FeaturedInternationalVolume 14 Issue # 15

A knee-jerk reaction?

The government has launched a crackdown on members of banned organizations, but questions are rising about its efficacy and timing, especially after India accused a Pakistan-based outfit for the deadly Pulwama attack.

The government says the countrywide crackdown has started as part of the National Action Plan (NAP), launched in the aftermath of the December 2014 terrorist attack on the Army Public School (APS). The law enforcement agencies have arrested hundreds of people and taken control of dozens of seminaries, mosques, hospitals and welfare organisations. Now all the institutions would run under the district administration. The staff at the institutions would be allowed to continue work after due clearance and scrutiny. The action started after Minister of State for Interior Shaharyar Afridi announced action against people, belonging to the organizations, proscribed by the United Nations. The son and a close relative of Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), that was accused by India of the February 14 Pulwama attack, were also detained. However, the government has rejected claims they were arrested after an Indian dossier named them.

The 20-point NAP aims to counter violent extremism, hate speech and hate literature and to de-weaponise society. Its three points specifically relate to action against proscribed organisations. The Interior Ministry has also released an updated list of 70 banned organizations. It includes Jamaat-ud-Dawa, its welfare organization, Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). Experts say the clampdown was ordered to meet the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) regarding the implementation of designation of persons and entities under the UNSC resolutions. Pakistan, despite making some progress in overcoming the shortcomings in its counter-terrorism financing and anti-money laundering regimes, continues to remain under the cloud at the global illicit financing watchdog. After failing to convince the FATF, Pakistan is now required to complete actions it has to take by the May timeline. The next FATF plenary is due in June this year.

The order has also come against the backdrop of reports that the government is finally readying itself for a decisive action against extremist and militant groups. A meeting of the National Security Committee has directed the law enforcement agencies to accelerate actions against proscribed groups and also reinstated a ban on the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) and its charity wing, Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF). The directive came amid a stand-off with India in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, giving an impression that it was being done under the pressure of the situation. However, officials insist the decision on the action against the proscribed groups was decided long before and its objective was to get a favourable outcome at the FATF.

Experts say a recent warning to Pakistan by the FATF to deliver on its commitments to curb terror financing and money laundering risks to the global financial system has put the country’s entire machinery into an aggressive mode to show tangible progress within two months. The achievement of 27 targets under a 10-point action plan has now become a top priority for the government. As the FATF meetings were still in progress, the government announced a ban on Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) to partially address the concerns raised by India that Pakistan supported militant organisations, including Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), or at least considered them low-risk entities.

As JeM claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack, it provided India with new fuel to embarrass Pakistan and it tried to isolate it financially and diplomatically. The FATF had specifically noted with concern and condemned the attack, saying such incidents proved that terrorism continued to threaten societies and citizens around the world, which could not occur without money and the means to move funds among terrorist supporters. In an alarming development, the Financial Monitoring Unit, set up the Pakistan government, issued 8,707 suspicious transaction reports in 2018, up 57pc from 5,548 in 2017. In a recent meeting, authorities reported to the prime minister that the issue was serious from a global perspective, noting that it was in Pakistan’s own interest to put its house in order. It was reported that six banks had been fined and 109 bankers were being investigated for opening fake bank accounts. About 8,707 suspicious transaction reports were issued in 2018 by the Financial Monitoring Unit, showing almost 57 per cent growth over 5,548 of 2017. About 1,136 suspicious transaction reports were issued in January and February this year alone. Smuggled currency and jewellery worth more than Rs20 billion were confiscated between July 2018 and Jan 31, up 66pc from Rs12b a year ago.

Undoubtedly, the crackdown is a step towards the right direction by the Imran Khan-led government. However, questions are being raised whether the crackdown would reach a logical conclusion after similar measures in the past failed to produce desired results. Action was taken against banned organisations but they reappeared with different names. The PTI government has different reasons for the action. Its main objective is to remove Pakistan from Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list to encourage a boost in foreign direct investment. It will promote tourism in the country, which is a key goal of the ruling party. It will also improve Pakistan’s image in the world.

Experts say Pakistan does not need any reason to take action against militant organizations. The crackdown must not stop short of its goals. It will not only improve Pakistan’s image abroad but also pave the way for a new Pakistan, which Prime Minister Imran Khan promised during his election campaign.