban violence surging, the Afghan government and ethno-religious groups are already mobilising regional militias. While the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, kept his chin up and struck all the right notes in his just-concluded visit to Washington, D.C., the overall atmosphere appeared somber. The Afghan entourage, which included Abdullah Abdullah, head of the country’s High Council for National Reconciliation, did not ask for delaying or postponing the US troops withdrawal. The Afghan focus was rightly on securing the material support needed for the technology-reliant national forces to fend off the Taliban.

Unlike Iraq, which had loads of oil money to finance the counter-insurgency after the US withdrawal, Afghanistan’s meagre resources are already stretched thin. After the summit, President Joe Biden pledged to continue the US economic, military and diplomatic support to Afghanistan, but his own intelligence community appeared to be hitting the panic button. In his signature academic style, Ghani, publicly and privately, rubbished the reports warning of his government’s imminent fall but his remark that Afghanistan was having its own 1861 moment – a reference to the start of American Civil War, even though in the context of Afghans pledging defence of their republic – was telling. The last civil war in Afghanistan not only devastated that country but sent jihadist ripples throughout the region and ultimately around the world. While Pakistan may still want to have its jihadist cake and eat it too, the world can ill-afford to ignore and abandon Afghanistan at this critical juncture.

Mohammad Taqi is a Pakistani-American columnist. He tweets @mazdaki.