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“Taliban, Pakistan Army and the heroin networks” – NATO’s latest investigation reveals how Afghanistan and Pakistan are involved in narco trade.

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The illegal narcotics trade constitutes one of the main financial sources of the insurgency groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but, more importantly, it feeds narco-terror, globally. The American withdrawal in 2021 means that the countries of the region and beyond will have to play a greater role in the management of their borders and confront questions about their capacity to stop potentially destabilising trends emerging from Afghanistan, as per a new report published by the NATO Defence Education Enhancement Program (DEEP).

According to this 2022 report titled “Narco-Insecurity, Inc., the convergence of Pakistan and Afghanistan narco-trade”, such trade was made possible with the help of Pakistan’s military spy agency the ISI, who launched several covert operations with sympathetic jihadist groups, all of whom relied heavily on narcotics trafficking to fund their operations, expanding the trafficking route even further through their regions, launching the Balkan, northern, and southern routes of the global narco-trafficking pipeline.

The central aim of this NATO academic report written by David R. Winston is to analyse the growth of the narcotics industry stemming from Afghanistan as well as Pakistan and the nexus that has formed between narcotics trafficking and terrorism/extremism. The Taliban have long used narcotics as their main source of revenue. Without the poppy crop, they may never have grown to be the massive organisation that they are today that was capable of toppling the Ghani government, as per the writer. Through examining the history of narcotics and its connection to terrorist groups, this report identifies how the world fell down this perilous path, and offers possible solutions to deal with this new dynamic.

The most substantial networks mentioned in the report is the Haqqani network, a criminal enterprise situated along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border that was founded on smuggling. The Pakistani military saw the Haqqani network as a key ally, given their location and alliances with numerous jihadist groups, and began investing in their bases while using them as a proxy for engagement with other non-state actors. The prominence of the Haqqani network within the Taliban’s current leadership is being witnessed while there is uncertainty as to who may succeed after Sirajuddin Haqqani in the coming years, which can be a further alarming development.

With the control of Afghanistan by the Taliban last year, the terror group has acquired control over the opium cultivation in the country.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) November 2021 Report, Afghanistan accounted for around 85 percent of global opium production in the year 2020 and supplied to approximately 80 percent of the world’s opium consumers. The total value of opiates (opium, morphine, and heroin) was 9 per cent to 14 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020. Methamphetamine and cannabis are two other major drugs which have expanded production in Afghanistan in recent years.

The Western withdrawal that precipitated the swift takeover by the Taliban, has led to increasing instability such as internal conflict within the Taliban and growing local opposition to the Taliban, fueling further growth of narcotics trafficking.

While the Taliban publicly states they will not traffic narcotics, that depends on whether or not they would make enough from other revenue sources to sustain the country, and whether they believe trafficking will impact their international standing enough to threaten their control of the country, according to the Afghan Diaspora Network (ADN).

With Afghanistan facing its worst humanitarian crisis due to economic collapse and climate change, the Taliban would not want to ban the drug which has funded its insurgency against the US and NATO-sponsored previous Afghan government, ADN adds in its latest research report.

“The Taliban needs the drug money to keep control over their cadres. Although drug production and consumption are un-Islamic, in their previous regime the Taliban did not ban the production and trading of opium cultivation for the longest time. The drug money has also played an important role in the Taliban’s rise to power for the second time and it would not want to jeopardise it,” the ADN says.

With Pakistan sharing 2400 kilometres of largely porous border with Afghanistan, it has served as a transit corridor for drug traffickers. According to independent estimates, more than 40% of Afghan drugs transit Pakistan before they reach the international markets.

Tonnes of opiates and meth are trafficked from Afghanistan to the Torkham border crossing, Ghulam Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, from where they are sent to Lahore and Faisalabad, reassembled into huge consignments.

Pakistan’s role in drug proliferation is validated by a number of arrests of its nationals in other countries on charges of drug trafficking. Shahbaz Khan, a Pakistani national, was the leader of a drug trafficking organization (the “DTO”) based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which produced and distributed massive quantities of narcotics around the world. He was arrested by Liberian authorities in December 2016 and later deported to the United States, where in 2019 he was sentenced to 15 years for conspiring and attempting to import heroin into the U.S.

