Pakistan politics has been in a bit of ferment in the last couple of months. The opposition has laid down the gauntlet by openly challenging the all-powerful military establishment and demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Taking a leaf out of Imran Khan’s playbook, the opposition has been holding huge rallies in the major cities of the country. Meanwhile, the government in Islamabad has not been able to get off the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Paris-based intergovernmental watchdog which monitors terrorism and criminal financing laws.
The FATF, in its plenary meeting on October 22, rejected Islamabad’s plea to be removed from the “grey list”. The Indian government has been lobbying with the international community to put Pakistan on the FATF’s “black list”, which would have led to serious economic sanctions. Blacklisting would isolate Pakistan from the international financial system at a time when its economy is in dire straits. India provided the FATF with evidence of Pakistan’s connivance in the financing of “terror” networks. India alleged that Pakistan had refused to take action against individuals such as Masood Azhar, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Dawood Ibrahim, who have been accused of having strong links with terrorist groups.
Pakistan has denied the presence of Dawood on its territory but has provided details of the action it has taken against the other individuals and proscribed terror organisations the FATF has named. Turkey was the only country that requested the removal of Pakistan from the “grey list”, arguing that Islamabad was on its way to meeting all the demands put forward by the FATF. China and Malaysia are the other countries sympathetic to Pakistan’s position in the FATF, but they did not try to influence the FATF plenary’s decision. The Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman, reacting to the FATF decision, said that it was well known that Pakistan continued to provide a safe haven to terrorist groups and individuals. Also read: Diplomatic slugfest post Pulwama
The FATF President, Marcus Pleyer, told the media after the conclusion of the meeting that Pakistan had “made progress” and had “largely completed” most of the tasks needed to get out of the “grey list”. He said in his statement that Pakistan’s actions had made “the world safer” but stressed “that the risks have not gone” and that Islamabad should “do its best to repair and work on the outstanding six items”. The FATF had flagged 27 issues when it first put Pakistan on its “grey list”. The next FATF plenary, which could be crucial for Pakistan, is scheduled for February 2021.
If Pakistan is able to resolve the issues flagged by the FATF, the country should be able to get off the “grey list” by next year. Pleyer, however, cautioned that there was a parallel investigation undertaken by the Asia Pacific Group on Money-Laundering (APG), which would rule on Pakistan’s alleged role in terror financing. He also warned that no country was allowed to stay on the “grey list” indefinitely. Pakistan has been on the “grey list” since 2018. If requisite action is not taken, the country faces the danger of being relegated to the ominous “black list”. At present, only Iran and North Korea are on the FATF’s “black list”.
Hafiz Saeed sentencing
The second sentencing of Hafiz Saeed by a Pakistani anti-terrorism court in the third week of November is connected with the ongoing efforts of the government to fulfil its commitments to the FATF. Saeed, the founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), is widely believed to be one of the instigators of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. Saeed has been sentenced to two five-year terms in prison on charges of terrorism financing. The two sentences will run concurrently.
Saeed was sentenced on similar charges in February. That was the first time he was convicted in charges relating to the Mumbai terror attack. Saeed has been in and out of jail several times in the past decade and has been denying any wrongdoing. The Indian government said that the LeT was used by the Pakistani security establishment to stage attacks inside India. The United States has offered a reward of $10 million for information connected to Saeed’s alleged involvement in the Mumbai attacks, which had claimed the lives of some Americans. Also read: Imran Khan on the backfoot
Saeed’s lawyer said his client had been convicted “under pressure” from the FATF.A Pakistan court gave bail to the senior LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi in December 2014, saying that there was no proof of his involvement in the Mumbai terror attack. Lakhvi is now a prominent figure in the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), also headed by Saeed. Lakhvi could very well be the next in line to face an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan. In the third week of November two more associates of Saeed were convicted by the anti-terrorism court in Lahore.
Diplomatic counter move
Just days before the second sentencing of Saeed, Islamabad made its diplomatic counter move against New Delhi. In the second week of November, the Pakistan government released a dossier accusing India of a host of “terrorist” acts aimed at destabilising the country and specifically targeting the economic partnership with China. In a joint press conference, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the military spokesman, Major General Babar Iftikhar, accused India of placing intelligence agents on the Afghanistan border to plan terror attacks.
Qureshi said India was also allowing its own territory to be used “against Pakistan for terrorism”. Qureshi said Islamabad was sending the dossier to the United Nations, demanding that the international community should censure India. The Pakistan Army spokesman presented what he claimed was “evidence” purporting to be India’s involvement in attacks inside Pakistan. The allegations specifically mention alleged Indian complicity in attacks by Balochi separatist forces on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the attack on the Karachi Stock Exchange.
