The noose of the UN’s anti-terrorism watchdog could tighten around Pakistan’s neck as it meets next month to scrutinize, not just enacting of laws and their enforcement, but also individuals and terror groups suspected to be the beneficiaries.
Pakistan is scrambling to play down the rebellious Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)’s marauding of innocent civilians in the Swat Valley, but also convince the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief, Maulana Mohammed Azhar, is absconding and is not being sheltered on Pakistan territory.
Pakistan is having to explain not only Azhar, but also the role of his chief aide, Sajid Mir, besides others who conduct their activities in and out of Pakistan in shadowy manner.
For form’s sake, Islamabad has sent a formal letter to Kabul, ruled by an intransigent Taliban group, to locate Azhar. But it can expect no cooperation for a simple reason: Kabul is not obliged to help Islamabad and it is not affected by the FATF scrutiny.
Indeed, the entire Afghanistan-Pakistan region is a hotbed of terrorist activity and its huge financing, partly from the huge quantities of narcotics that Afghanistan produces year after year, irrespective of who rules in Kabul. Of course, both nations deny the presence of any terrorist group, when affiliates of Al Qaida and Islamic State – Province of Khorasan (ISPK) are having a field day.
As for the TTP, it has claimed responsibility for nearly 13 attacks in the tribal areas since September 2, leaving nobody in doubt of its growing clout, continued defiance of the government and tacit support it enjoys from the Kabul regime.
On the TTP’s role, Dawn newspaper (September 14, 2022) referred to a debate in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly when lawmakers “pointed to the rising incidents of gun attacks, targeted killings and extortion in the sensitive area, while it was also said that militants were roaming around freely in parts of the province.”
The new development is the supportive hand, but with a strict warning, from the United States. The Biden administration has proposed a USD 450 million military sale package for maintenance of the aging F-16 fleet of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), but it expects Pakistan to take ‘sustained action’ against ‘all’ terrorist groups operating on or from its soil.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on September 14 that Washington expected Islamabad to take “sustained action” against all terrorist groups and that the money being released “will sustain Pakistan’s capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats by maintaining the F-16 fleet.”
“This is a fleet that allows Pakistan to support counterterrorism operations, and we expect Pakistan will take sustained action against all terrorist groups,” he added.
Whether the F-16 warplanes are actually deployed and how that can help in counter-terrorism operations is not explained by either the US or Pakistan. Analysts say this is a military-diplomatic sop to Pakistan, and part of the efforts to strengthen ties when Pakistan is reeling under political instability, economic distress and unprecedented floods engulfing a third of the country.
Analysts also surmise that the US, which has been leveraging on Pakistan in the fight against money laundering and funds’ flow into terrorist coffers, does not expect Pakistan to be let off by the FATF.
The FATF sent a team this month to see on-the-ground enforcement of the measures against money laundering. On return from the visit, it reported that Pakistan’s capability to enforce the anti-terror measures remains ‘low,’ Pakistani newspapers reported last week.
Pakistan’s record on the flow of funds into terrorist activities has been under sustained scrutiny by FATF which has placed it on the ‘grey’ list since 2018.
In an editorial (September 14, 2022), Dawn newspaper linked FATF and militancy noted that Pakistan’s level of effectiveness is “low” on 10 of 11 anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terror goals, even though the country is compliant with 38 out of 40 technical recommendations.”
With Pakistan facing multiple crises, the newspaper demanded transparency on dealing with the FATF as it “simply cannot afford to ignore this matter, as being put back on the grey list will impact the country’s ability to attract foreign investment and trade freely with the world.”
Analysts say this is too tall a demand that the government and its military mentors are unlikely to yield, mainly because they are part of the problem, not the solution.