In May 2017, officials for the U.K.’s Border Force impounded a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight from Islamabad at London’s Heathrow airport. Later, the National Crime Agency said that a quantity of heroin had been found hidden in different panels of the plane.

In March 2018, two members of the cabin crew of a PIA flight, travelling on an Islamabad-Paris flight (PK-749), were caught smuggling narcotics on board the flight.

There is also the famous case of Mir Yaqub Bizenjo who appeared on a White House list of the world’s four leading drug barons in 2009.

The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a notice under Obama administration saying that he operated from Balochistan, a Pakistani province sharing borders with Afghanistan and sends his durgs consignments out of Jiwani, Turbat and Gwadar.

In 2002, Mr Bizenjo vowed to work for the success of General Musharraf through front-page ads in newspapers. He is currently involved in real estate projects with the Pakistani military, and his family is part of the Pakistani parliament, according to a previous South Asia Press investigation.

It is reported that Pakistan has established smuggling networks over the last years into India – and especially within the Kashmir valley – so as to ensure a steady supply of narcotics and weapons. The recurring, major terrorist attacks, for example in Uri and Pulwama, and the subsequently increased security measures by the Indian armed forces led to the suspension of traditional smuggling routes in the area and forced the Pakistani to use other land-based trafficking options through Punjab and Gujarat. Also the sea-based smuggling gained significance for Islamabad’s crime-terror nexus. An increasing number of exposed consignments on the India–Pakistan border containing narcotics as well as arms and ammunition were seized by the Border Security Force/BSF, particularly in Punjab. This indicates expanding activities by terrorists and drug traders, in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Moreover, it points to Pakistan’s ‘larger’ plans to carry out disruptive activities in India.

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had once revealed how the Pakistani security establishment sells heroin to pay for the country’s covert military operations. This was reported in 1994, in an interview Sharif gave to The Washington Post.

Af-Pak Heroin networks, drug lords and their nexus with the Taliban and Pakistani military present a principal impediment to security, state-building, and democratic governance in Afghanistan and the region. Beyond the region, Afghan-originated drugs create enormous challenges for international security by financing terrorism, instigating corruption, and creating health emergencies. It is time to put an end to such “narco” trade originating from Afghanistan and supported by Pakistan.

China comes in defence of a Pakistani terrorist (involved with Mumbai attacks 2008) at the UN: Report

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China has put on hold a proposal at the United Nations (UN) to blacklist the main handler of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks as a global terrorist. The proposal to blacklist Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist Sajid Mir was moved by the US and co-sponsored by India, according to several media sources.

China blocked the move to designate Sajid Mir as a global terrorist at the 1267 Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

The proposal moved by the US had called to subject Mir to assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo. Mir has a bounty of $5 million placed on his head by the US.

Pakistan, which has been trying to get off the ‘grey list’ of the Financial Action Task Force (FAFT), had in June sentenced Sajid Mir to 15 years in jail in a terror-funding case.

However, Pakistan is yet to book him for his involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks.

China has been putting a hold on all the proposals this year to blacklist Pakistan-based terrorists. Last month, a technical hold was placed on a US-backed proposal to blacklist Abdul Rauf Azhar, the brother of Jaish-e Mohammed (JEM) chief Masood Azhar and a senior leader of the Pakistan-based terror organisation.

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#EXCLUSIVE: Pakistan’s cosmetic steps to fool FATF exposed.

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The international Paris-based watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) just concluded its on-site visit to Pakistan which went on from August 29th to September 3rd, 2022.

The FATF team visited the country to verify the claims made by Pakistan on addressing the action points given by the FATF related to “Terror Financing and Money Laundering”. At the conclusion of the plenary meeting which happened in Berlin from June 12th-17th, the FATF had announced that Pakistan has met all 34 action items and added that the country will be removed from the ‘grey list’ if it successfully passes the on-site visit.

The report of this recent on-site visit will be placed in FATF’s October Plenary session in Paris which will decide whether Pakistan remains in the grey-list or is moved out.

