Pakistan's 'crackdown' on terror groups is far from unprecedented, choking militant outfits' finances key

It's like one of those endless replays on cable TV. Media headlines on Islamabad starting yet another action against terror groups has the same effect of bored somnolence. After all, it’s happened so many times before. Here’s a headline: "Pakistan shuts down seminaries run by Jaish-e-Mohammed". That’s 2016.

Here’s another: "Pakistan Cracks Down On Lashkar-e-Taiba". That’s 2008. There were a series of such banner headlines in 2001. Nearly twenty years later, the headlines are identical in terms of a “crackdown” of terror groups. Dawn reported that seminaries have been closed in Sindh (56 facilities) Punjab (160 seminaries, 32 schools, two colleges, four hospitals, 178 ambulances and 153 dispensaries) as well as similar institutions in Peshawar and Dir in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and parts of Balochistan.

Pakistans crackdown on terror groups is far from unprecedented, choking militant outfits finances key

File photo of JeM chief Masood Azhar. AFP

If this is true, then this is undoubtedly a far larger exercise than previously undertaken, in terms of its geographical scope. However, a flurry of activity by security forces will solve nothing. The challenge is to sustain this action and ensure that terrorist leaders are not again (and yet again) free to return to their violent occupations.

As most people are now aware, the Pakistani enthusiasm to curb militancy is alas, not so much due to Indian air attacks as due to the pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global body that aims to cut off all aid to terrorists, among other things. In mid-February, it declined to ease the ongoing pressure on Pakistan, instead specifying more steps for it to comply with its recommendations.

Last year, under similar pressure, Pakistan issued an amendment to its anti-terrorism laws, adding one clause which committed Pakistan to include all United Nations-designated terrorist groups in its proscribed list. Nothing much happened thereafter, with the jihadis publicly continuing their activities. It is this lack of action that is sought to be remedied now — a year later — when the FATF again did its own cracking of the whip.

The FATF was clearly not impressed with Pakistan’s counter-terrorist action at its 22 February meet. Its notification stated that “Pakistan has revised its Terrorist Finance risk assessment; however, it does not demonstrate a proper understanding of the TF risks posed by Da’esh, AQ, JuD, FiF, LeT, JeM, HQN, and persons affiliated with the Taliban”.

Further, it called on Pakistan to demonstrate “that facilities and services owned or controlled by designated persons are deprived of their resources and the usage of the resources”: all this before May 2019. That’s a significant change in language from past directives, which tended to be more urbane and vague. This time, it’s a clear direction, in a “do it or else” spirit. FATF experts, as well as counter-terrorism officials, will say that the best way to destroy a terror group is to choke its finances. Terrorists like everyone else, like being paid for their pains. Cut the money off, and most terrorists will drift into something more lucrative.

For instance, the financial heft of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) is derived in part from its many seminaries, hospitals, ambulances and dispensaries. According to the media, it is these that are being targeted in the ongoing raids. It is heartening to see that the ‘charity’ arm of the group — the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) — also receiving the attention of authorities. The FIF is usually arm in arm with the Pakistan Army in its disaster management activities. It is also at the forefront of the JuD’s propaganda and recruitment efforts.

Relief stalls of the FIF for instance, will always carry banners for donations for Kashmir, Palestine and lately for Rohingya. But the JuD also functions through a bewildering maze of institutions and groups. That includes platforms like the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (Protection of Pakistan) a platform that brings together students, religious groups, and a politician or two. Then there is the Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool (Movement for Defending the Honour of God) made up of the representatives of various Rabita councils, the Tehrik-e-Tahffuz-e-Qibla-e-Awal (Movement for Safeguarding the first centre of prayer) which was aimed against Israel among others.

These platforms bring in donations and other support of a multiplicity of religious and political bodies. Apart from these, the Jud (and to some extent Jaish) have several colleges, including those dealing with information technology, which cater to the needs to the group in a sophisticated psywar effort that includes a storm of fake news. So no, for Pakistan to demonstrate significant progress against terror, the ‘crackdown’ has to continue for the foreseeable future to include a far wider number of targets.

Pakistan’s actions however, remain quixotic to say the least. Recent news reports indicate that the father of one of the most dangerous terrorist groups — Harkat-ul-Mujahideen — has been inducted into the Pakistan's ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf. Apparently, this is seen as one way of rehabilitating terrorist leaders, even one who was responsible for hundreds of deaths, including the beheading of US citizen Daniel Pearl.

A second issue is even more puzzling. As Pakistani columnist Gul Bukhari wrote, the Pakistani Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on several occasions made known his worry about jihadi groups upending State institutions. In 2017, he showed a remarkable awareness of the economic pitfalls of a perilous internal and external security situation. Even more importantly, he seemed to reach out to India and Afghanistan. He has since followed this with the initiative for the opening of the Kartapur Corridor. Bukhari’s suggestion that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) is powerless in the face of Inter-Services Intelligence or other intelligence apparatus is difficult to accept. There is no precedent for a powerless COAS in Pakistan, other than as an aberration.

And no, former president General Pervez Musharraf did not say agencies prevented him from acting against Jaish, as Bukhari suggests. He only said he hadn’t pushed it. There’s a difference. Whether true-blue jihadis have entered the Pakistani intelligence machinery is a possibility however, and needs the closest possible monitoring given their potential for serious destruction: for both India and Pakistan.

The best way to test this new theory is to see whether the crackdown continues in earnest and the military cracks the whip on its own rebellious elements and State institutions dragging their feet. Certainly for the first time, the JuD has been added to the list of proscribed entities. Now, it remains for Islamabad to carry this through to the logical end, with the firm conviction that this is what is necessary for Pakistan to deliver it from the financial and diplomatic abyss into which it has fallen. Self-interest is the best motivation, especially when it is hastened on by a sharp nudge or two from those who matter.

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Updated Date: Mar 09, 2019 17:43:05 IST

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