Engr Omar Shahkar
A team of international observers involving members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) visited the headquarters of the Jama’at-ud-Da’wah (JuD) in Muridke to assess Pakistan’s compliance work regarding the country’s ongoing case at FATF. An action against the JuD has remained one of the key requirements of the FATF. For many, Islamabad’s checkered success against JuD has come after the forum’s persistent demands that the former needs to go beyond filling paper trails. The recent conviction of Hafiz Saeed, the head of the JuD and last week’s visit to Muridke are some of the highlights comprising Pakistan’s action plan.
Arguably, it’s not a small achievement that a delegation of the UNSC and FATF were able to visit JuD’s headquarters and termed Islamabad’s efforts satisfactory. The fact that Islamabad managed to organize a visit of international observers to JuD’s headquarters alone underscores Islamabad’s capacity to force compliance on the ground if desired. Now, this development has its positives and negatives, which the international visitors may have observed. It is long understood that whenever Islamabad deemed necessary, it has taken actions be it in the domain of countering terrorism or any other aspect of governance. For instance, the fact that Pakistan has been able to restrain militancy over the last few years is remarkable. Moreover, on the regional front, getting Pakistan to change its policy on the Afghan peace talks has also been one of the highlights.
However, all of this leaves one key insight for the concerned institutions and bodies: It was only done when there was no other option left or the country couldn’t afford to leave it unchecked. It’s unfortunate that the formation of the National Action Plan (NAP), a comprehensive national counter terrorism policy, was formulated after a gruesome incident that killed nearly 150 children at APS in Peshawar in 2014. In another case, the Red Mosque operation in 2007 that became the reason of loosely connected groups forming a united front against the Pakistani state, was done after Islamabad failed to contain the group’s expansion over a course of several years.
In this regard, one of the key missing elements remains the political will of the country’s ruling elite. While the country has always manifested that it has the resources and a highly trained security apparatus to root out militancy, the lack of a unified approach on the part of the elected and non-elected institutions have resulted in heavy costs. For instance, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government’s agreement with the Pakistani Taliban in 2009 after a year of fighting was a blunder that only showed the state’s weakness. Agreeing to the imposition of Sharia law under the pressure of a militant group doesn’t amount to anything less than giving away the state’s writ.
In 2014, the government of Nawaz Sharif, the head of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) insisted on making a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban despite their continued attacks across the country. It was only after the intervention of the then military chief, Raheel Sharif that the government had to let go of its peace plans. “The time for talk is over,” were the words of Gen Sharif before the country started an all-out operation against the group. The last five years of bold counterterrorism operations have meant that none of the militant groups in Pakistan control any territory. According to a recently published report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies’ (PIPS), terrorist activities in Pakistan have declined by more than 85 percent.
Still, Pakistan’s impressive battlefield gains have been taken cautiously by the international community, which is one of the reasons that the country is facing a tough situation at the FATF. For concerned observers, Pakistan has acted against groups that are a bad call for the state’s security. However, there hasn’t been anything noteworthy when it comes to tackling the overall environment that empowers militarism in the country. Unfortunately, the NAP’s one of the key goals of regulating seminaries in Pakistan have not gotten anywhere. Civilian governments over the last few years have failed to make any gains in this very important area which is also tied to what is happening at the FATF.
The FATF’s demand of completely banning proscribed organizations and taking strict measures to control cash flows that also run through thousands of seminaries has not happened. This is something which should have happened before even Pakistan found itself on the forum’s grey-list. A hands-on and proactive approach is needed on the part of the state to identify groups, ideas, and legislative loopholes to find a permanent solution to the crisis. The reactionary approach has not helped Islamabad in the past and is not likely to help the country in the future.
—The writer, based in Islamabad, practises freelancing.
Engr Omar Shahkar