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Clarity on banned groups

February 14, 2018

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A MUCH delayed legislative intervention, though only in the form of a presidential ordinance, may finally allow Pakistan to align its domestic law with international obligations. Days before an important Financial Action Task Force meeting in Paris — a meeting in which many believe action could be taken against Pakistan for non-compliance with terrorism-financing and money-laundering rules — the government has perhaps acted to forestall punitive action against the country. Therein lies a problem. Has Pakistan done the minimum it needs to prevent punitive action by the international community for allegedly harbouring militant groups, or is this the beginning of a genuine attempt to rid Pakistan of all forms of militancy whether externally directed or internally? The timing, on the eve of the meeting, and the method, a presidential ordinance that can be promulgated overnight as opposed to an act of parliament, suggests that the former may be true.

Welcome as the latest move to include UN-designated banned groups in a Pakistani list of proscribed organisations is — ending the earlier ambiguity — there need to be sustained efforts against all militant groups in the country. At every point, there have been and continue to be explanations and unconvincing justifications for Pakistan’s inability to adopt zero tolerance against militancy. Too often, the arguments against a zero-tolerance policy have been embedded in expedient reasons. Sometimes it is that Pakistan is not in a position to absorb a blowback from militants who find themselves suddenly under pressure from the state, at other times the justification offered is that Pakistan does not need to militarily act against groups that have not taken up arms against the Pakistani state and society. But the quasi-justifications always have the effect of allowing a significant part of the militancy, terrorism and extremism spectrum to continue to proliferate in the country. At some point — arguably, a point that has long since been passed — it is important to have ideological clarity about who are the enemies of peace, stability and constitutional democracy in the country and to fight them with determination and consistency.

The unfortunate reality is that Pakistan appears to have neither the will nor the capacity to stamp out militancy of every stripe and colour — despite persistent official claims to the contrary. Time and again, the state has insisted that Pakistan’s fight against militancy is its own. That is unequivocally and undeniably true. But it makes little sense to claim a fight as necessary to the stability and long-term existence of Pakistan and yet not adopt a zero-tolerance policy against militancy. Pakistan does not and should not need external pressure and cajoling to shut down networks of militancy that are inimical to modern, peaceful societies based on the rule of law. Organisations like the LeT, JeM and affiliated groups ought to have no space in present-day Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2018