PAKISTAN BACK TO SQUARE ONE?

The grey listing has forced Islamabad to take action against, albeit in limited sense, some of the UN designated terrorist however with possibility of getting out from the grey list now, Pakistan seems to be already heading back to its old games.

Pakistan’s recent action on Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) operational commander Sajid Mir, which Pakistan kept on declaring dead until now, is the result of FATF’s persistent pressure on Pakistan. It also shows duplicity and insincerity on the part of Pakistan to deal effectively against terrorists that reside and operate in the country. It is a well known fact that LeT has changed its name several times in the last two decades and continues to operate in Pakistan. It was known as Jamat ud Dawa (JuD) for sometime now but when that was banned, it reincarnated itself to Falah e Insaniyat Foundation which also came under scrutiny and is now called Allah u Akbar Tehreek.

PAKISTAN’S LOVE FOR JAISH E MUHAMMAD

Will FATF’s pressure make Pakistan deliver on other UN designated persons including Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) Chief Maulana Masood Azhar? It seems unlikely. Pakistan maintains that Azhar is not present in Pakistan and likely to be in Afghanistan. Despite claims by Pakistan that he is not traceable, he continues to publish articles on Pakistani social media networks exhorting JeM cadres to indulge in Jihad and eulogizing the Taliban takeover of Kabul, claiming that Taliban victory would open avenues for Muslim victories elsewhere.

A banner obtained by South Asia Press that was released by JeM’s student wing Tulba Al-Marbetoon Pakistan” (Students of Al-Marbetoon Pakistan) claimed to be student movement for geographical & ideological defense of Islam and Pakistan. The banner mentions that a pattern of education should be followed in schools, colleges and universities run with the support of Maulana Masood Azhar, Amir, JeM. It outlines that such a system of education would enable students to attain desired educational goals in future, at the same time keeping the flag of Islam flying high. It invites desirous courageous students who are motivated towards ‘jihad’ and ‘martyrdom’ to join the Student Wing to obtain education under their set pattern of education.

​LeT GLORIFYING AFGHAN TALIBAN OPENLY IN PAKISTAN

It appears that despite the FATF retaining Pakistan in its “grey list” for money laundering and terror financing, leaders of Pakistan based proscribed organizations like the JuD and JeM have been able to continue with their activities, inciting youth for Jihad, conducting training camps and seeking donations through banners and social media posts, according to South Asia Press investigations.

In one such recent incident, a Friday Sermon at District Okara (Punjab), on February 18th this year was delivered by Maulana Naser Javed, a central JuD leader. South Asia Press was able to secure an audio file of the sermon, which can be found here.

In the sermon, he claimed that a few days after the fall of the Kabul government and occupation of Afghanistan by the Taliban, a delegation from Afghanistan had come to meet Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Amir, JuD. 

Furthermore, Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek (AAT) is very active on social media in the relief works for floods in Pakistan. It is using social media platforms for seeking donations, which may likely to end up in funding jihadi activities, as reported by another South Asia Press investigation a few weeks ago, which can be found here.

Regretfully, instead of undertaking due actions to counter money laundering, Pakistan has resorted to making unfounded allegations of politicization of FATF. Pakistan’s continued inaction on key compliances of the FATF regime holds potential adverse consequences for not only the security of the region but beyond.

#EXCLUSIVE: Banned jihadist groups at the forefront of relief work in Pakistan “monster” monsoon and floods

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One-third of Pakistan has drowned in the recent floods that have displaced 33 million Pakistanis. The disaster has claimed 1,136 people lives since the “monster monsoon” (as it being referred to) began this summer in the country.

“The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids – the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding,” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The UN today launched an appeal for $160 million (€159.6 million) to help Pakistan cope with the catastrophic floods which have wiped out homes, roads and crops, causing more than $100 billion worth of damage, according to the government’s current estimates.

And while help has been promised from across the world by several country leaders, on ground, the catastrophe has given an opportunity for Kashmir jihadi groups to make a comeback across the country in the spirit of “helping” the affectees.

