The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international terror-financing watchdog, has demanded that Pakistan to foster “inter-agency cooperation” to end the domination of the country’s prime intelligence watchdog in handling proscribed terror organizations.
While the new demands seek to discourage the terror networks defined by pro-establishment security analysts as “strategic assets” from resurfacing with a new identity and features, the dominant role of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is also sought to be minimized.
Rana Afzal Khan, a former finance minister and a senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), told Asia Times, “The FATF demand for inter-agency cooperation is aimed at decentralization of responsibilities and de-monopolization of anti-terror operations against the proscribed outfits. This will increase the cooperation and collaboration among agencies fighting terrorism and coordinate their efforts to come down hard on the forces inimical to regional peace.
“I personally believe that [the] Intelligence Bureau should be given added responsibilities to deal with the banned extremist groups instead of ISI, because most of these elements start operation with new names and identity and make a mockery of the state actions,” he added.
However, some analysts do not subscribe to the notion that the FATF’s new demands implied trimming the authority of ISI. The term “inter-agency cooperation,” some have claimed, is borrowed from the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) Act of 2013. That act defines the rules for inter-agency cooperation as “receiving, collating and disseminating intelligence and coordination between all relevant stakeholders to formulate threat assessments.”
Afrasiab Khattak, a left-wing intellectual, former senator and political analyst, said: “It is not an agency-specific demand because the FATF is primarily concerned with terror-related activities and terror funding operations.” He also said the FATF put emphasis on a term coined by NACTA for giving a boost to anti-terrorist operations in the country.
With the imposition of three more conditions on Pakistan, the FATF took the tally of such demands to 18, which need to be complied with by May to qualify for a review on the obligations regarding anti-money laundering (AML) and combating finances of terrorism (CFT). Besides inter-agency synergy among law-enforcement agencies, the FATF also asked Pakistan to revise its risk assessment on terror financing and make improvements in Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) customs related to monitoring to curb currency smuggling.
Pakistan has failed to fulfill most of the FATF conditions set to speed up AML/CFT compliance. The NACTA, for instance, was supposed to devise and implement a policy for the law-enforcement agencies to initiate financial inquiries against terrorist groups and their activists as a part of every terror-related investigation.
For this purpose, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) has prepared a comprehensive policy for conducting financial inquiries. However, the CTD has not been following the standard operating procedures for financial investigation. This resulted in an unrestricted flow of funds to Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-Ud-Dawa (JuD), its offshoot Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). They continued to collect huge funds, built capacious training camps and seminaries, and sponsored terrorist attacks in neighboring countries. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and police could not track down the source of funding to these banned organizations despite the fact that the Financial Monitoring Unit has provided intelligence agencies with a guideline.
Under pressure by the FATF and the international community on the recent suicide bombing in Pulwama, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan last week announced a crackdown on Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed’s JuD its its FIF wing. Pakistani authorities also arrested 44 activists connected with the Maulana Masood Azhar-led JeM and its outfits, including Abdul Raoof and Hamad Azhar, the brother and son of Azhar.
In the clampdown, only two seminaries belonging to JuD and FIF were taken over out of around 300 religious schools, hospitals, publishing houses and ambulance services operated throughout the country. As many as 50,000 volunteers and paid workers are running the JuD charity network in Pakistan. The law-enforcement agencies have not touched the training camps operated by these groups.
An updated list of proscribed organizations compiled by NAPTA and released by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry revealed that 68 organizations have been banned by the authorities, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-i-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), Laskar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), and Sipah-i -Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), while the ministry has placed JuD and FIF on the watch list. Surprisingly, the list did not include Jamaat-e-Islami’s Al Badr group, which was recently shown in a social-media video clip recruiting young people for Kashmir Jihad (Kashmir holy war).
Some political observers do not take the latest crackdown on proscribed organizations seriously. They claim that the fate of the recent action would not be different from previous half-baked attempts.
“There is absolutely nothing new in the government action against banned outfits because the previous such attempts showed that they were just superficial efforts,” Afrasiab Khattak said. He claimed that some “defense analysts” astoundingly defend UN-designated terror outfits on TV talk shows, and the fact that media in Pakistan are under draconian state control makes this even more embarrassing.
The imposition of additional conditions on Pakistan coincides with the nomination of India as a co-chair of the Asia-Pacific Joint Group, which put Islamabad in an awkward situation. In a strongly worded letter to the FATF president, Finance Minister Asad Umar demanded the appointment of any other member country for “fair, unbiased and objective” proceedings of the FATF.
Rana Afzal remarked: “It is a genuine demand of the government because India has never been sincere with Pakistan and they will never spare a chance to keep Pakistan on its toes.”