The United States has long accused Pakistan of tacitly supporting the Afghan Taliban and its allies, including the Haqqani Network Armed Group (HQN), in their fight against US-led NATO forces in neighbouring Afghanistan and reiterated this in their latest US Department of State Annual Terrorism Report for 2019. The Pakistani government, on the other hand, said it was “disappointed” at the report, which it considered “contradictory and selective”. Then Pakistan remains on a “grey list” managed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental body that monitors member states’ compliance with terrorist financing and anti-money laundering regulations.
A: It is true that Pakistani government and its security institutions did not like the recent US State Department Annuals Terrorism Report 2019. In a statement, Pakistani Foreign Ministry said the US State Department’s 2019 Country Report on Terrorism ignored its “crucial role” in degrading Al Qaeda in the region and “diminishing the threat that the terrorist group once posed to the world. Similarly, the Report acknowledges the sharp decrease in the incidence of terrorist attacks in Pakistan. However, it neglects to explain that this was only possible because Pakistan’s resolute counter-terrorism operations have targeted proscribed groups and outfits without discrimination.” It also rejected allegations that Pakistan had provided safe haven to “any group or entity to use its territory against any country,” saying: “On the contrary, it is Pakistan that faces the threat of terrorism from externally based and foreign sponsored groups, like the TTP [Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan], ISIS-K [Daesh/Islamic State-Khorasan Province] and others.”
The statement also said “Pakistan also continues to implement the FATF Action Plan, and has undertaken wide-ranging and systemic reforms to that end. While it notes the progress made by Pakistan under the Action Plan, the Report did not capture the political commitment, revamping of Pakistan’s AML/CFT regime, and our consistent and sustainable actions which have also been recognized by FATF.”
Q: What about terrorist groups operating in Pakistan? Who are they and how are they financed?
According to Pakistan’s own list, which is issued by National Counter Terrorism Authority, there are currently 76 proscribed organizations while 4 are under watchlist by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry and 2 others are enlisted under UNSC Resolution no. 1267. It’s important to note here that some of the 76 proscribed organizations are not headquartered in Pakistan. For instance, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) central is headquartered in Afghanistan, from where it runs its operations. Similarly, not all the organizations in the list are jihadi in nature. In fact, there’s a large number of organizations in that list which are separatist or ethno-nationalist in nature.
Different groups have different means of financing. So for example if you talk about a group like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), back in the day when it had organized presence in Pakistan, it employed various means to finance itself. It collected extortion money from local businessmen, including in large cities like Karachi. Those who didn’t pay up often ended up dead or kidnapped. It also engaged in crime, including bank robberies, kidnappings for extortion, etc. Some other organizations like Jamaat-ud-Dawaa, which is also proscribed as a terrorist org in Pakistan, mainly use donations from locals for their financing. Organizations which openly engage in anti-India, anti-US and anti-Israel rhetoric find it quite easy to gather funds via donations from locals in Pakistan. This is a tried and tested tactic at this point.
According to the US report, Pakistan continues to be a safe haven for certain terrorist groups and their regional representatives. I ask you what is Pakistan really doing against terrorism?
A: To be honest, Pakistan has taken some measures against terrorists about who the international community is concerned. For example, Pakistani govt has pursued terrorism financing cases against people linked to Jamaat-ud-Dawaa. On 9th June 2020, An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan indicted four top leaders of the banned Jamaat-ud-Dawaa (JuD) in a terror financing case. The four are close aides of 2008 Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed. The court indicted Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki, Malik Zafar Iqbal, Yayha Aziz and Abdul Salam in one of the cases registered against them on charges of terror funding.
Similarly, on 12th Feb 2020, A Pakistani anti-terrorism court sentenced Hafiz Saeed, the founder to five and a half years’ prison in a case related to terrorism financing. Saeed was convicted and sentenced on two counts by a court in the eastern city of Lahore. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for being a member of a “proscribed organization” under Pakistani law, and another five years for a charge related to “illegal property”. Saeed’s associate Zafar Iqbal was also convicted and sentenced to the same term. The arrest and charging of Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed more than 160 people, has been a long-standing demand of the United States and Pakistan’s neighbour India.