Banned Islamist group Lashkar e Taiba involved in terror activities in India, Kashmir and Afghanistan has resurfaced in all four regions of the country including Punjab, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. The group is raising funds for flood affectees while proselytizing about jihadi ideology, amidst it’s so-called relief efforts. Lashkar was banned by the Pakistani government but came back as Jamat ud Dawa, which has also faced restrictions, given its linkages to the Lashkar and involvement in Mumbai attacks 2008 which killed over 150 people, after jihadists crossed into India from Pakistan. Next, the group came back as Falah e Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) but was again banned by the Pakistani goverment under international pressure. This was the most recent crackdown which began some years ago and was perhaps the most serious of the crackdowns seen in years against such Kashmir focused Islamic terror groups.

But it appears that most of it was cosmetic given the group has once again made a comeback. According to an exclusive South Asia Press investigation, the group is now operating under the name Allah u Akbar Tehreek and is openly collecting charity and is involved in rescue and relief work alongside the Pakistani military, and other governmental and non governmental organizations.

Several photos, videos and eye witness accounts gathered by South Asia Press team show that individuals like Hafiz Talha Saeed, son of Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed (who was recently convicted and jailed for vague terror financing charges but may likely be released given he has been arrested and released several times over the past decade), is behind the revival of the group. Other prominent organizers include Hafiz Abdur Raouf, a close associate of Hafiz Saeed and Nadeem Awan, who is been affiliated with the group since it was called Lashkar e Taiba. According to our investigations, they are all the same faces and names that have been previously affiliated with Lashkar e Taiba, Jamat ud Dawa, and Falah e Insaniyat Foundation, and have repeatedly gone underground to reappear with new idenitities.

The most alarming aspect of them being at the forefront of relief and rescue efforts during these floods is that they are not only radicalizing and recruiting Pakistanis for terror activities at a time they are most vulnerable, they are also once again able to raise funds publicly via Pakistani financial networks, and have access to their “reportedly” sealed and confiscated buildings, disaster management equipment like boats, trucks, etc.

Below are some photos obtained by the South Asia Press team confirming the presence of Allah u Akbar Tehreek group across Pakistan, and several sources, including the group’s own members’ social media accounts confirm that they are involved in fund raising activities and they openly claim that these relief efforts are being done by Lashkar e Taiba/Jamat ud Dawa, now called Allah u Akbar Tehreek.

Floods, pakistan, jihadist, lashkar e taiba, falah e insaniyat foundation, jamat ud dawa

 

Pakistani ambassador in Europe involved in human trafficking: Report

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A high-ranking Pakistani diplomat, who faced serious allegations of human smuggling in March, is at the core of a visa scam as he tried to persuade the European embassies in Islamabad to illegally get visas for Pakistan nationals.

A complaint was filed against the high-ranking Pakistani diplomat Israr Husain by Tariq Javid Khan, a former government servant who is in the visa business.

Several emails issued to different embassies along with proofs of payment made to the accused diplomat were attached to the application, The News International reported.

Husain used to work as an additional secretary of Europe and he would try to persuade the European embassies in Islamabad to get visas for Pakistan nationals. He allegedly tried to send around 11 individuals to Spain.

Husain had earlier also served as Pakistan’s ambassador in Czech Republic. Khan alleged that Husain “made an offer to facilitate the issuance of visit, work and residency visas for Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain, Poland and South Korea. He also introduced me to the ambassadors of these countries in Pakistan.”

He added that he has the complete record of all payments he made to Hussain in the form of bank receipts, local media reported.

Khan also added that he also has a record of all videos, voice and text messages exchanged between the two.

The visa was not issued and the Pakistani diplomat had refused to return the money and warned him of dire consequences in case the word went out.

Khan collected PKR 1.5 million from a group of Pakistani Qawwal (cultural troupe) by saying that he arranged their tickets, accommodations and all other expenses in Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, and he promised that they would get work and residency permits.

Around 10 Pakistanis also joined the troupe. However, the group had to seek asylum because Husain did not keep his promise.

The complaint added that the ambassador of Italy, Czech Republic and Spain “will be happy to confirm Husain’s disorderly conduct and they will provide evidence regarding his continuous requests for the illegal issuances of visas.”

