Pakistan takes one step forward to get relief from international pressure, followed by two steps back once the pressure is off.
The three-month postponement of a crucial vote against Pakistan by the the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Paris -based intergovernmental body that sets global standards for fighting illicit finances, hardly ends Pakistan’s travails over the issue.
Just ahead of the FATF meeting, Pakistan had once again, announced restrictions on the finances of terrorist groups, including charities linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
Even a cursory understanding of the history of Pakistan’s actions reveals that its measures are aimed, not at permanently shutting down favoured Jihadi groups but at evading the immediate pressure.
The United States, the United Kingdom, and several European countries were prepared to add Pakistan’s name to the ‘Grey List’ of countries that fail to adequately comply with terrorist financing regulations.
Pakistani bankers and officials feared that Pakistan’s economy would be hurt if the resolution goes through. The notifications shutting down bank accounts of some terrorist groups were obviously issued at the urging of the Finance Ministry.
The Jihadis’ handlers at Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), meanwhile, were probably helping the Jihadi groups to create new identities and open new accounts. The bank accounts that have been shut down will likely yield no more than a few hundred or a few thousand rupees.
That is how the game has been played since the early nineties when the international community first started demanding action by Pakistan against terrorist groups operating from its soil.
The world knows about Pakistan’s selective approach towards terrorist groups. Whether Pakistan is subjected to restrictions and sanctions, however, is determined by the extent to which the international community is willing to accept half-hearted measures for political reasons.
In the past, Pakistan has been able to take one step forward to get relief from international pressure, followed by two steps back once the pressure is off and another step forward, when the pressure resumes. It is an elaborate exercise to stand in the same place.
As early as 1992, the United States warned Pakistan that it would be declared a state sponsor of terrorism if it did not crack down on Jihadis who, at that time, had kidnapped western tourists, including Americans in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan responded by banning Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA), the group responsible for abducting the tourists, to satisfy friendly American officials looking for an excuse for optimism.
Once the U.S. threat of ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ designation was withdrawn, leaders of HuA resurfaced as leaders of a new group called Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), which transformed into Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) after HuM’s involvement in the 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
The renaming of terrorist organizations, and operating a revolving door for Jihadi terrorists, has been a regular practice especially after 9/11. General Pervez Musharraf’s pretense of revived partnership with the United States raised it to an art form.
Any terrorist who was in the Americans’ crosshairs disappeared from public view for some time amid reports of arrest or detention, while his group was officially banned. LeT’s Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, for example, has been arrested and released several times and his groups have similarly been banned under different names.
But the ‘Jihadi outfits,’ as they are called in Pakistan, remain remarkably resilient, surviving the multiple bans and their finances continue to grow even after their accounts are ostensibly frozen and their properties confiscated.
Pakistan’s track record with FATF compliance has been similarly sketchy and sporadic. In 2008, FATF identified Pakistan (along with Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and São Tomé and Principe, and the northern part of Cyprus) as high risk and non-cooperative in implementing international rules relating to money laundering and terrorist financing.
The civilian government that succeeded Musharraf took some measures that got Pakistan off the hook for the moment but on 25 February 2009 the international body issued a public statement noting concerns and encouraging greater Pakistani compliance in shutting down the flow of money to terrorist groups.
By 2012, Pakistan was among the list of sixteen countries, which in the opinion of FATF had “not made sufficient progress in addressing the deficiencies” or had not committed to an action program developed with the FATF to address the deficiencies” in dealing with illicit finance.
Pakistan was put on the ‘Grey List,’ only to be removed from it in 2015 after a series of technical measures, including changes in its legal and regulatory framework dealing with money laundering and terrorist financing.
Now, once again, FATF’s concerns are back though China, Russia, and Turkey have helped Pakistan in delaying being designated insufficiently compliant for now.
The problem, of course, is not lack of formalities at the end of Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance or the Central Bank. It is the absence of political will and the unwillingness to acknowledge that the groups and individuals whose financial activities worry the rest of the world are indeed –to use a Trumpism – bad dudes.
General Pervez Musharraf, who was the face of Pakistan’s supposed turning away from Jihadi terrorism and a renewed partnership with the U.S. immediately after 9/11, is openly saying these days that he continued to support the Taliban in Afghanistan in “Pakistan’s national interest.”
He also praises Hafiz Saeed and insists that the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 is a Pakistani patriot.
Given that mindset, Pakistan has consistently failed to fulfill its commitments under UN Security Council Resolution 1267, which requires all states to freeze the assets of people and organizations on a list established by the resolution, including Hafiz Saeed and his ‘Islamic charities.’ Others on the U.N. list who continue to operate freely from Pakistan include Dawood Ibrahim, the Afghan Taliban, and the Siraj Haqqani Network.
Pakistan’s recent announcements about amending its anti-terrorism law to ban militant groups and organizations that are listed as ‘terrorists’ by the United Nations is not a substantive move targeting terrorists and terrorist-run charities. It is just another attempt to be able to claim, as a Pakistani official did ahead of the FATF review, that “Pakistan had made serious efforts to deal with militant financing.”
It only proves, if proof was necessary, that Pakistan acts only under severe international pressure and that too only enough to dodge the bullet. Until Pakistan’s establishment changes its paradigm and acts against all Jihadi groups and individuals fully and methodically international institutions such as FATF should look at the composite picture of Pakistan’s actions.
Until then accepting technical measures from the Pakistani side as a substitute for real policy change will only result in the cynical half-measures that the world has become accustomed to accepting.
Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His forthcoming book is ‘Reimagining Pakistan’.