Pakistan’s progress in handling the threat of terrorism and curtailing it significantly is a success story in itself. With continuous efforts of security forces across the country and overcoming the strategic deficiencies in its Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism (AML-CFT) framework, Pakistan has achieved tremendous success in hunting down militants and their networks.
With troubling borders on either side, Pakistan has been facing multiple challenges, especially after the global realignment which took place post-9/11. The pursuit to eradicate aiders and abettors of these attacks brought America and its allies to Afghanistan and eventually turned it into a battlefield. The United States named it ‘War against Terror’ and Pakistan being a frontline ally of this war suffered the most.
Through its military leadership, Pakistan fully supported the US and offered all possible assistance in terms of logistics, land routes and air bases, etc., the US actively pursued targets in Pakistan and conducted operations on its soil.
However, it is an unfortunate dichotomy that despite losing more than eighty thousand lives and bearing economic losses to the tune of US$ 123 billion, Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism were never duly appreciated by the US. Unfortunately, as an ally of the USA, Pakistan was denied due recognition with respect to its efforts and sacrifices, while it remained the primary target of Taliban and their local groups operating inside the country. They continue to attack civilians and security forces in Pakistan through suicide bombings and terrorist attacks on the direction of their foreign masters to fulfill their agenda of destabilising Pakistan.
Being a frontline ally and the services rendered by Pakistan to eradicate the malaise of terrorism in the region, global community was under moral obligation to honour sacrifices of Pakistan armed forces and its civilian population and should have lauded our efforts against terrorism. On the contrary, Pakistan was isolated and labeled as a sympathiser and financier of terrorism. The US ignored Pakistan’s role as the only non-NATO ally in the war against terrorism and rather, sided with Indian propaganda and submitted motion against Pakistan in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which led to listing of Pakistan on a global terrorist-financing watch list. Consequently, despite having an efficient AML-CFT framework as compared to the majority of the member states of FATF, Pakistan was placed on the list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring (known as grey-list) in June 2018. FATF’s act of placing Pakistan on the grey list has further damaged Pakistan’s reputation on the global index which has complicated cross-border transactions due to enhanced scrutiny and screening and being a non-cooperative jurisdiction, it has also impacted our correspondent banking relationships.
Finally, in recently published country reports on terrorism by the US State Department, the US has acknowledged the fact that military and security forces undertook operations against groups that conducted attacks within Pakistan, such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). It further mentions that Pakistan took steps in 2020 to counter terror financing and restrain India-focused militant groups from conducting attacks and convicted Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed and four other senior LeT leaders in multiple terrorism financing cases. It also applauded the positive contributions of Pakistan to the Afghanistan peace process, such as ensuring reduction in violence by Taliban. At the same time, it noted the additional progress made in 2020 toward completing its FATF Action Plan stating that Pakistan has largely addressed 21 of its 27 action plan items and partially addressed the remaining 6.
Pakistan has made considerable progress and efforts to improve and enhance its overall control against terrorism-related challenges, the government has continued to implement the Anti-terrorism Act of 1997, National Counterterrorism Authority (or NACTA) Act, Investigation for Fair Trial Act, 2014 and introduced major amendments in 2014 and 2020 in the Anti-terrorism Act of 1997, all aimed at giving law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and courts enhanced powers in terrorism-related cases. To secure its borders and control movement of criminal/terrorist elements, the USA in its report further acknowledged that Pakistan has now the facility of collecting biometric information at land crossings through its International Border Management
Security System. The military, paramilitary, and civilian security forces conducted operations throughout Pakistan against anti-state militants.
Despite the acknowledgment of our efforts, it seems that Pakistan needs to work on trust-building initiatives because the misunderstanding and trust deficit are also reflected in the report. The same report accuses Pakistan of allowing terrorist groups to operate from Pakistan targeting Afghanistan — including Afghan Taliban and affiliated Haqqani Networks, as well as groups targeting India, including LeT and its affiliated front organisation, The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) — and that Pakistan failed to take action against other known terrorists such as JeM founder and UN-designated terrorist Masood Azhar as well as against Sajid Mir, known as a project manager of the Mumbai Attack in 2008.
The most disturbing comments made in the report are with reference to failure in implementing the National Action Plan (NAP). The report states that Pakistan’s NAP calls to “ensure that no armed militias are allowed to function in the country. However, several UN and US-designated terrorist groups that focus on attacks outside the country continued operating from Pakistani soil in 2020, including the Haqqanis Network, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammed”. The report accuses the government and military of acting inconsistently regarding terrorist safe havens throughout the country. The report highlights that the authorities in Pakistan did not take sufficient action to dismantle certain terrorist groups.
The concerns highlighted in the report regarding inaction against certain militant organizations might have an impact on our upcoming review in the FATF. Though our compliance level has improved, we have failed to convince the watchdog regarding action against individuals and entities designated by the United Nations. In the upcoming FATF plenary, the member states can question the action against the head of Jaish-e-Mohammad and other people mentioned in the report. This might further enhance our stay in the grey list.
In view of above, our policymakers need to realise that Pakistan has already suffered a lot due to its ill-directed policies. Our policymakers must not lose sight of the fact that we have been unsuccessful in capitalising on our sacrifices due to these petty issues. Pakistan has successfully conducted three major on-field operations namely, Rah-e-Haq, Zarb-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad and in these battles lost many political figures, military officials as well as thousands of civilians. However, due to our weak foreign policy, we have failed to get the deserved acknowledgement by relevant forums and nations.
Pakistan was the only non-NATO ally in the war against terrorism that facilitated the US and its allies by offering its resources and infrastructure. Even at the time of exit from Afghanistan, Pakistan offered its route for safe departure of the US forces. However, Pakistan could not claim its fair share for its services and role in the war against terrorism. There is still time for our stakeholders to rethink and devise Pakistan-centric foreign policy to present its case on various issues like Kashmir, FATF and linking of Pakistan with terrorist groups strongly before the global community and make them aware of Pakistan’s efforts and services which not only helped to restore peace locally but also facilitated the global objective of making this world a peaceful place to live.
(Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq, lawyers and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), members Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellows of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). Abdul Rauf Shakoori is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in ‘White Collar Crimes and Sanctions Compliance’. They have recently coauthored a book, Pakistan Tackling FATF: Challenges and Solutions)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021