Pakistan goes into sleep mode on actions against global terrorism immediately after Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meetings. As the next review appears,its courts and security agencies move on an overdrive sentencing terrorists and locating those which it has declared as missing. All these actions, just prior to any FATF meetings are aimed at hoodwinking the global agency. On the contrary, Pak foreign office spokespersons claim they are doing their global duty by detaining global terrorists. What they have never justified is why does this duty come to fore just prior to FATF meetings.
In the past week,Hafiz Saeed, involved in organising the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and his two associates, Yahya Mujahid and Zafar Iqbal were given 15 years jail terms in a terror financing case. Earlier the court had awarded a jail term to Yahya Mujahid in similar cases. Hafiz Saeed’s brother-in-law, Abdul Rehman Makki, was also sentenced to six-month jail term on terror financing. A court also sentenced Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi head of the LeT to five years and a fine. They were all directly involved in the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai. However, they were sentenced only in terror financing cases and not abetting terrorism. Dawood Ibrahim has yet to be arrested and only global pressure would ensure he is suddenly discovered in Karachi.
The Pak counter terrorism court also tasked its Punjab police to arrest Masood Azhar, chief of the banned JeM, in a terror financing case. The world is aware that Masood Azhar remains the darling of the Pak army and is well protected including with bullet proof vehicles. He was declared missing in Pakistan a few months ago and has suddenly re-emerged as the FATF meeting is round the bend. In 2014, when Lakhvi was released from prison,reports stated that he had fathered a child during his prison term, displaying privileges enjoyed by terrorists in Pakistan’s police custody.
The sentenced terrorists would challenge their convictions immediately after the FATF meeting. While the cases are being challenged, they would be granted bail. In case, Pak is out of the Grey List, their hearings would continue being postponed. In case they are retained on the same list, it would commence just prior to the next FATF review and they would be rearrested. Pak, with the backing of China, has sought to deceive the global community by claiming it is acting against terrorist groups, whereas the reality is vastly different.
If this is Pakistan’s approach, how would the world crack down on terrorism. A total of 146 Pakistani nationals are currently on the United Nations most wanted terrorists list. As FATF meeting looms large, Pak based terrorist groups are moved to Afghanistan. Pakistan employs every trick in the trade to display that it is acting against terrorist groups but fails to admit that its courts and security agencies only find the time to act, just prior to the FATF meeting and award sentences pre-determined by the army and agreed to by the terrorists.
This was evident when the Pakistan Sindh High Court overturned the conviction of al Qaeda leader Ahmed Omar Sheikh Saeed, a terrorist India was forced to release during the 1999 IC-814 hijacking, for the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl. This overturning was done despite Omar having admitted to the killing. US pressure continues on Pakistan to ensure that Omar Sheikh is not released from prison. It would only be a matter of time before Pak succumbs to terrorist group pressures and Omar Sheikh walks free.
The Indian foreign office spokesperson Anurag Shrivastava commenting on the recent Pak action stated, ‘The timing of these actions clearly suggests the intention of conveying a sense of compliance ahead of the Asia Pacific Group meeting and next FATF plenary meeting in February 2021.’ The Pak foreign office replied, ‘India has no locus standi to comment on the independent judicial mechanisms of Pakistan. In this regard the only ‘compliance’ that interests Pakistan is abiding by its own statutes and fulfilment of its international obligations.’ He added, ‘it is yet another Indian attempt to politicise FATF and use its processes against Pakistan. Pakistan reiterates its commitment to impartiality, confidentiality and technical nature of the FATF process.’
Pak is aware of the pressure of the FATF and the financial impact of remaining on the Grey List.In the last FATF meeting, FATF president, Marcus Pleyer, cautioned Pakistan that they could not take forever to deliver on their commitments and repeated failure to deliver would result in the country being put in the blacklist.To add to pressures, the US has retained the LeT along with seven other groups as terrorist groups. The fact that these terrorist group leaders are only being booked for terrorism financing and not for terrorist activities displays that Pak is not serious in its current actions.
In 2019, SM Qureshi, Pak’s foreign minister, had stated that Government has calculated that Pakistan will face $10 billion loss annually if it remains in the Grey list. The damage would be greater if it moves into the Blacklist. The FATF members must understand that they need to unite if they desire to stem the flow of terrorism globally. Pakistan remains the largest exporter of terrorists and must be taken to task.
Indian foreign minister, S Jaishankar, while addressing aUNSC Ministerial Meeting stated,’Terrorists are terrorists; there are no good and bad ones. Those who propagate this distinction have an agenda. And those who cover up for them are just as culpable.’ He was referring to China seeking to back Pakistan and protect their terrorists from being globally listed.
With China joining hands with Pakistan on terrorism, it would be impossible for the UN to even define a terrorist, rather than act against nations which harbour, support and employ terrorism as an instrument of state policy. The FATF should insist that Pak based terrorists be prosecuted for terrorism and not terrorist funding. Till then it must continue in the Grey List. Pak must be made a global example.
The author is Major General (Retd)