They are not his associates but friends or assistants, none of them has travelled before and they don’t seem to comply with the requirements established by Schengen regulations, the publication said.

A formal complaint regarding Husain’s deceptive conduct was submitted to the foreign office by the ambassador of Czech Republic in Pakistan and the ambassador of Pakistan in Czech Republic.

“An investigation was carried out by the Foreign Office, however, Husain was exonerated due to his batchmates being the investigators of the case,” Khan wrote.

#TERRORWATCH: Turkish involvement with Pakistan and India Islamists an alarming development

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Turkey’s involvement in South Asia through Islamist groups like Popular Front of India (PFI), known to be an Islamist organization, is an alarming development for those watching global terror networks, and these linkages are not just limited to India, but to Pakistan and Syria also, through organizations like Al Qaeda and the ISIS (Islamic State). 

PFI was launched in 2007 and is believed to be new front for the National Development Front (NDF) which was banned in 2001 by Indian authorities for its involvement in terrorism. Reportedly, NDF had also received funding from Pakistan and Iran. PFI also has linkages to Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). PFI’s National Executive Council member, P. Koya held high positions in NDF and SIMI respectively. Similarly, PFI vice president EM Abdul Rahiman and E. Abu Bakar both held top positions at SIMI.

There are recent reports by independent Turkish media that say PFI was also hosted in Turkey. A Turkish intelligence-linked jihadist charity group networked with PFI as part of the Turkish government’s outreach to Muslim communities in the South Asia region. 

According to a Nordic Monitor investigation, two key leaders of the PFI, E. M. Abdul Rahiman and Prof. P. Koya (members of the National Executive Council of the PFI) were privately hosted in Istanbul by the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (İnsan Hak ve Hürriyetleri ve İnsani Yardım Vakfı, or IHH), an al-Qaeda-linked Turkish charity. İHH has been banned in Germany and Israel due to its terror support activities.

Tasleem Rehmani, E. M. Abdul Rahiman, Prof. P Koya meeting with key members of İHH (Photo: Nordic Monitor)

The meeting was held at IHH headquarters in Istanbul on October 20, 2018 and attended by IHH Secretary-General Durmuş Aydın and IHH Vice President Hüseyin Oruç. The representatives of both organizations discussed promoting a partnership in various fields.

The IHH is known to be have close links to the Turkish intelligence service MIT. The IHH has also been accused of smuggling arms to al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria in January 2014 in a counterterrorism investigation conducted by Turkish prosecutors. 

The investigation into a Turkish al-Qaeda cell found that İbrahim Şen, a top al-Qaeda operative who was detained in Pakistan and jailed at Guantanamo until 2005 before he was turned over to Turkey, his brother Abdurrahman Şen and others were sending arms, supplies and funds to al-Qaeda groups in Syria with the help of Turkey’s intelligence service.

Pakistan’s Simulated Terror Crackdown

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Islamabad is all set to stage an elaborate drama in preparation for the on-site visit by the officials from the global terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to verify the implementation of Pakistan’s relevant anti-money laundering and terrorism-financing reforms. The Pakistani establishment has all the paperwork for a counter-terrorism mechanism in place, but the reality is rather different. It has released a slew of national security and counter-terrorism documents, but there has been no impact on terrorism-related threat reduction from Pakistan. The country may be removed from the FATF grey list after an on-site visit which may verify the implementation of its reforms on countering terror-financing mechanisms.

But certain issues must be kept in mind by the FATF when this visit occurs. For example, in keeping with the farce that Pakistan habitually puts up, there is the recent case of India-focused terrorist Sajid Majeed Mir. One of New Delhi’s most wanted, the US had placed a bounty of USD 5 million on Sajid Majeed Mir – who is part of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for his role in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks that left 166 people dead, including six Americans. 

Pakistani authorities had in the past claimed he had died but Western countries remained unconvinced and demanded proof of his death. This issue became a major sticking point in FATF’s assessment of Pakistan’s progress on the action plan late last year. This was where things finally started moving in Mir’s case leading to his “arrest”. This month an anti-terrorism court in Lahore handed down 15 and a half years jail term to Sajid Majeed Mir, in a terror-financing case.

