Shades of grey
While Pakistan may have exited the FATF grey list, India’s security establishment is troubled by the continued existence of its neighbour’s terror sanctuaries. Amit Agnihotri reports
Paris-based global terror watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has finally removed Pakistan from its grey list. However, it will not be easy for the rogue nation to take off the badge that marks it out as a nursery for terrorists.
Pakistan was placed on the grey list in 2018 and it took the country four years and several warnings to get itself off the chart.
During this period, Pakistan faced increased monitoring from the terror watchdog and had to amend its money laundering laws, clamp down on designated real estate companies, confiscate and freeze assets of money laundering entities, monitor businesses for proliferation financing and sanction them for non-compliance.
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was elated over the development but the good news came with a rider. ‘That does not mean that there isn’t more work to do. Going forward, Pakistan will need to work with FATF’s regional partner, the Asia Pacific Group, to continue to strengthen its systems,’ warned FATF head T Raja Kumar.
Kumar had good reasons to make that observation.
Over the past decades, Pakistan’s track record in curbing terrorism and terror financing has served as a playbook for any country desirous of hoodwinking the world’s major powers whilst continuing to derive benefits from them.
Pakistan mastered the art when it started dabbling in terrorism by helping the US’s external intelligence agency, the CIA, arm Mujahiddeen fighters against the Soviets, who had invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s.
When the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, the Pakistan-backed Taliban took over the war-torn nation and hosted al-Qaeda, whose founder Osama bin Laden masterminded the 2001 attacks on the US.
After the US smoked out the Taliban and occupied the troubled nation, the religious fighters found sanctuary in the Tribal areas across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The international community realised the truth about Pakistan when the US found Osama bin Laden – the world’s most wanted terrorist – hiding there in 2011 and subsequently killed him, following a global search that had lasted 10 years.
In 2015, Pakistan had announced a National Action Plan to counter terrorism. Yet it could not end the terrorist bases operating on its own soil, a US state department report noted in 2020.
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who described Osama bin Laden as a martyr, publicly acknowledged the presence of up to 40,000 terrorists in his country and noted that terrorists from Pakistan had attacked neighbouring countries.
India & Pakistan
India, which has been a victim of Islamabad’s terror export policy for decades, expressed concern over the rogue nation’s track record and the security implications of the FATF’s decision in the South Asian region.
‘We have seen reports relating to Pakistan in the context of the FATF plenary in Paris. We understand that Pakistan will continue to work with the Asia Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering to further improve its Anti Money Laundering (AML) Counter Terror Financing (CFT) system,’ said India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.
‘As a result of FATF scrutiny, Pakistan has been forced to take some action against well-known terrorists, including those involved in the attacks against the entire international community in Mumbai in 2008. It is in [the] global interest that Pakistan must continue to take credible, verifiable, irreversible and sustained action against terrorism and terrorist financing emanating from territories under its control,’Bagchi added.
These remarks came days before India hosted a meeting of the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee and followed it up with an international conclave on curbing terror financing. Over the years, at various UN forums, India has taken a tough stand against Pakistan’s role as a terror hub.
At an informal meeting of the panel at the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a key target of the ghastly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks masterminded by Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), India told the UNSC Counter-Terrorism Committee that after the rogue nation was placed on the grey list, attacks on hard targets (well-defended government establishments and military camps) had reduced, while the number of terrorist bases had dropped from 600 to 150.
However, India further said that, as soon as talks began regarding the possibility of Pakistan being removed from the FATF grey list, things had begun to slide backwards. As a result, the number of terrorist bases had increased by 50 percent and the probability of scalable attacks had risen.
The venue of the meeting itself was a message to the international community, as several foreigners, along with Indians, died in the attacks on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and elsewhere. India presented evidence how LeT operative Sajid Mir gave instructions to the attackers at the Jewish Chabad House, in which several Israeli citizens were killed.
Subsequently, Pakistan kept telling the world that Mir was dead. But, under FATF pressure, the country was finally forced to arrest and convict him for terror financing early this year.
The US-Pakistan nexus
The strange love-hate relationship that has existed between the US and Pakistan for decades, came into focus recently when American President Joe Biden described Pakistan as ‘one of the most dangerous nations in the world’, just days after he approved a $450 million F-16 fighter jet upgrade deal for Islamabad.
India – which has been deepening its security partnership with the US and is a key member of the US-led, anti-China Quad grouping, focused on the Indo-Pacific – scoffed at the F-16 deal but was told the pact aimed to help Pakistan fight terrorism.
Interestingly, months before the FATF clearance came, the IMF approved a loan extension worth $1.7 billion weeks after the Pakistan military sought US help to bail out the cash-strapped nation.
Over the past decade, Washington stopped trusting Islamabad but still used the rogue nation to pursue its narrow political interests in the region.
A case in point is how Washington used Pakistan in 2020 to broker a deal with the Taliban, which allowed the US to wriggle out of Afghanistan in 2021.
This US blunder paved the way for a Taliban government in Kabul, in which several UN-designated terrorists hold key positions. No wonder, then, that al-Qaeda is back in business on its home-turf, which was proved when a US drone strike killed the terrorist group’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in August this year.
Washington knows that Pakistan is a protégé of China, which is keen to replace the US as the global superpower. The US would, therefore, need to keep India onside to preserve the strength of the axis of democracies.
So it is surprising indeed why the world’s most powerful democracy finds it so difficult to drop its more dubiousSouth Asian ally.
Amit Agnihotri is a Delhi-based journalist who has worked with several national newspapers and focuses on politics and policy issues