The External Affairs Ministry has chalked up another win. The United Nations Security Council formally designated Abdul Rehman Makki as an international terrorist. And the surprise. China, after blocking the process earlier, lifted its ‘technical hold’, thus, allowing the designation to go forward.
Indian diplomats are justly jubiliant. But a lot of counter-terrorism experts around the world will also rejoice. After all, Makki is the deputy Amir of the Lashkar e Tayyba(LeT) that killed US, Australian, French, Japanese, German, Italian, and Israeli citizens among others in the Mumbai attacks while its operations have spread to Australia, South East Asia, the Hague, and the US. Yes, there is a sense of victory. But this is not the end of the story. It’s just the beginning.
One of the Minds Behind 2008 Mumbai Attacks
Abdul Rehman Makki—born in Bahawalpur in 1954, and is a very powerful second-in-command in the Lashkar particularly after the Amir, Hafeez Saeed became too notorious to appear much in public in the recent years, and had to hand over operational control to his brother in law.
Some friction also emerged as Saeed advised caution after India’s public denunciations while Makki was all for pushing ahead. He was also critical of finance disbursing as much as USD 248,000 to an LeT training camp and approximately USD 165,000 to an LeT-affiliated madrassa.
Following not just 26/11 but the evidence of LeT operations in the US, a whole Lashkar network was operating in Virginia in 2000. Saeed had a USD 10 million bounty on his head, an indication of strong US interest in him while Makki rated USD 2 million with these sums to be paid just for information on their whereabouts.
While Saeed appeared at a public gathering close to the US embassy in 2012 deliberately taunting Washington, he was never to be seen, and operated in the shadows. No one in all these years ever claimed that bounty. Clearly, it was better to be alive than rich, given the huge state patronage, and politicians currying for favour.
Makki was ‘arrested’ several times, however, remaining in his house, and meeting with Lashkar commanders without constraint. In 2020, a Lahore Anti-Terrorism court suspended even the one-year sentence given to Makki and his aide Abdus Salam, asking them for a Rs 50,000 fine and release on bail.
Under severe pressure from the Financial Action Task Force(FATF)— a multinational body tasked with ending terrorist finance, the court in 2020, awarded 16 years in two cases each, but with all this taking place under top security, no one is in a position to say whether Makki is jailed or otherwise. After all, after declaring key terrorist mastermind Sajid Mir as dead for years, it has suddenly announced that he had been jailed for 15 years. No notification was ever issued by the relevant department.
Pakistan’s Domestic Laws and Wriggle Room
Pakistan’s ‘convictions’ are determined by archaic laws and a complicated system in which the National Counter Terrorism Authority has little clout, nor even the state police. It's the army which decides.
Even so, Pakistan’s evasive tactics have been jaw-dropping. At the United Nations for instance, it has resorted to ‘reservations’ on every important convention on terrorism. For instance, it objected to the UN Convention for 'the Suppression of Terrorism bombings' declaring that this could not apply to “struggles, including armed struggle, for the realisation of right of self-determination…”. In vain did Australia, Austria, France, Germany and nearly every other country declare that this went against the 'letter of the Convention’.
Pakistan acceded to it in 2009 with its reservation in intact. India had signed it nearly ten years earlier. A similar stance was evident at the UN Convention on Suppression of Terrorist Finance with Islamabad’s diplomats objecting to clauses on extradition and insisting on primacy of its own domestic law. That lead to the Japanese delegation protesting that its demands were ‘incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention’.
Similarly, the Netherlands protested that “a general reference to national law without specifying its contents does not clearly define to others …..to what extent the Islamic Republic of Pakistan considers itself bound by the obligations of the Convention and raises concerns as to (its) commitment.”
Loopholes in the Law
This turned out to be a rather more accurate than perhaps even these diplomats knew. It was not until 2013 that the National Assembly amended its Anti Terrorism Act 1997 (ATA), to ‘address shortcomings….highlighted by the FATF’. That included an extra-territorial clause which brought Pakistanis outside the country under the ambit of terrorist financing laws, and identified procedures to ‘freeze’ assets of a proscribed organisation, and processes of proscription.
That might have seemed adequate for those scrutinising Pakistan’s actions. But there was a loophole. Pakistan’s ATA Section 11D dealt with proscription appeal, and these were valid for just six months at a time. At any time therefore, it was unclear whether Lashkar or its arms were still under proscription or not.
It was not until 2018 that a further loophole emerged. Under the threat of being blacklisted by the FATF, former Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain brought in an Ordinance which was merely inserted the words listed under the United Nations Security Council Act (1948) into the section which provides the legal basis for proscriptions. In short, while other countries automatically proscribed those groups that the UNSC did in national law, had yet to be done in Pakistan. In simple words, Pakistan’s laws did not support its declarations.
The Chinese Shield
It is this country that now has been protected by China all these years despite the fact that Beijing itself is apprehensive of jihadis in Pakistan and in neighbouring states particularly, after the recent shooting of its nationals in Afghanistan.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman justified China’s decision on the basis that Makki had been ‘convicted and sentenced’ by Pakistan, and praised Pakistan for its actions, which is farcical in the extreme. After all, China put a ‘technical hold’ on his designation in June by which time, he was, according to Pakistan, already in jail for two years.
China has also put a hold on four other Lashkar and Jaish terrorists—Sajid Mir, Rauf Ashgar, Shahid Mehmood and Talha Saeedall under various stages of apparent investigation or reported arrest with the last blocked as recently as October 2021.
Each of these blocks at the international level are however, politically expensive for China, and puts Pakistan further and further under strong obligation to Beijing. It seems that Beijing has no qualms in using them as chess counters in its bilateral games with India.
What the ‘Global’ Tag Means for Pakistan’s Counter-Terrorism
The designation is not even a halfway house in terms of actual counter-terrorism. If Pakistan has ‘sentenced’ Makki, and the others, then it needs to fulfil its international obligations in revealing the quantum of sentencing, and what it proposes to do with the Lashkar or Jaish as a body.
There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind, that given the reverence with which Saeed and his henchmen were treated even as they were ‘arrested’, they would be given every comfort and wherewithal to continue to direct the group under perhaps, a greater overview of their masters. Any attack by the Lashkar now, is, therefore, one that is being directly organised by the state.
After all one cant have it both ways. If the Lashkar leadership is under effective arrest, then the group is adrift and toothless. If not, then its proof enough that nothing has been done. In that case, its time counter-terrorism bodies in critical countries get together to end this menace of terror once and for all. As observed earlier, this should be just the beginning.
(Dr Tara Kartha is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). She tweets @kartha_tara. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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