Pakistan government’s duplicity in dealing with terror groups operating from its soil is well known. However, it once again exposed itself when it utterly lied before the plenary of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris about the global terrorist Masood Azhar. The terror master-mind is in hiding in Pakistan under official protection. Islamabad is ostensibly trying to show to the whole world that it is taking action against terror groups; but, in reality it is not prosecuting or effectively penalising the most wanted terrorists such as Masood Azhar, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, Zakir Ur Rehman Lakhvi and many others who are responsible for terror attacks globally.
Masood Azhar is the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) which claimed responsibility for Pulwama terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir on 14th February 2019 in which India’s 40 Central Reserve Police Force, CRPF personnel were killed. India destroyed the Balakot headquarters and training centre of Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pakistan in a precision air strike on 26th February, 2019. Since then, pressure was mounting on the UN Security Council to declare Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. The United States, UK and France sponsored a joint move, but Pakistan and China became a stumbling block. Finally, Masood was designated as a global terrorist on 1st May, 2019 but Pakistan continues to shield him overtly or covertly.
Just days before the FATF plenary meet, Pakistan had reported that Masood was missing and was untraceable. In another cleft move, after long delay, Pakistan jailed Jamaat-ud-Dawa’a (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed for five and a half years for terror activities. The timing of these two actions became highly controversial. It was widely believed that Pakistan was trying to avoid being placed in the ‘black list’ by the FATF.
The disappearance of Masood or jail term for Hafiz Saeed just before FATF Plenary gave rise to suspicion about Pakistan’s intensions. Islamabad was already put in the ‘grey list’ of countries responsible for terror funding by the Task Force since June 2018. It was given a list of 27-point “action plan” by the Task Force to adopt strict anti-money laundering and anti-terror financing measures. In its February 2020 Plenary, the FATF noted that Pakistan has taken action only on 14 of the 27 point action plan. It asked Islamabad to take full action on all the remaining points otherwise face black listing which would mean that it would be difficult for Pakistan to get financial aid from IMF, the World Bank or the European Union worsening the country’s financial condition.
While the Pakistan government has maintained that Masood Azhar has been missing and is untraceable, reports in the Pakistani media quoting credible intelligence inputs said that he is well entrenched under heavy security cover of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan in a safe house just behind the Jaish-e-Mohammad headquarters in Bahawalpur. This contradicts the Pakistan’s claim about Masood Azhar’s whereabouts. A private Pakistan TV channel also put out an audio clipping of Masood Azhar on the latest US-Taliban deal. Azhar has reportedly been shifted to Rawalpindi near the army garrison for his personal safety. This clearly tears off the Pakistan government’s lies. The reality is he is very much in Pakistan itself enjoying official security cover; and is being shifted from one safe place to another.
With these tactics, Pakistan has for the time being, escaped dire action by the FATF. How long it would continue to do so, remains to be seen. Islamabad’s double speak on support to terror groups has already been exposed. It is high time that it sincerely improves its relations with the international community. Pakistan should punish the master minds of the Pulwama and Pathankot air base terror attacks in India as well as stop militant activities from across the border in Jammu and Kashmir. This would show Islamabad’s willingness in fighting terror.
Script: Rattan Saldi, Political Commentator