There’s seems to be no end to the mystery and subterfuge that surrounds Pakistan. A report from CastelliumAI, a US company headed by former senior officials from the US Treasury Department and Financial Technology experts reported that, starting March 2020 onwards, Pakistan had drastically cut its list of ‘terrorist’ individuals from 7600 to some 4000, shifting most of these to the ‘De-Notified list’. All of this happens just before a deadline of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global watchdog for terrorist financing and money laundering, who had given Pakistan time till June 2020 to clean up its act. Failing this, Pakistan would go into a ‘Black List’, which would mean no generous loans from international bodies, and more importantly, a financial searchlight into all of Pakistan’s suspicions activities both to the west and east.
- The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global watchdog for terrorist financing and money laundering, had given Pakistan time till June 2020 to clean up its act.
- Pakistan has drastically cut its list of ‘terrorist’ individuals from 7600 to some 4000, shifting most of these to the ‘De-Notified list’, just before the FATF deadline.
- In Pakistan, the process of putting a name on the list of terrorist entities is as bureaucratic and multi-departmental as India.
- Pakistan’s listing process is quite simple. On paper, Pakistan’s Anti Terrorism Act 1997, as amended in 2018, requires it to list all those designated by the UN. That, it does not.
Why Pakistan’s ‘Excuse’ For Cropping Terrorist List Doesn’t Quite Add Up
First, the designation list itself. There is no doubt it is well put together, containing all relevant details including Computerised National Identity card (CNIC) number, family details and other criteria, all neatly set out. But matching these to the UN Security Council Sanctions List is next to impossible.
For one, terrorists go by several different names, which may be translated differently. Then there’s the differing data.
Hafiz Saeed remains on the list, but his CNIC number is different from that of the UN list. Here’s another – Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi appears on neither of the lists, either by his Identity Card Number or through any similar name. Maulana Fazlullah, of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), and a primary threat to the Pakistan Army, appears in the De-Notified listing as ‘Fazal Hayat’, leading to the assumption that rumours of his death are true. Another member of the TTP, Aamir Ali, listed in the UN list, is missing entirely – though there is a whole phalanx of persons from Swat listed as terrorists. The Baloch, of course, are plentifully available in the list.
Then of course, the numbers don’t add up.
As of date, Pakistan’s pruned list of proscribed individuals are 3602, while the de-notified list has swelled to 4003, which, as brought out, does not include all of those removed from the first list.
How Does Pakistan Go About its ‘Terrorist List’?
CastelliumAI provided available information to the Wall Street Journal who approached Pakistani authorities, and was obviously stonewalled. The reporter managed to get to just a section officer in Pakistan, who said that the ‘bloated list’ had been pruned of ‘erroneous information’ including those long dead, and those whose crimes were not associated with terrorism.
That’s an explanation that won’t stand up to scrutiny.
In Pakistan, the process of putting a name on the list of terrorist entities is as bureaucratic and multi-departmental as India. Any such exercise done faithfully would have involved months, if not years, and would inevitably have led to a lot of media coverage, as friends and relatives celebrated the delisting of some 4000 odd people.
Pakistan’s listing process is quite simple. On paper, Pakistan’s Anti Terrorism Act 1997, as amended in 2018, requires it to list all those designated by the UN. That, it does not.
Thus, listing a Hafeez Saeed as a ‘terrorist’ requires a whole elaborate play where the police make unverifiable charges, and judges play dumb. An elaborate counter terrorism infrastructure also exists. For instance, there is the National Counter Terrorism Authority with 13 ministries and departments, 14 federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and 12 provincial departments – and is supposed to be the key coordinator. That body remains toothless.
Then there are the ‘celebrated’ terrorists like Maulana Ludhianvi, who helps get politicians elected, and was taken off the terror list in 2018.
He nearly became a parliamentarian. All of this also explains why ambitious police officers are willing to pay a ransom to get out of being posted in counter-terrorism departments. It’s a mug’s game.
Pakistan Has Also Been Trying to Relocate Its ‘Most Embarrassing’ Terrorists
Even as all this ‘virtual erasing’ of terrorist lists was taking place, Pakistan was also trying to physically remove or relocate some of the most embarrassing terrorists . Shortly after Indian fighters hit Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist facilities in Pakistan in February 2019, rumours began to circulate that Masood Azhar, Jaish chief, was dead. Indian agencies pooh-poohed this publicly.
Then came news that Azhar was ‘very ill’ and was admitted to an Army hospital in Rawalpindi.
In July came further news of a blast in the hospital that killed ten. As of early 2020, Pakistani authorities were still talking of his ‘kidney ailment’ and barring any contact with the media, even as they told the FATF that he and his family were ‘missing’. In a second case, Pakistani officials confirmed in February 2020, that Ehsanullah Ehsan of the Tehreek-e-Taliban – who probably surrendered in 2017 –had escaped custody. Again, the rumour mills put him in Turkey.
A key turncoat, who’s ‘cooperation’ had led to the arrest of several of his compatriots, Ehsan would have sung like a canary if he had been questioned by anyone from the FATF.
Pakistan Can Fool Nobody
Then there is the death of Qari Younis and Sheikh Khalid Haqqani, also of the TTP, but killed mysteriously in Kabul. As Professor Marvin G Weinbaum notes, their bodies were returned by Kabul to Pakistan, which was stranger still. Qari Younis was another militant with probably multiple loyalties. Even more outrageously, in February, Pakistan had claimed that 7 out of 16 UN-designated terrorists in Pakistan were dead.
This is Pakistan, and the FATF, a highly secretive body, will say nothing. But nobody is likely to be fooled.
There will be more probing, and questions will probably be asked as to how this process was done and on what basis. That will hopefully involve questions being asked of Pakistan Interior Minister Brigadier (retd) Ijaz Shah, a former Intelligence Bureau chief, appointed to the post in August 2019. Shah has both created and destroyed more terrorists and groups than even he is likely to remember. He was the ‘fixer’ for an earlier dictator, and is not above fixing matters for a ‘selected’ prime minister. But it would be unfair to give credit to him alone. It may be said with perfect truth, that the whole machinery is oiled with terrorist money. It all depends on just who you call a ‘terrorist’.
(Dr Tara Kartha was Director, National Security Council Secretariat. She is now a Distinguished Fellow at IPCS. She tweets at @kartha_tara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)