Pakistan terror safe haven, Lashkar and Jaish move freely: US administration

This is one of the key takeaways from the US State Department’s ‘Country Report on Terrorism 2016’ to the US Congress. After perusing the report, Indian government sources said the segments on South and Central Asia “vindicate India’s longstanding position on the menace of cross-border terrorism in our region”.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Updated: July 20, 2017 9:04 am
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Identifying Pakistan as one of the “terrorist safe havens”, the US administration under President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that Islamabad did not take sufficient action against “externally focused groups” like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad in 2016, which “continued to operate, train, organise and fundraise in Pakistan”.

This is one of the key takeaways from the US State Department’s ‘Country Report on Terrorism 2016’ to the US Congress — the first submitted by the Trump administration. It follows a similar submission by US intelligence officials to US Congress committees a few months ago.

After perusing the report, Indian government sources said the segments on South and Central Asia “vindicate India’s longstanding position on the menace of cross-border terrorism in our region”.

“Numerous terrorist groups, including the Haqqani Network (HQN), Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), continued to operate from Pakistani soil in 2016. Although LeT is banned in Pakistan, LeT’s wings Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FiF) were able to openly engage in fundraising, including in the capital. LeT’s chief Hafiz Saeed (a UN-designated terrorist) continued to address large rallies, although in February 2017, Pakistan proscribed him under relevant provisions of Schedule Four of the Anti-Terrorism Act, thus severely restricting his freedom of movement,” said the report released on Wednesday night.

“The Pakistani government did not publicly reverse its December 2015 declaration that neither JuD nor FiF is banned in Pakistan, despite their listing under UN sanctions regimes, although in January 2017, Pakistan placed both organisations ‘under observation’, pursuant to Schedule Two of the Anti-Terrorism Act. While not a ban, this allows the government to closely scrutinise the activities of both organisations,” it said.

On November 11, Pakistan’s National Counterterrorism Authority published its own list of banned organisations, which placed JuD in a separate section for groups “under observation” but not banned, it added.

“Pakistan did not take sufficient action against other externally focused groups, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad in 2016, which continued to operate, train, organise, and fundraise in Pakistan… Groups located in Pakistan, but focused on conducting attacks outside the country, included the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network (HQN), Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT), and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM),” it said.

The report said the Pakistan government did not take any significant action against LeT or JeM, other than implementing an ongoing ban on media coverage of their activities. It said the 2015 ban on media coverage of Saeed, JuD and FiF continued, and was generally followed by broadcast and print media. “LeT and JeM continued to hold rallies, raise money, recruit, and train in Pakistan,” it said.

It also said that Indian and US leaders directed officials to identify new areas of collaboration, through the July US-India Counterterrorism Joint Working Group, applauded finalisation of a bilateral arrangement to facilitate the sharing of terrorism screening information, and called upon Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of terrorist attacks against India to justice.

“The trial of seven suspects in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack remained stalled, with many witnesses for the prosecution remaining to be called by the court. The lead defendant, alleged LeT operational commander Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, remained free on bail,” said the report.

It also said that progress remained slow on regulating madrasas, blocking extremist messaging, empowering the National Counter Terrorism Authority, cutting off terrorist financing and strengthening the judicial system.

Pakistan is a member of the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Pakistan criminalises terrorist financing through the ATA. “However, there has not been a significant number of prosecutions or convictions of terrorist financing cases reported by Pakistan in recent years due to a lack of resources and capacity within investigative and judicial bodies,” it said.

“In 2015, FATF removed Pakistan from its review process due to progress on countering the financing of terrorism. In October 2016, FATF noted concern among members that Pakistan’s outstanding gaps in the implementation of the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime had not been resolved, and that UN-listed entities — including LeT and its branches — were not being effectively prohibited from raising funds in Pakistan. Despite Pakistan’s CFT laws, its freezing of several relevant bank accounts from March 2015 to March 2016, and other limited efforts to stem fundraising by LeT, the group and its wings continued to make use of economic resources and raise funds in the country in 2016. Pakistan’s ban on media coverage also did not appear to reduce the ability of LeT to collect donations,” said the report.

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