No respite in US bellicosity against Pakistan

By Asif Haroon Raja

George Bush threatened Gen Musharraf that Pakistan will be pushed into Stone Age if he didn’t accept the US seven demands. Pakistan’s support helped the US in overthrowing Taliban regime and occupying Afghanistan. Instead of bringing about the promised changes in Afghanistan, the US focused its attention toward Pakistan and ignited flames of terrorism in FATA and Baluchistan and subsequently into urban centres after the Lal Masjid episode in July 2007. In 2008, CIA and Blackwater established a network in major cities with the help of Rahman Malik, Hussain Haqqani and Zardari. Pakistan and its nuclear program, Army and ISI were demonized under an orchestrated media war.

The US under Obama threatened Pakistan with Af-Pak doctrine, Kerry Lugar Bill, drone war, while India under Manmohan brandished its Cold Start doctrine. Pakistan was pressed to do more to protect its nukes from falling in wrong hands. Stepped up covert operations forced Pakistan to launch major operations in Buner, Dir, Malakand, Swat, Bajaur and South Waziristan in 2009. Having done enough and sustained huge casualties, Pakistan Army under Gen Ashfaq Kayani refused to step into North Waziristan (NW) as demanded by USA since it was overstretched, had sustained heavy casualties and wanted to consolidate its gains and USA had not provided requisite counterterrorism equipment.

NW became major base of operation of TTP in 2010, which operated against Pakistan and for Haqqani network which was poised against occupation and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Operation Zarb-e-Azb cleansed the terrorists of all hues including Haqqani network (HN), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Eastern Turkistan Movement and Asian Tigers by mid-2015 and by the end of the year Gen Raheel Sharif declared that entire FATA had been cleared of the presence of over 60 terrorist groups.

National Action Plan was launched in January 2015 to help in curing root causes of terrorism. Rangers operation in Karachi and Frontier Corps led operation in Baluchistan achieved pleasing results against the MQM and Baloch militancy. Gen Qamar Bajwa carried forward the good work done by his predecessors with equal zeal and presided over nationwide Operation Raddul Fassad in February 2017 to get hold of financiers, handlers and facilitators of terrorists operating from bases in Afghanistan. Besides the militancy, Pak Army had to boldly put up with with Indian hostility along the Line of Control and working boundary in Kashmir sector as well as that of Afghan antagonism and American interference.

This success story of Pakistan has run against the script of USA and is much to its disliking. Since the announcement of Pakistan-specific Afghan policy announced by Donald Trump on August 22, 2017, in which he had accused Pakistan of giving refuge to anti-American terrorists, his administration has constantly upped the ante and there has been no respite in their bellicosity. American hawkish leaders have continued to harp on the unsubstantiated allegation that safe havens of HN are still in existence and Pakistan is not doing enough to clear them. Trump has adopted a threatening posture, and after putting Pakistan on notice has now put it on terror financing watch list.

No amount of explanations given by Pakistan have mellowed down the belligerence of Washington. It has got irked as well as bamboozled by Gen Bajwa’s doctrine which stresses that ‘Pakistan has already done enough and will do no more, and that it is USA that needs to do more’. The US has never been given such a befitting reply by any Pakistani leader.

The US has put forward a motion to have Pakistan placed on a global terrorist financing watch list of the anti-money laundering monitoring group – The Financial Action Task Force (FATF). If successful, the move will increase the challenges for Pakistan on its economic front. This is the second harsh move by US after the suspension of 900 million in security aid to Pakistan last month. USA accused Pakistan of not implementing the UNSC Resolution 1267 which encourage states to take measure like assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo in order to have a strong control over terrorism financing around the globe.

The FATF is an intergovernmental body headquartered in Paris. The task force was charged with studying money laundering trends, monitoring legislative, financial and law enforcement activities taken at the national and international level, reporting on compliance, and issuing recommendations and standards to combat money laundering. It also monitors progress in implementing the FATF Recommendations through “peer reviews”. The FATF has recommended a complete document in which standard measures are highlighted for the states to handle this important issue.