India has been accused of supporting terror groups inside Pakistan such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamat-ul-Ahrar and the Baloch Liberation Army. The Pakistani military claims it has proof to show that India is “training, harbouring and launching terrorists into Pakistan” from 87 training camps, 66 in Afghanistan and 21 in India. The Afghan Foreign Ministry has “strongly rejected” claims by Islamabad that its territory is being used to launch terror attacks.
The Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman was quick to dismiss Pakistan’s allegations as “fabricated”. He said there would be “few takers” in the international community for the “desperate attempt” to tarnish India’s image. The international community, the spokesman said, was “aware of Pakistani tactics”. Also read: Terror next door
It is the first time that Pakistani has provided such a detailed dossier on the alleged Indian support for militant groups within Pakistan. India’s previous support for Baloch separatists is not a secret. At the 2009 Sharm el-Shaikh Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit, both India and Pakistan had admitted to supporting separatist groups in each other’s territory. Both sides had pledged at the time to stop interfering in each other’s internal affairs. But bilateral relations have gone downhill rapidly since then. The two sides have been barely on talking terms since Narendra Modi became Prime Minster six years ago.
In the third week of November, Indian security forces claimed that they had foiled a “major terror attack” by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Jammu and Kashmir. Four militants were killed in the encounter with the security forces. Prime Minister Modi tweeted that the Indian security forces “had thwarted a nefarious plot to target grass roots level democratic exercises” in Jammu and Kashmir, which until recently was a full-fledged State of the Indian Union.
The Indian External Affairs Ministry noted that the JeM was behind the February 2019 Pulwama attack. The Indian government had accused Pakistani security agencies of planning that attack. The Pakistan charge d’affaires was summoned to the External Affairs Ministry and a strong protest note was handed over to him. “It was demanded that Pakistan desist from its policy of supporting terrorists and terrorist groups operating from its territory and dismantle the terror infrastructure operated by terrorist outfits to launch attacks on other countries,” the statement from the Ministry said.
Pakistan claimed that the latest Indian allegations were meant to blunt the impact of the dossier it had sent to the U.N. on India’s sponsorship of terrorism. The Pakistan Foreign Ministry “categorically” rejected what it claimed were “groundless allegations” from the Indian side. Pakistan instead accused India of staging “false flag operations” to malign it. “We have consistently sensitised the world about the possibility of India resorting yet again to a false flag operation, and we take this opportunity to forewarn the world again,” the statement from the Pakistan Foreign Office said. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson issued a statement expressing confidence in Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts. “Attempts to sabotage the CPEC are doomed to fail,” the spokesperson said.
Even as allegations and counter allegations were being bandied about, the armies of India and Pakistan exchanged heavy artillery fire across the Line of Control (LoC) in the second week of November. It was the heaviest exchange of fire in some months. At least 18 civilians and 10 Army personnel from both sides were killed as a result of the firing.
The Pakistan government’s decision to upgrade the status of the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan in early November elicited a flurry of protests from the Indian government. Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he was according that part of Kashmir provisional status of a full-fledged province. Gilgit-Baltistan is the only land link between Pakistan and China and is crucial to the CPEC. Islamabad’s decision on Gilgit-Baltistan is viewed by the international community as a reaction to the Indian government’s decision to abrogate the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan was previously hesitant to alter the status of the Gilgit-Baltistan region fearing that it would hurt its claim in the U.N. that all of Kashmir is a disputed territory. Also read: India-Pakistan regional equations
The Indian External Affairs Ministry in a statement said that it “firmly rejects the attempts by Pakistan to bring material changes to a part of Indian territory under its illegal and forcible occupation”. Gilgit-Baltistan with a population of over 1.2 million went to the polls in mid November to elect a local assembly. India has strongly objected to the holding of elections in the disputed territory. Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, speaking in Parliament after the revocation of the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir last year, had stated that Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Aksai Chin were part of India. “We will give our lives for this region,” Amit Shah had said.
The India-Pakistan rivalry will likely be intensified in Afghanistan as that country enters uncharted waters again. All troops led by the U.S. are preparing to depart from Afghanistan after the agreement reached between Washington and the Taliban this year. Pakistan has been credited with playing a role in getting the Taliban to the negotiating table and was praised for this by the Donald Trump administration.
Imran Khan was in Kabul in the third week of November at the invitation of the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani. The Pakistan Prime Minister, in all probability, must have raised the issue of alleged India-sponsored terror networks in Afghanistan. He assured Ghani that Pakistan would do its best to “help reduce the violence and move towards a ceasefire” in the war-torn country. The possible return of the Taliban to power is viewed with trepidation in many countries in the region, especially by India. It is obvious that the “special relations” between the Pakistani “deep state” and the Afghan Taliban still persist.