Pakistan Army: Authority Sans Accountability – OpEd


There were two major developments concerning Pakistan last week. The first was Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s instructions to all foreign missions to observe October 27 as a ‘Kashmir black day’. The second was international money laundering and terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force [FATF] retaining Pakistan on its grey list yet once again. Though seemingly unrelated, a closer scrutiny reveals that both these developments are closely interlinked and serve as a tragic example of how ordinary Pakistanis are forced to pay a very high price for the senseless and failed ‘strategic asset’ obsession of its army. 

It’s no secret that Pakistan has been smarting under its repeated military failure to seize J&K and hence for it to observe October 27 as ‘black day’ is understandable as it marks the glorious day in 1947 when the Indian army landed in Srinagar to evict Pakistan army personnel assisted by armed tribesmen from the erstwhile kingdom of J&K, which had become part of the Indian dominion the previous day. Pakistan’s first military misadventure [codenamed Operation Gulmarg], which commenced on October 22, 1947 took everyone by surprise because just two months ago, it had entered into a ‘standstill agreement’ [a legal bilateral arrangement between princely states of undivided India under British rule and the newly created dominions of India and Pakistan] with the Maharaja of J&K. 

In essence, the ‘standstill agreement’ was a measure to facilitate continuation of the existing administrative arrangements that these kingdoms had with the Crown pending the princely states’ final decision on accession to either India or Pakistan. Since newly-born nation states invariably accord top priority to creating requisite infrastructure essential for efficient governance and therefore seldom allow hegemonistic ambitions to take centerstage, so its brazen military intervention in garb of a tribal ‘invasion’ was tantamount to violating the ‘standstill agreement’-something no one ever expected. 

Pakistan has the dubious distinction of being placed on FATF’s grey list thrice [2008 to 2009, 2012 to 2015 and 2018 till date]. In a research paper titled “Bearing the cost of global politics — the impact of FATF grey-listing on Pakistan’s economy” released by Pakistani thinktank Tabadlab, Dr Naafey Sardar has pegged the total GDP losses of the country due to FATF grey-listing during the period from 2008 to 2019 at a whopping USD 38 billion. Statistical data in this report also confirms that FATF grey listing has serious negative short-to-medium term implications for the economy and thus, serves as a compelling testament highlighting the high price that the people of Pakistan are paying for the army’s fixation with Kashmir

So, while Islamabad may accuse FATF of being “politicised” and blame New Delhi for “Manipulating an important technical forum [FATF] for narrow political designs against Pakistan,” the reality is entirely different. In its March 2021 commentary, European Foundation for South Asian Studies, a renowned thinktank has noted that “Pakistan’s long-standing policy of creating, harbouring, sponsoring and exporting terrorists to neighbouring Afghanistan and India has meant that the country has almost incessantly been in the FATF’s crosshairs, even if it has somehow incredulously managed so far to escape blacklisting by the watchdog.” 

After the June 2021 plenary, FATF’s message to Pakistan was clear-“continue to make progress to address as soon as possible the one remaining Combating the Financing of Terrorism -related item by demonstrating that Terror Financing investigations and prosecutions target senior leaders and commanders of UN designated terrorist groups.” With just one issue to resolve, it seemed that exiting the FATF grey list would be a cakewalk for Islamabad. 

However, since Pakistan continues to languish in FATF’s grey list after this month’s plenary, it’s obvious that it has failed to act against UN designated terrorist groups and their leaders operating from its soil. The reason is obvious- those FATF expects action against happen to be Rawalpindi’s ‘strategic assets’ against whom Islamabad dare not proceed!

Debt-ridden Pakistan’s already precarious financial condition is worsening by the day, and according to some sources, as much as one-third of the national budget goes towards interest payment on outstanding loans. The situation is further aggravated by its army’s ever-increasing demand of funds, and the fact that in 2021-2022 is expected to consume nearly 16 percent of the government’s total expenditure, indicates Pakistan’s skewed sense of priorities! 

So, it’s time saner voices in Pakistan started questioning the government’s failure to act against UN designated terrorist groups and their leaders. Continuing to figure in FATF’s ignoniminous grey list for more than three years and suffering avoidable economic hardships just to humour Rawalpindi makes no sense. 

Accordingly, it’s also time that someone asked Pakistan army two basic questions- one, with the Ashraf Ghani government gone and closure of all Indian embassies and consulates in Afghanistan, who is now patronising Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP]? Two, having successfully orchestrated the Haqqani dominated Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, why is it that rather than reducing there’s an increase in incidents of TTP attacks against Pakistani security forces?  

Since the Criminal Law [Amendment] Bill, 2020, gives armed forces of Pakistan protection against ridicule, disrepute or defamation, queries on Rawalpindi’s debilitating ‘strategic asset’ policy could well be interpreted as an attempt to belittle the army. Thus, those seeking accountability from Pakistan army need to exercise due caution.

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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