FATF must act tough on Pakistan

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan

While Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan repeatedly talks about his firm resolve to “not allow any militant groups to operate inside Pakistan”, but actions of his government to ensue this doesn’t inspire much confidence. What’s most intriguing is that despite languishing in the grey list of Financial Action Task Force [FATF] since 2018, Islamabad still doesn’t appear to be serious about getting out of the same by overcoming shortcomings listed out by the international terror financing watchdog. So much so that even FATF has felt it necessary to officially nudge Islamabad by tweeting that it “strongly urges Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by Feb 2021”.

Islamabad’s claim of being a “victim of terror” is undoubtedly true, yet its army has no inhibitions in patronising terrorist groups, and this makes Pakistan both the victim and perpetrator of terrorism. In fact, former US Present Donald Trump was spot-on when he tweeted that “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit . . . They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan… .”

With FATF due to review Pakistan’s case later this month, Islamabad has once again fallen back to its puerile ways and started crying ‘wolf’ by alleging that India is drumming up anti-Pakistan sentiments within FATF member states-a rather poor attempt to conceal its own inability [or refusal?] to curb terror activities emanating from its soil. Just last week, The Express Tribune quoted a “Pakistani representative in the FATF”, as saying “It’s not that Pakistan is not trying hard to get out of the grey list, but the lobbying against the country by India is very strong”. Isn’t this an unambiguous indication that Islamabad is well aware that its response to FATF action plan against terror financing is far from satisfactory?

After all, how can anyone expect FATF to believe that Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] ‘operations commander’ Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, [who’s one of the confirmed 2008 Mumbai attacks mastermind] is only guilty of running a dispensary in order to raise funds for terror financing? Finding Lakhvi guilty under three sections of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act and awarding him separate 5-year jail sentences on each count may give an impression that Pakistani courts have come down very hard on him. That Lakvi was convicted as well as sentenced in his very first court appearance on the basis of what the judge said was “sufficient evidence in the form of oral testimonies,” further bolsters this view.

However, the court ruling that all three prison terms would run concurrently tells an entirely different story. It also buttresses the 2018 revelation of Islamabad High Court judge, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui that “Today the judiciary and media have come in the control of ‘Bandookwala’ [army]. Judiciary is not independent… In different cases, the ISI forms benches of its choice to get desired results.” Here, it’s also pertinent to note that even the US State Department seems to think so, because while its Bureau of South and Central Asian affairs tweeted that it was “encouraged” by Lakhvi’s conviction, but by adding that “his crimes go far beyond financing terrorism”, Washington has sent out a clear signal that despite this conviction, the ends of justice haven’t been met!

So now all that one can do is to wait and watch as to what the FATF makes out of this and many more such incidents. Will it really accept Islamabad’s laughable contention that Lakhvi isn’t the ‘operations commander” of LeT, but just a simple dispensary owner whose only guilt is diversion of money earned for financing terror activities? Or will the FATF go by Washington’s (and the global view) that Lakhvi’s “crimes go far beyond financing terrorism”? Terrorism is bleeding the world white and as such, isn’t the appropriate space for playing petty politics or furthering motivated agendas. Hence, since Hizbul Mujahideen chief and United Jihad Council head Syed Salahuddin has himself admitted that his minions are “fighting Pakistan’s war in Kashmir,” New Delhi needs to take a much tougher stand during the FATF plenary meeting this month because there’s a need to re-sensitize the international community regarding the grave dangers to global security that state patronage to terrorists portends!

The world needs to be reminded that the 2002 abduction and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl could have been averted if Islamabad hadn’t provided sanctuary to its perpetrator Omar Sheikh [who ironically has recently been acquitted by the highest court in Pakistan]. Pearl’s abduction wasn’t Sheikhs first crime; in 1994, he had been arrested in India for kidnapping three British and one American tourist from New Delhi in an attempt to secure release of terrorists in Indian jails. Sheikh was one of the terrorists released in exchange for the passengers and crew of an Air India aircraft hijacked by terrorists in 1999, and after his release in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Sheikh not only made his way to Pakistan but openly resumed his terrorism related activities.

Regrettably, even though he was a fugitive from justice, Islamabad took no action to restrain Sheikh. Even more surprising is that neither Washington, nor London whose nationals had been abducted by Sheikh pressed Islamabad to book him. So, it’s Pakistan’s skewed belief of ‘an enemy’s enemy being a friend’ coupled with the international community’s glaring indifference in ensuring that a terrorist is brought to book is what allowed a potentially dangerous person to roam around freely and this ended with Daniel Pearl’s abduction and decapitation. Hence, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that both Islamabad, USA and UK in particular and the international community in general have the blood of Pearl on their hands!

Released alongwith Sheikh was another incarcerated terrorist Masood Azhar. He too came back to Pakistan and created Jaish-e-Mohammad [JeM] terrorist group. By making public announcements like “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed India”, he soon became Rawalpindi’s pet. So, even though UNSC listed JeM as being associated with Al Qaida and Taliban in 2001, Islamabad took no action against him or JeM and instead got Beijing to veto international attempts to designate Azar a ‘global terrorist’. The result was a series of major terrorist attacks- on Indian Parliament in 2001 that brought both countries to the brink, the 2016 Pathankot airbase attack and Pulwama car bomb attack of 2019.

However, the irony is that while Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi himself confirmed after the Pulwama terrorist attack that Azhar was present in Pakistan, the army’s media wing ISPR denied the same. Ultimately, [like always], Rawalpindi’s words prevailed and just like the second Indian Air Force pilot that Pakistan army claimed was in its custody after the February 2019 air duel ‘disappeared’ within a matter of hours, Azhar too has ‘vanished’. With Islamabad officially declaring that Azhar is “missing”, it’s high time FATF takes a far more serious view of Pakistan’s unabashed farce on terrorism related issues.

Since it is charged with the task of curbing terrorism by choking its funding and support, the FATF has no choice but to be ruthless in imposing its mandate as any compromise would tantamount to betraying millions of faceless terror victims!

Tailpiece: In Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’, Lady Macbeth instigates her husband to kill King Duncan and yet remains unfazed as she knows that “What need we fear who knows it when none can call our power to account?”So, if FATF continues soft-pedalling Pakistan’s duplicitous approach to terrorism by not holding it accountable for the same, then isn’t it but natural that just like Lady Macbeth, Rawalpindi will continue pursuing its fatal obsession with terrorists, aka ‘strategic assets’?

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