Pakistan: Terror And Impunity – Analysis

Backed by ‘all weather friend’ China, Pakistan again escaped the ignominy of being put into the ‘club’ of High-Risk Jurisdictions, commonly referred to as the ‘black list’, by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran are the two present members of the ‘club’.

Despite Islamabad’s continued attempts to deceive FATF by taking superficial action and come out of the Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring, the ‘grey list’, however, FATF decided to keep Pakistan in this listing, along with 17 other countries. Pakistan has been on the ‘grey list’ since June 2018.

FATF President Xiangmin Liu of China, chaired the FATF Plenary held on February 19-21, 2020, at Paris, France. In a release dated February 21, 2020, FATF noted that “all deadlines in the action plan have expired” and the FATF “again expresses concerns given Pakistan’s failure to complete its action plan in line with the agreed timelines and in light of the TF [terrorist financing] risks emanating from the jurisdiction”.

The FATF warned, “To date, Pakistan has largely addressed 14 of 27 action items, with varying levels of progress made on the rest of the action plan. The FATF strongly urges Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by June 2020. Otherwise, should significant and sustainable progress especially in prosecuting and penalising TF not be made by the next Plenary, the FATF will take action, which could include the FATF calling on its members and urging all jurisdictions to advise their FIs [Foreign Investors] to give special attention to business relations and transactions with Pakistan.”

Interestingly, in a release dated October 18, 2019, FATF had raised a similar warning,

All deadlines in the action plan have now expired. While noting recent improvements, the FATF again expresses serious concerns with the overall lack of progress by Pakistan to address its TF risks, including remaining deficiencies in demonstrating a sufficient understanding of Pakistan’s transnational TF risks, and more broadly, Pakistan’s failure to complete its action plan in line with the agreed timelines and in light of the TF risks emanating from the jurisdiction. To date, Pakistan has only largely addressed five of 27 action items, with varying levels of progress made on the rest of the action plan. The FATF strongly urges Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by February 2020. Otherwise, should significant and sustainable progress not be made across the full range of its action plan by the next Plenary, the FATF will take action, which could include the FATF calling on its members and urging all jurisdictions to advise their FIs to give special attention to business relations and transactions with Pakistan.

In June 2018, Pakistan had made a high-level political commitment to work with FATF and the Asia Pacific Group (APG) to strengthen its Anti-Money Laundering (AML)/ Countering Financing of Terrorism (CFT) regime and to address its strategic counter-terrorist financing-related deficiencies. It had submitted a 27-point action plan.

Given the international community’s indifference towards Islamabad’s tacit support to terrorism and China’s brazen support to Islamabad in all its acts of ‘sponsoring terror’, for instance Beijing’s support at UN proceeding to Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) leader Maulana Masood Azhar, it is highly unlikely that Islamabad will be put under the ‘black list’ in the near future, if ever.

Pakistan was on FATF’s ‘grey list’ between 2012 and 2015 as well. Nevertheless, United States’ aid to Pakistan recorded increase between 2013 and 2015: USD 813 million (2013), USD one Billion (2014), USD 1.1 Billion (2015). Islamabad even received an International Monetary Fund (IMF) ‘bail-out’ in 2013. More recently, in a release on May 12, 2019, IMF stated that “the Pakistani authorities and the IMF team have reached a staff level agreement on economic policies that could be supported by a 39-month Extended Fund Facility (EFF) for about US $6 billion.” The release, however, went on to add that “this agreement is subject to IMF management approval and to approval by the Executive Board, subject to the timely implementation of prior actions and confirmation of international partners’ financial commitments”. Among other “commitments”, Pakistan was expected to continue “anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism efforts.” Interestingly, on July 3, 2019, the Executive Board of the IMF approved the arrangement.

It is pertinent to recall here that Pakistan has now been on FATF’s ‘grey list’ since June 2018.

It is not, therefore, surprising that Pakistan is no particularly deterred by the threat of continued grey or possible black listing, and the threat of dubious ‘sanctions’. Islamabad’s agenda of using terror as a “strategic asset”, and choosing between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’, remains unaltered.