The recommendations include identifying the true risk of money laundering, need for national cooperation and coordination on terror financing, considering terror financing as a criminal offence on the basis of Terrorist Financing Convention, and drafting adequate laws for non-profit organizations so that that the terrorists organization may not pose themselves as legitimate entities.

Pakistan has been accused by the US of non-compliance of FATF rules and regulations on terrorism financing. Moreover, Pakistan will be called upon to defend its case on the basis of measures it has taken so far in the upcoming FATF meeting on February 18-23, 2018. FATF aims at taking punitive actions against Hafiz Saeed and his charity run foundations.

Islamabad has a strong case for its defense under the significant progress that it has made to control terrorism in the country. The recent report released by National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) states that currently, the phenomenon of terrorism is on the lowest scale in the country when compared against the data of previous years, and demonstrates the state’s commitment to fight against the menace of terrorism.

Secondly, the recent report by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) clearly states that terrorism has fallen significantly in Pakistan as compared to the previous years, and places Pakistan on number fifth in the countries list who are most affected by terrorism, which shows an improvement as compared to the previous years.

Pakistan has also established a Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) to effectively augment and enhance efforts of domestic law enforcement agencies, regulators and other stakeholders in detection and prevention of threats emanating from money laundering and terrorist financing activities, and providing the essential interface with such efforts elsewhere within the entrusted legal mandate in an efficient, substantive and effective manner. The FMU Unit has brought down many illegal transfers with the coordination of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Provincial Counter Terrorism Departments in Police. This can be crossed checked by the facts and figures released by NACTA which states that the cases reported in Hawala/ Hundi are 777, arrests made against these cases are 1060 and recovery of Rs. 1320.705 million has been done in this regard.

Furthermore, under the National Action Plan (NAP,) Counter-Financial Terrorism (CFT) investigative units have been established in Police Counter Terrorism Departments (CTD). Countering Financial Terrorism Directorate is also present in NACTA for a unified response on the feedback coming from the provinces.

There are two fronts on which Pakistan is trying to control terror financing in the country. First one is the internal front in which it has to deal with the groups and individuals designated by the United Nations as terrorists who are still functioning in the country. Such groups use the space of informal activity in the Pakistan’s economy and banking system. Secondly, the presence of large militias like Al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Daesh has been taken care of by the kinetic operations such as Operation Zarb-e-Azb and Operation Raddul Fassad in combination with the National Action Plan.

In a meeting on February 15, 2018, the Minister of State for Finance Rana Muhammad Afzal briefed the Senate that Pakistan has taken vibrant steps to seize the assets of banned groups in compliance with FATF regulations. He also added the fact that the investment in Pakistan and the ongoing development projects will be adversely affected by this move as a bearish spell can be observed in Karachi Stock Exchange after the move has been adopted by US.

On the other hand, the Punjab government has started taking over all the moveable and immoveable assets of Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) operating in the province. This action has been taken after the amendment in the Anti-terrorism Act of 1997 earlier in February 2018, and allowing the state to deal with the proscribed organizations on the United Nations list.

While the government was criticized for the loose and slow implementation of National Action Plan, the performance report released by NACTA shows a significant improvement. However, the situation will not change over the night. The measures for dealing with terrorism financing under the National Action Plan are a phenomenon which will produce desired results in the longer run. The government is making every effort to deal with the issue by making the needed amendments in laws and then implementing them appropriately in order to fully pursue its efforts of curbing terrorism.

External pressures at this stage by the US to isolate and castigate Pakistan only amounts to turning a blind eye to all the efforts by Pakistan to check terrorism in the country. The US in collusion with India. Afghanistan and Israel has a fixed agenda to denuclearise Pakistan and then balkanize it or force it to become a compliant state of India.

USA has decided to stay on without giving any timeline for withdrawal since it is in no mood to exit and let China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran to gain influence in Afghanistan. It doesn’t want to depart as a defeated super power and is desperate to convert its defeat into victory. It wants Pakistan to fight its war by picking up fight against the Taliban and HN. It has all along been trying to make India a key player and its replacement. Having spent $ 1.3 trillion in Afghanistan, the US wants to make good its losses by extracting major part of $ 6 trillion worth mineral resources and to continue making inroads in Central Asia. To justify its stay, unstable Afghanistan suits USA and India. ISIS (Daesh) has been brought into Afghanistan by CIA and RAW to fight Taliban and destabilise Pakistan. Mini drone technology has been given to Daesh by CIA.

