Volume 22 Issue 4, April 2018


The Paris based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has sent its grim message to Islamabad, placing Pakistan on the gray list for terror financing. But it’s the sister city of Rawalpindi – home to the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army – that’s actually been spotlighted. No one doubts that that the response will be formulated here, not by the elected government.
In June, Pakistan will join Iraq, Yemen and Syria as suspected conduits for financing of international terrorism. Earlier, hopes for avoiding this eventuality ended once China and Turkey, which had put up some resistance, retreated in the face of American insistence. Not to worry, says the Foreign Office, there’s no chance of FATF moving one level up, i.e. of Pakistan being blacklisted. Still, local banks and businesses are very jittery.

Does the GHQ care and exactly how much? Apart from reiterating its well-worn position that Pakistan has sacrificed thousands of lives in fighting terrorism, how far will it go? Responding to a query, the ISPR spokesperson tersely tweeted that the military has nothing to say on FATF, this being the foreign office’s and finance ministry’s province.

The reply was clearly disingenuous but, this notwithstanding, action followed. Presumably after being appropriately advised, on 10 February President Mamnoon Hussain quietly amended the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 “to proscribe entities banned by the United Nations (Security Council) Act 1948”. Four days later the law minister for Punjab, Rana Sanaullah, announced that the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) charity and the associated Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) would be closed down. Founded by Hafiz Saeed, these organizations front for Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), the organization behind the Mumbai attack of 2008.
That the government is being allowed to pressure Hafiz Saeed suggests that GHQ considers FATF significantly problematic. Of course, similar external pressures have led to tactical adjustments in the past – LeT was formally banned as a terrorist organization at a time when the United States, angry and dangerous after 911, was poised to inflict major damage on Pakistan.

Let’s recall President Pervez Musharraf’s speech of 12 January 2002 just after the ban on LeT: “No organizations will be able to carry out terrorism on the pretext of Kashmir.” But sixteen years later, in a televised interview aired on November 29, 2017, the retired general boldly declared “I am the greatest supporter of LeT.” He went on to assert that “LeT and JuD are both very good organizations of Pakistan” because “I have always been in favour of action in Kashmir and I have always been in favour of pressuring the Indian army in Kashmir.”

It is no secret that militant groups operating against Indian rule in Kashmir are much liked by the Army. At the same time, as indicated by Operation Rad-ul-Fasaad, army quarters recognize the dangers involved – more Pakistani soldiers have been killed by jihadists who have turned bad than those in four Pak-India wars. Hence a persuasive argument – one that apparently owes to former ISI DG Lt-Gen Rizwan Akhtar – that mainstreaming militant organisations would channel energies of militant groups away from violence and towards peaceful politics.

This encouragement led to LeT launching its political party, the Milli Muslim League (MML). In August 2017 its debut into national politics via the Lahore NA-120 by-elections gained it the fourth position, a surprising show of strength for a new party. MML election posters vehemently denounced Nawaz Sharif as a traitor for seeking peace with India and carried aloft pictures of Hafiz Saeed.

Is the present move a change of heart or tactics? Irrespective, none can deny that the manner in which Pakistan will meet the FATF challenge will be determined essentially by the GHQ, not by the government. In turn, the GHQ’s position will be determined by the resulting balance of two oppositely directed forces.

On the one hand, the Army seeks a status quo because of its vast corporate interests. These sprawl across real estate, manufacturing, and service sectors. Sitting or retired military officers are CEOs, run government agencies, and manage banks and airlines. Their interests would be hurt by a significant downturn in the economy. Further, with so much to lose, the GHQ does not want an escalation leading to war with India – one that would be lost if fought conventionally. Should the war turn nuclear, that would end both countries.

But, on the other hand, justifying a large standing force requires a permanent external enemy and hence an ideology of conflict. Thanks to cadet college education, officers are steeped in anti-Indianism and Islamism. So, although war may not be an option, peace is not one either. A low-cost option is to keep the pot boiling but not enough to boil over. Extra state actors are therefore assets to be used judiciously – Hafiz Saeed has been arrested and released thrice before.

Reasoning from the GHQ’s point of view, I think that gray listing is insufficient to warrant any significant change of strategy or posture.

First, China – not America – is now Pakistan’s principal economic benefactor as well as its supplier of military hardware. While China was a signatory to the BRICS declaration against militant groups harboured in Pakistan, it doesn’t mind India being kept off balance. For Pakistan to give America the finger appears fairly safe.

Second, there’s Afghanistan. Should Pakistan withdraw the last amount of cooperation it offers to US forces, the task for America to save Afghanistan from a Taliban take over will become doubly difficult.

Third, the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb has created confidence that the jihadis who turn bad and direct their guns at the Army can always be disposed of. By controlling purse strings, organizations and individuals can be made to act within defined limits. Else there is always the stick.

The bottom line: appearances may change because of the gray list but realities will not. Of course, if Pakistan is blacklisted – which is improbable – there could be serious damage as Pakistan’s exports would choke and credit lines cut off. This eventuality would bring out the stark contradiction between the Army’s institutional interests and Pakistan’s larger national interests. But until such time, significant change is unlikely.

The author teaches in universities in Lahore and Islamabad. He was an adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on Disarmament Affairs until December 2017.
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