Looks like COVID-19 has been a blessing (not so much) in disguise for Pakistan. While the rest of the world was busy dealing with lockdowns and medical news, Islamabad and its army used this 'suspended' time to ‘clean their house’ and deal with a couple of hot issues. In their own way, of course.
And the hottest issue on the table was the 24 June FATF meeting. June has come, and with June has returned the (by now usual) Damocles' sword hanging over Pakistan's head: being blacklisted by the FATF. So naturally, Pakistan must keep its house in order.
Post US-Taliban Peace Deal, Pakistan Is Finding It ‘Easier’ to Operate in Afghanistan Through Taliban
Due to the increasing scrutiny on the activities of the terror groups in Pakistan by the FATF, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has, in the last few months, been tirelessly working towards shifting the training camps of groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad to Afghanistan.
Further, with Taliban’s influence growing in Afghanistan, especially after the US-Taliban Peace Agreement, Pakistan has been finding it easier to operate in the country through the Taliban.
According to local sources, LeT and JeM have gradually set up operationals based in Kunar, in Nangarhar and Laghman provinces of Afghanistan. According to the same sources, both from Pakistani and Afghani sides of the border, in the months of March and April 2020, nearly 250 LeT & JeM cadres has been moved by the ISI from Bajaur Agency and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, into Kunar province through the Keka Pass, after completing their arms training camps in Paktia, in Badakhshan, and Wazakhwa district in Paktika.
These cadres support the Taliban in undertaking terror attacks in Afghanistan as well as against the Afghan National Army. In May, at least 35 cadres of JeM entered the Nangarhar province through Kurram district. The JeM has at least six training camps in Nangarhar, and both JeM and LeT are – in some places – sharing camps with Taliban cadres.
What A UNSC Report Confirms About JeM & LeT’s Shady Dealings
Rumour has it that even Ibrahim Azhar, one of Masood Azhar's brothers, is in Afghanistan to look after the 'family business'. A recent report published on 27 May by the UN Security Council confirms that: “Jaish-i-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba facilitate the trafficking of terrorist fighters into Afghanistan, who act as advisers, trainers and specialists in improvised explosive devices. Both groups are responsible for carrying out targeted assassinations against government officials and others”. Adding that: “The presence of these groups is centred in the eastern provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan, where they operate under the umbrella of the Afghan Taliban”.
And the activities of terror groups and their ‘charities’ have been going on during all these months, despite everything, all over Pakistan.
The Jamat ud Dawah (JuD) has been working to create a number of district committees to contest, under the banner of the Hafiz Saeed-backed Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, the elections in Punjab scheduled for April-March.
Pakistan’s Blatant Violations Of FATF Rules
The elections have been postponed because of the pandemic, but the terror machinery has not stopped. Their training and fund collections have intensified, especially the ones focussed on Kashmir and Afghanistan. And not only this. Despite proscription, in fact, and despite Islamabad claiming to have stopped its activities, JeM continued to advertise its training camps and its activities: through posters in the streets, through advertisements into Urdu newspapers, and through its various publications including Musalman Bachche, Madina-Madina, and O My Sister (a book authored by Masood Azhar).
According to locals, not only are these publications openly available, but some also prove to be fund-collection tools. For example, the Musalman Bachche has a monthly subscription of 30 Pakistani rupees and provides an address (Post Box No 15, GPO Bahwalpur).
This is in clear violation of FATF regulation, and contradicts Pakistan’s claim that it has been ‘containing activities’ of the terrorists groups.
But the move, nevertheless, seemed to work.
No Need For Pakistan To ‘Whitewash’ This Time
The FATF decided, in fact, once again, to keep Pakistan on their grey list, and there was no need to take the other usual ‘big steps’ in counter-terrorism. Jailing for the 100th time an already-jailed Mohammed Hafiz Saeed, for example, which has now become a national sport like cricket, or parading their 'good' terrorist Ehasanullah Ehsan, who had ‘escaped’ from an ISI safe house, and is most likely in Rawalpindi at the moment.
This time, most probably because of the leverage the country gained with the ‘peace agreement’ in Afghanistan, there was not even the need for the usual ‘whitewashing’ in the wake of the FATF meeting, to show more ‘proofs’ of Pakistan’s goodwill and their efforts to fight terror groups.
But the truth is of course another story.
The UN knows, the US knows, the rest of the world knows. And despite this, the farce goes on, each time with the same script, and with the FATF pretending to believe in it. Despite the independent reports they get, despite evidences and the reality. In ancient Rome, Cicero would have asked: “Quo usque tandem abutere patientia nostra?” (For how long will you abuse our patience?)
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)