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Friday, March 05, 2021

Where the state protects those it bans

Mumbai attack mastermind Lakhvi’s release is part of a larger story

Written by Sushant Singh |
Updated: March 14, 2015 12:05:38 am
Mumbai terror attacks Flames and smoke poured as terrorists attack Taj hotel in Mumbai. (Source: Reuters photo)

The brazen manner in which 2008 Mumbai terror attacks mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi has been released by the Islamabad High Court has garnered a lot of attention, but three other recent stories from Pakistan tell us the depth of its problems with terrorism and terror groups. The first is the Islamabad HC’s judgment on the appeal filed by Mumtaz Qadri against his conviction for the murder of the then Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer. While the court upheld Qadri’s conviction for murder, it set aside his parallel conviction under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The court suggested that Qadri’s act did not amount to an attempt to create panic, intimidate and terrorise the public, or to create a sense of fear and insecurity.

Qadri’s killing of Taseer was an undisguised and premeditated political act, meant to send an unambiguous message of fear and intimidation. Qadri has himself claimed that the murder “is a lesson for all the apostates as finally they have to meet the same fate”. He was sending a message to state and society that they must follow only his version of Islam — and that anyone who disagrees deserves to die.

This is the classic definition of religiously inspired terrorism.

terrorist-body

Pakistan was founded on the basis of Islam and has been torn apart by groups asking the state to uphold their version of Islam. Ahmadis were declared as non-Muslims in 1973 and Shias have been targeted by groups like the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) for decades.

Despite being banned in 2012, the ASWJ — as was the case with its earlier avatar, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan — continues to operate freely. In August 2014, it marched from the infamous Lal Masjid to Islamabad Press Club in support of the Nawaz Sharif government, where members of Sharif’s party were present on the stage and thanked the ASWJ for its support. Last Friday, Islamabad police agreed to provide security to mosques and other institutions affiliated with the ASWJ.

The same state that has banned the ASWJ is providing protection to it. In this duplicity lies the greater danger to Pakistan. By overturning Qadri’s charge of terrorism — and providing police protection to the ASWJ — the state has provided an excuse for all terror groups who kill others in the name of Islam. In any case, it is hard to argue with anyone in Pakistan who claims to have Islam on his side. But when he also has a gun and state protection, it will be suicidal to argue with him.
The ASWJ is not the only “banned” organisation that is protected by the state. Similar is the case of  Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) — of which Lakhvi is the operational commander — and its organisational fountainhead, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). The LeT was banned in 2002 by Pakistan, but it continues to operate freely under various aliases, mainly the JuD and its charity and welfare arm, the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FiF). After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan was obligated to ban the JuD and FiF in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1267. No one, however, knows whether they are banned or not, as Islamabad has been unable to produce a list of terror organisations banned in Pakistan.

This is the second story. In late December, the Pakistan National Counter-Terrorism Authority’s (NACTA) website had a list of all  banned groups. It was updated in early January, before being removed from the site later that month. The first list contained names of 60 groups, including the ASWJ, but listed the JuD under a separate category — “enlisted under observation”. The second list — seemingly an updated version — listed 12 groups as “enlisted under UNSCR 1267”, which included the JuD and FiF. Their inclusion presumably led to the list being taken down. Statements by various officials, such as the defence minister and the foreign office spokesperson, further added to the confusion. On January 25, the JuD staged a big rally in Karachi where its chief, Hafiz Saeed, dismissed all talk of a ban.

Around that time, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) reviewed Pakistan’s compliance with its Anti-Money Laundering/ Countering Terrorist Financing (AML/ CTF) framework. The FATF gave a clean chit to Pakistan in February, but added that it will have to “address the full range of AML/ CTF issues identified in its mutual evaluation report, in particular, fully implementing UNSC Resolution 1267”. The explicit mention of “fully implementing UNSC Resolution 1267” in effect asks Pakistan to end the ambiguity about the ban on the JuD and FiF.

The FATF’s recommendations, if not followed through, will adversely affect Pakistan’s financial system. But even that danger doesn’t seem enough for Islamabad to end its ambiguity in dealing with terror groups. Pakistan cannot fight terror groups operating from its soil if, despite international pressure and economic ramifications, it cannot even name them openly. This is so because these “friendly” groups target India and Afghanistan, which brings us to the third story.

Some documents recovered from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad were released last month during the Brooklyn trial of an al-Qaeda terrorist. They show that the ISI and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif were negotiating with al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban in 2010. The ISI requested al-Qaeda for a period of quiet for two months to stave off US pressure. Not only that, the ISI advised al-Qaeda to stop its “communications” in Miram Shah and Mir Ali, which were being picked up by US agencies. Shahbaz Sharif made a separate offer to al-Qaeda that his government was “ready to re-establish normal relations as long as they do not conduct operations in Punjab”.

Not only was the ISI in regular touch with al-Qaeda — although it has to be conceded that it is the job of intelligence agencies to have such lines open — but the agency and Sharif were willing to cut a deal with al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban for short-term peace, even if they used Pakistan as a base to target other countries. This shows that Pakistan doesn’t have an ideological commitment to fighting terror. It chooses to selectively negotiate with terror groups. It only fights them when they target the Pakistan army. However, the Pakistani establishment always promotes and protects those loyal terror groups that act as an instrument of its foreign policy in the neighbourhood.
These three stories say everything that is wrong with Pakistan — and why the rest of the world doesn’t trust the country when it comes to fighting terror. Lakhvi’s release will only add to that distrust.

sushant.singh@expressindia.com

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