Pakistan’s ‘Terrorist Hunting’ Season – OpEd


When it comes to any terrorism related issue, Pakistan insists on taking the high moral ground and never tires of repeatedly reminding the world about its participation in the most extensive war against terror in history. And herein lies the paradox because ever since 2018, the name of this self-anointed crusader against terrorism continues to figure in the grey list of international terrorism financing monitoring watchdog, Financial Action Task Force [FATF].

Unfortunately, rather than taking necessary actions to address the serious concerns expressed by FATF and end the ignominy of being clubbed with countries like Syria, Myanmar, Philippines, South Sudan, Uganda and Yemen, Pakistan continues soft pedalling when it comes to curbing terror financing activities. What’s even more astonishing is that in order to mislead its own people, Islamabad merrily accuses FATF of “politicisation” and portrays itself as a hapless victim of international intrigue. 

While Islamabad’s ridiculous claim of FATF being ‘politicised’ is indeed laughable, its puerile actions intended to hoodwink FATF are downright hilarious. Have you noticed that very FATF meeting in which Pakistan’s status is scheduled to be reviewed is invariably preceded by the announcement of what can aptly be described as countrywide [and of late, international] ‘terrorist hunting’ season? A few examples:

  • Just before its February 2020 meet, FATF was told by Islamabad that that Jaish-e-Mohammad [JeM] founder Masood Azhar living in Pakistan and had been listed as an “international terrorist” by the United Nations Security Council in May 2019, was “untraceable.” 
  • For 27 years, Pakistan repeatedly denied that an Indian national named Dawood Ibrahim who had masterminded the gruesome 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts had been provided a safe sanctuary in Pakistan. However, in its 2020 list of designated terrorists released shortly before the October 2020 FATF meet, Islamabad not only included Dawood’s name but also mentioned the details of his residential address and passport. It later contended that despite his name appearing in Islamabad’s list of designated terrorists, Dawood wasn’t present in Pakistan. 
  • Shortly before the 2022 FATF meet, Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] co-founder Hafiz Saeed and 26/11 Mumbai attack mastermind was purportedly interned in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail after being awarded a prison term on terror funding charges. However, an inadvertent disclosure by an Inspector General of Police after a car bomb attack near Saeed’s house revealed that instead of being in jail, the Mumbai attack mastermind was present at his residence!

With FATF scheduled to meet shortly, Islamabad has once again declared ‘terrorist hunting’ season open. This time the quarry is JeM founder Masood Azhar who masterminded the 2001 Indian Parliament attack and the 2019 suicide car bombing of a bus in carrying paramilitary force personnel in Pulwama [Kashmir].

Azhar’s case is indeed an interesting one. Soon after the Pulwama attack, the then Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi not only confirmed that “He [Azhar] is in Pakistan, according to my information,” but even tried to garner sympathy for this dreaded terrorist by saying, “He is unwell to the extent that he can’t leave his house, because he’s really unwell.”

However, Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] chief Major General Asif Ghafoor outrightly denied Azhar’s presence in Pakistan in a rather curious and non-committal manner by saying that “Jaish-e-Mohammed does not exist in Pakistan. It has been proscribed by the United Nations and Pakistan also.”

Islamabad is now claiming that Azhar is hiding in Afghanistan. News reports appearing in Pakistani media have quoted “a top official privy to the development” as saying that “We have written a one-page letter to Afghan foreign ministry, asking them to locate, report and arrest Masood Azhar, as we believe that he is hiding somewhere in Afghanistan.” However, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid has not only outrightly rubbished Islamabad’s allegation but also confirmed that Islamabad has not made any such request with regards to the JeM chief.

One can always question the veracity of the Taliban spokesperson’s claim of Azhar not being present in Afghanistan. However, his observation that “Such organisations [JeM] can operate on Pakistan’s soil – and even under official patronage,” [Emphasis added], merits due deliberation, because the Taliban spokesperson is speaking from personal experience. After all, didn’t Rawalpindi secretly host the Afghan Taliban on its soil for nearly a decade? 

Remember former US president Donald Trump’s 2018 “They [Pakistan army] give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan” tweet [Emphasis added]? 

One may laugh at the unending litany of ridiculous excuses being made by Islamabad to conceal the reality that its inability to comply with FATF’s observations stems from its enduring honeymoon with terrorist groups. However, the international community’s stoic silence on Pakistan’s brazen perfidy on the issue of combating terror is certainly no laughing matter. In fact, it’s global apathy towards Pakistan’s ‘running with the hare and hunting with the hounds’ approach to terrorism that’s further emboldening Rawalpindi.

Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

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