BACKGROUND OF SAJID MIR

The “project manager” of the Mumbai attacks, Sajid Mir reportedly had visited India in 2005 using a fake passport with a fake name. Mir allegedly served as the chief planner of the attacks, directing preparations and reconnaissance, and was one of the Pakistan-based controllers during the attacks. Mir is allegedly also the brain behind the Denmark bombing operation codenamed ‘Micky Mouse’, referring to the publishing of cartoons of the ‘Prophet’ in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten. 

In 2007, a French court convicted a French national Willie Brigitte for planning terrorist attacks in Australia in 2003 in conjunction with Mir, the LeT’s suspected chief of external operations. Yet, Mir remained elusive until now when Pakistan desperately seeks the FATF grey-list exit. Pakistan, is trying to mislead the agency by declaring that it had arrested and prosecuted Sajid Mir. 

The arrest of Mir after nearly 14 years is evidence not of Pakistan’s effort but insincerity towards any genuine effort at counter-terrorism. His conviction and sentencing were so-called major achievements that Pakistani officials showcased in their progress report given to FATF on its action plan during the latest plenary. 

But the reality is that no action was taken by Pakistan when the US country report on terrorism in 2019 indicated his presence in Pakistan. International intel sources, too, said that he had been seen at the Muridke camp of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Unfortunately, despite being on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, Mir was not on the United Nations Security Council Resolution list (UNSCR 1267) which imposes sanctions against terrorists and their entities. This posed a challenge to counter-terrorism efforts of global agencies who were trying to catch and prosecute him. In absence of the UN sanctions, Pakistan’s ISI apparently continued to support him and ensure his unhindered activities in Pakistan. Some on ground reports suggest that the Pakistani military establishment may even have facilitated the alteration of his appearance through plastic surgery. 

MIR AND HIS INTERNATIONAL NETWORK

In the absence of any action against him and his connections with the Pakistani deep state, Mir, had in fact been trying to maximize the global footprint of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Brigitte from France, David Headley from the US and Faheem Lodhi from Australia were the discoveries of Mir. Brigitte, in his interrogation, had described Mir as “Uncle Bill” who was fluent in Arabic, Urdu and English.

Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policy remains ill-equipped to respond to challenges like the resurgence of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), rising sectarianism, and congenial environment for Kashmir-focused groups that have evaded counterterrorism scrutiny. 

While the anti-terror policy is in place on paper, it is very clear that there is lukewarm political support for action against radical entities in Pakistan. 

FARCE CONVICTIONS IN TERRORISM CASES A NORM

Take for instance the case of Jamat e Dawa (ex Lashkar e Taiba) chief Hafiz Saeed, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist who has allegedly been sentenced to 68 years imprisonment in terror-financing cases by the Lahore Anti-terrorism court. But the fact is that his sentence is running concurrently, which means he will not have to spend many more years in jail. 

One should recall how the exiled military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf would ridicule any talk of Pakistan hiding Osama, declaring that OBL was “probably dead, and definitely not in Pakistan”. And of course, the world witnessed how US Seals located him in a hideout in Abbottabad in 2011. Then there is the case of Baitullah Mehsud of the Tehreek- e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who backed the assassin who killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007. He was declared “untraceable”, even “dead” in an encounter. But he surfaced in 2008 to deny any involvement.

The latest arrest of Sajid Mir also has a diplomatic angle. The new government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is keen on mending fences with the United States and up to a point, India, ostensibly, under American persuasion. But only words have come forth. Pakistan has acted this way in the past as well, under Washington’s persuasion. In this game these gestures on part of Pakistan are only to clear the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan that it urgently requires and for removal from the FATF grey-list. Through the release of successive national security related documents, and one-off arrests like that of Sajid Mir, Pakistan is deliberately and typically engaging in strategic manipulation to mislead the international community about the verity of its counter-terrorism effort or lack thereof.

Why did the Pakistan Army Chief choose to stay low-profile in his recent visit to France?