So while Pakistan has undoubtedly taken several serious steps against terrorist groups operating from Pakistani soil, there’s obviously the belief in international community that it needs to do more. Many argue that some of these measures are cosmetic and Pakistan can surely come down harder against such groups. Pakistan, for its part, argues that its efforts are not being acknowledged and its sacrifices in war on terrorism being ignored. I personally think that while Pakistan’s efforts need to be praised and acknowledged, it also needs to be politely told to take stronger measures against such groups. But a stronger or harsher stance by the US and international community might actually be counter-productive.
Q: For some time now, Pakistan has been spoken of as a country that could implode due to internal and external tensions (e.g. the clash with India). Do you agree?
A: No I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment. As we might remember, there was a report by CIA in 2005 which said that Pakistan would be a failed state by 2015. Except, the opposite happened and Pakistan came back much stronger in 2015 after in 2014 it launched successful Operation Zarb-e-Azb against organized presence of terrorist groups in the tribal belt region. So I think while that CIA assessment would have made sense to a lot of people back in 2005 to 2012 era, we have to give it to the Pakistani state and its security institutions for their resilience and making a comeback, which very few had expected. As for India, well, the Indo-Pak tensions are there of course and they have significantly increased since 2019 when Indian Air Force made an incursion in Pakistan. But as the follow up events – like the shooting down of an Indian jet by Pakistan Air Force and the capture of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman on Feb 27th – showed us, Pakistan is very much capable of tackling the military threat posed by India. We also have to keep in mind that since both countries have nuclear strike capability, we won’t be seeing a full-blown military conflict anytime soon. That was also proved when Indian Air Force gave a statement following the 2019 incursion that it does not plan to carry out any further action, which was meant to make it clear to Pakistan and the international community that India isn’t looking for a full-blown military conflict. So while Pakistan does have quite a few internal fault lines of its own and while it has a fledgling democracy, I don’t think that we’ll be seeing the country imploding in the future.
Q: Every time something happens in Pakistan the Pakistani secret service (ISI) is presented in a sinister light and so is the army. Some say that they are actually two states within the state. Who is in charge in Pakistan that is a nuclear power?
A: The power of Pakistani military and the ISI is very significant in Pakistan, there’s no doubt about that. A large majority of the Pakistani public looks up to the Pakistani military and the ISI and they do have popular support in Pakistan among the masses. It also does not help that Pakistan’s civilian institutions including political parties are still very weak and riddled with corruption and often the military is invited by the civilian institutions to play a larger role. For example, we see that very often every time there is a major flood or earthquake or a disaster like the recent PIA airplane crash in Karachi city. Similarly, due to the security threats Pakistan faces, in regions like Balochistan as well as the tribal belt along the Afghanistan border, there’s an increased role of military and the ISI in these areas. I think the blaming of the military and ISI after every small and big thing that happens in Pakistan is misplaced. We have to be rational and analyze such incidents on case by case basis. Yes, they both play a significant role in many areas, from security related issues to Pakistan’s Foreign Policy when it comes to United States, India and Afghanistan, but it would also be unfair as well as inaccurate to blame them for everything that goes wrong. A lot of times it is simply incompetence or/and failure of Pakistan’s civilian institutions that is to be blamed.
Q: there is a large Pakistani community in Italy and cases of radicalization have not been rare. In the past it has been proven that the Mumbai massacre was also financed with money coming from Northern Italy. Can you confirm that this flow of money from Italy still exists?
A: Italy has a significant jihadist problem and it’s not just restricted to the Pakistani diaspora. In 2009 Italian police made two arrests of Pakistanis who were thought to have used a money transfer service to help people in contact with the authors of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. For such terror financing, Hawala system is often used by the perpetrators. While I won’t go into specifics here, I can say that the radicalization among some segments of Pakistani diaspora in Italy is still there and so might be terror financing, including for groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda. In 2015, for example, Italy arrested 9 people in connection with an al-Qaeda plot to launch attacks in Pakistan as well as the Vatican. So this terror financing is not just restricted to groups that are perceived as friendly towards Pakistani state but it also comprises of groups which would willingly launch attacks in Pakistan. I think the key thing to focus here for Italy is to find ways to counter extremism in the diaspora community and find effective ways to stop terror financing from Italian soil.