The counterterrorism challenge

Updated July 14, 2019

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The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

PAKISTAN has stepped up its anti-militant campaign, apparently to steer clear of being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force. Pakistan had already narrowly escaped that listing, with the support of China, Malaysia and Turkey, during the last FATF review meeting held in Orlando, Florida.

Read: FATF compliance will require all-out effort

Yet the country remains under immense pressure to take action against all militant groups that are proscribed by the UN Security Council. Pakistan has also been viewed as employing a selective approach towards different militant groups. The FATF meeting held in Paris last February had rejected Pakistan’s assessment based on a classification of militant groups into different categories, and had demanded uniform action against all shades of militants. Pakistan has considerably reviewed its action plan to check terror financing after these critical observations, among others, were made by the FATF.

More than once, Pakistan has urged for the depoliticisation of critical transnational forums such as FATF, as it believes that India, the US, UK and a few other European countries are using the forum to put undue pressure on it. Pakistan’s friends have supported its concerns, though in a softer tone, but have avoided bailing out the country over the issue of terror financing. Over the last two decades, Pakistan has dealt with the international pressure for it to do more against a few Kashmir- and Afghanistan-focused militant groups, but the FATF has apparently proved instrumental in radically changing the country’s perception of the militant threat.

Pakistan’s renewed anti-militant campaign is hindered by several factors.

The Punjab Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) has recently registered cases against the leadership of the banned Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), including its founding members Hafiz Saeed, Abdul Rehman Makki and Zafar Iqbal. It is believed that Pakistan has taken this initiative in compliance with commitments it has made to the FATF. On the other hand, it also reflects Pakistan’s seriousness in dealing with militant groups. In practice, however, this renewed anti-militant campaign is hindered by several factors including capacity gaps among counterterrorism departments, which are also struggling to find some solid legal ground against the leadership of the militant groups.

Read: Hafiz Saeed, 12 other JuD leaders booked for terror financing

It would be an enormous challenge for the CTD to prove the cases of terror financing against the JuD leadership in local courts; though these cases could be used to restrict their movement. Interestingly, this is the second time that such cases have been registered against JuD head Hafiz Saeed. In 2009, a similar case was registered against him when he appealed for donations to his organisations while addressing a public gathering in Faisalabad. The case was dismissed by the Lahore High Court and, later, the interior ministry’s appeal against the decision in Supreme Court was also rejected.

However, the situation could be different this time, as the JuD, its affiliated charities and militant groups have been notified as proscribed by the ministry.

Read: JuD, FIF facilities taken over in Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan after listing by federal govt

The recently registered cases of terror financing against militant leaders may contribute towards easing the pressure being applied by the FATF. But these measures alone will not suffice to deal with the issues of militancy and extremism in Pakistan. The state will have to take more concrete measures over a longer period of time. These groups have thousands of workers in their ranks who remain uncertain about their future. They include both trained and untrained militants, administrative staff and affiliated charities.

While the chains of schools and other educational institutions run by these militant groups have been put under the supervision of the provincial education departments, the Auqaf departments will apparently manage their affiliated madressahs. The JuD alone was running more than 700 schools and over 200 madressahs. The banned Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) also owned dozens of madressahs and schools across the country. The staffs of these schools and madressahs have been accommodated by the corresponding controlling government departments, without a proper scrutiny process and without a deradicalisation programme.

However, workers of the charity wings and administrative staff have not been accommodated yet, with the exception of around 50 persons who have been recruited by the Punjab rescue operations. The rescue department had taken more than 250 ambulances of the JuD into its custody.

Frustration among these workers is increasing, including towards their own leaders. This is a dangerous development. A somewhat similar frustration was observed among the cadres of militant groups after the first crackdown against them in 2001. This had caused serious rifts among them and made many turn against the state and join international terrorist groups. Some among these frustrated members of the JuD and JeM can now also join the militant Islamic State group and Al Qaeda or form their own small terrorist cells. The JeM cadre is more critical because hundreds of its militants have a background of having worked along with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Al Qaeda and sectarian terrorist organisations.

Pakistan will have to evolve a comprehensive rehabilitation programme for former members of these banned organisations. Such a programme could help boost the international community’s confidence in Pakistan’s efforts to counter extremism and terrorism. The world is receptive to such initiatives, which are also endorsed by UNSC Resolutions 2178 (2014) and 2396 (2017). For one, the ‘Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism’ presented by the UNSC to the UN General Assembly entailed more than 70 recommendations including a call to introduce disengagement and rehabilitation programmes. An absence of such a programme in Pakistan would not only continue to raise doubts about the future of these organisations’ combatant and non-combatant members, but also about Pakistan’s intentions.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority has the mandate for suggesting and developing such rehabilitation programmes but, so far, it has proved an impotent body. Apparently, Nacta has no will — or perhaps power — to take initiative on its own, for it always looks towards the powerful security institutions and endorses what comes from them. The challenge of countering terrorism is huge, requiring not only broad-based consultation but also a visible and serious action plan being implemented on the ground.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2019