A narrative of ‘safe havens’ in Pakistan has been constructed to blame Pakistan for the instability in Afghanistan and to cover up its failures. It also gives an excuse to US to extend its stay and to strike Pakistan. Trump in his national security speech last month had expressed his determination to launch a punishing attack at all cost. Besides the reported presence of stealth bombers at Bagram airbase, Resolute Support Group has increased frequency of flight missions along Pakistan’s western border.

In 2016, the US signed three agreements with India which included Maritime Security between the two Navies, Strategic Communications, and Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between the U.S and India which allows the two countries to use each other’s bases, supplies and refuelling facilities, etc. including those in Afghanistan. At the same time the U.S has made India a major strategic partner in Afghanistan without prior notice or consultation with Pakistan. When put together the situation certainly looks suspicious if not ominous.

PAF is maintaining a high alert by way of flying round the clock 24 hours CAP missions along the northwestern border to check sudden intrusion by the US stealth bombers/ jet fighters, the way US SEALs had done in May 2011, or the NATO Apache helicopters in November 2011, or like the cruise missile attack on Syrian airbase last year. The US can also elbow India to carryout surgical strike in AJK. Another option open to US is to make use of drones against a target in urban centres.

Apart from military options, the US seem to be contemplating declaring Pakistan a terror financing state thereby imposing US, UN, EU sanctions and pressing financial institutions not to extend loans to Pakistan. This strategy of weakening Pakistan’s economy which is already under pressure owing to heavy external debts and widening budget deficit is in line with 5th generation war.

Not for once the US has admonished India and Afghanistan for housing runaway TTP, Jamaat e Ahrar and Lahkar-e-Islam leaders and their fighters in safe havens in Nuristan, Kunar and Nangarhar, and RAW and NDS abetting terrorism in Pakistan. Location of alleged safe havens in Pakistan have not been conveyed to Islamabad. The US and unity regime in Kabul are unhappy about fencing of western border and Pakistan’s insistence to return 3 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan since 1979 that have become a security threat. There is complete silence over the recent exposure made by a German author Elias Davidson in his book ‘Betrayal of India’ that Mumbai attacks in November 2008, blamed on ISI and Jamaatud Dawa head Hafiz Saeed, were engineered by Indo-US-Israel nexus. RAW agent and terrorist Kalbushan Yadhav having revealed the Indian state sponsored terrorism in Baluchistan and in Karachi do not concern Washington. Nor the fugitive rebellious Baloch leaders spearheading Baluchistan Independence Movement duly backed by US Congressmen, CIA, RAW and MI-6.

Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa’s bold address Munich Security Conference on February 17 was timely and need of the hour to convey to Europe in particular and world in general about the duplicitous policies of USA, its deleterious and discriminatory behavior against Pakistan which has sacrificed the most in the US imposed war and done the most in fighting the war. He lucidly explained the background history how radicalism and sectarianism had forced its way into peaceful and friendly Pakistan in the aftermath of USSR intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 and how the culture of suicide bombing and explosive laden vehicles seeped into Pakistan in the aftermath of 9/11.

While the armed forces are mentally and physically well prepared to take on the internal and external threats, and must have made contingency plans to respond to any foreign misadventure, the government under Khaqan Abbasi has also expressed its resolve to fully back the military. What is upsetting is the perverse role of opposition parties conspiring to unseat the government and to manipulate Senate elections through horse trading. Politics of agitation have resulted in political polarization, division within the society and political uncertainty. Somehow, the judiciary instead of playing a sobering role in these testing times has upped the ante through judicial activism resulting in judiciary-ruling PML-N tussle.

Instead of uniting together to confront the enemies of Pakistan squarely, state institutions and political parties are fighting among each other, while civil-military relations are also tense. Media is adding fuel to fire. All this must end and irresponsibility and selfish interests must be replaced with sense of responsibility and national interests to save Pakistan from the hovering dangers.

The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence, security and political analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Editor-in-chief Better Morrow magazine, Director Measac Research Centre.

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