Pakistan has acted vigorously against domestic terrorists, even as it continues to instrumentalize terrorism against its neighbours. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Pakistan recorded a total of 370 fatalities (142 civilians, 142 Security Force, SF, personnel, and 86 terrorists) in 2019 as against 694 such fatalities (359 civilians, 160 SF personnel, and 161 terrorists) registered in 2018. The trend of declining fatalities established since 2014 has thus been maintained through 2019. At peak in 2009, Pakistan recorded 11,317 fatalities, including 2,154 civilians, 1,012 SF personnel, 7,884 terrorists, and 267 in the ‘unspecified’ category. Other parameters of domestic violence have also witnessed significant decline.

Pakistan’s use of terror as US and its allies, as well as other major powers, to concede to its demand of giving Islamabad a central role in the Afghanistan peace process. The Four-Party Joint Statement on the Afghan Peace Process released on July 12, 2019, stated,

On 11th July 2019, the representatives of China, Russia, and the United States held their 3rd consultation on the Afghan peace process in Beijing. China, Russia, and the United States welcomed Pakistan joining the consultation and believe that Pakistan can play an important role in facilitating peace in Afghanistan.

This was the first time Pakistan joined the US, Russia and China’s trilateral consultations on the Afghanistan peace process, though it has been pivotal to the Afghan talks at various stages in the past, even as it has continued with its support to terrorist formations such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. This has been repeatedly emphasised by Afghanistan and, most recently, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reiterated, on February 16, 2020, “We haven’t seen any notable developments and concrete anti-terrorism step taken by Pakistan.

Islamabad’s continued support to terrorism in India’s Jammu and Kashmir and the resultant turmoil in the region has helped it keep the Kashmir issue constantly at the fore front both of its domestic discourse, and at international fora. Unsurprisingly, US President Donald Trump, on quite a few occasions in recent past, has made gratuitous offers to mediate between the India and Pakistan to ‘resolve’ the Kashmir issue, proposals that have been summarily rejected by New Delhi.

Pakistan hosts five broad types of Islamist terrorist groups – globally oriented terrorists, Afghanistan-oriented, India- and Kashmir-oriented, sectarian and domestic terrorists. Its leaders believe that they have learnt to deal with the consequent risks and can continue with this policy without facing any extraordinary reverses in the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, using terror as a “strategic asset” has its own inherent dangers. According to the SATP database, the SF: terrorist kill ratio in 2019 stood at 1.65:1 in favour of the terrorists. This is the second instance since 2000 that an adverse ratio has been recorded, with the previous instance way back in 2001, when it stood at 1.19:1. In 2020, the ratio has worsened to 1.5:1. During the first 54 days of 2020, Pakistan has recorded a total of 91 fatalities (36 civilians, 33 SF personnel, and 22 militants) in 21 incidents of killing, as against 54 fatalities (13 civilians, 23 SF personnel, and 18 militants) recorded in 19 incidents of killing during the corresponding period of 2019. Some of the major incidents of terrorism in 2020 include:

February 19, 2020: At least 16 Army personnel were killed in an attack by Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) at an army post in the Singsila area of Dera Bugti District of Balochistan. BLT militants also seized all weapons and ammunition kept at the post and subsequently set the post on fire.February 17, 2020: At least 10 persons were killed and another 35 sustained injuries in a suicide blast near the Quetta Press Club in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. Three Police personnel were among those killed in the blast. The suicide bomber wanted to target rally of a religious group, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, but blew himself up when Police stopped him, according to Quetta Police Chief Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Abdul Razzaq Cheema.January 10, 2020: A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a Taliban-run mosque-cum seminary, Darul Uloom Al Sharia, in the Ghosabad area of Satellite Town in Quetta, killing at least 15 persons and injuring another 20. Those killed included the head cleric of the mosque and a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP). The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack.

The domestic ‘overflow’ of terrorism, despite its relative decline from the peaks of 2008-14, has also inflicted tremendous political and economic costs on the country. However, as long as Islamabad is ready to bleed its own people for the sake of an imagined ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan and to create unrest in India, there is little reason to believe that it will abandon its use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Unless, of course, the international community can find the consensual will to inflict crippling sanctions on Islamabad – a solution that has remained elusive despite decades of Pakistani terrorist depredations in its neighbourhood and far beyond.