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The Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa visited Paris, France this month to attend the Eurosatory International Defence and Security Exhibition from June 13th to June 17th, 2022.

But to everyone’s surprise in the International and especially the Pakistani media, there was no mention of this visit or the meetings he held, with no press release issued by the Pakistani military media wing. Insiders say he kept a very low profile and did not even attend official dinners by the French organizers of the exhibition.

Sources close to the Pakistan embassy say that the country’s mission (which lacks an ambassador due to poor Pak-French relations) was apparently not even involved in the visit. “General Bajwa probably kept a low profile in France so not to upset the Islamist extremist groups back home, which consider France a blasphemous country,” observed a reporter working in Paris for Pakistani media. 

At the forefront of such anti French Islamist extremist groups that General Bajwa does not want to upset is Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a political party that is known to have close links to the Pakistani military. Efforts to ban the party on terror charges by Pakistan’s civilian leadership have failed and in recent years the TLP has gained more popularity in the country, becoming an electoral force that has won seats in the parliament. 

THE EMERGENCE OF TLP

TLP first emerged to the scene as a pressure group against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government in 2017. The ex-PM is known for his opposition to the military, and was ousted from power in 1999 in a military coup and sent into exile by General Pervez Musharraf, the then Pakistan army chief (who ruled the country from 1999 to 2008 until his own ouster).

Fast forward to 2017 – Sharif returns to power and once again becomes a headache for the military. So to weaken his government, the military reportedly orchestrated protests against the government, unleashing the Islamist group TLP this time, which made up claims that some government ministers had committed blasphemy. Eventually the Sharif government gave in to the demands of the extremist group, and fired one of its ministers to placate the protesters. But they only went home after the military stepped in and gave “assurances”.

In 2018, the Islamist party received more than two million votes in the general election, showing its strength across Pakistan.

TLP AND ANTI FRANCE CAMPAIGNS

The Islamist group then made headlines after it launched a campaign against France when Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed – an act deemed blasphemous by Muslims. The cartoons were reprinted to mark the beginning of the trial against those involved in the attack at the magazine Paris headquarters in 2015. 

In response, the TLP took the streets and demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador in Islamabad, and an end to Pak-French diplomatic ties. It almost stormed the French embassy in Islamabad during the protests that left several people dead and paralyzed the capital city. Eventually, the Islamist group agreed to back off after the then government of Prime Minister Imran Khan promised to take up their demands in the Pakistani parliament.

But just like in 2017, the group suddenly fizzled out, which many say was because the military became involved again. It is unclear whether the military orchestrated these protests to teach Khan’s government a lesson (which finally got ousted allegedly by the military earlier this year) or did the Pakistan Army want to settle a score with France, as the two countries have had a turbulent relations since the early 2000s when 12 French submarine engineers were killed in a suicide bombing attack in the southern Pakistani port city – Karachi. There are reports that suggest that terrorists who killed the engineers may have had linkages to the Pakistani military, and carried out the attack in revenge against the French government, after it refused to pay kickbacks to officials in Pakistan for awarding contracts to French companies.

DID BAJWA ASK ISPR TO STAY MUTED?

Owing to such history between the two countires – in the past and in recent times, it appears that the Pakistan Army Chief deliberately kept a low profile when he was in Paris and may have instructed his PR machine to stay quiet about it and not share it with the media, as is the case, normally when he goes on a visit internationally. Furthermore, it appears the general did not want to attract the attention of Pakistani Islamist groups, especially at a time when he is already facing backlash in the country for orchestrating the fall of Imran Khan’s government.

20 years of “the Karachi affair” and worsening Pak-French ties

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This May marks the 20th anniversary of the tragic terror attack in Karachi that left several French engineers dead in a bombing believed to be planned by Pakistani intelligence operatives. 

Now called the Karachi Affair – on 8th May 2002, a suicide bomber exploded his vehicle near a bus outside a well-known Karachi hotel, killing 14 people traveling, among them 11 French naval engineers, who were working on a submarine project for the Pakistani navy. 

Pakistani authorities blamed Islamist militants, but there were suspicions that the bombing was an act of revenge after then-French President Jacques Chirac ordered the payments of secret arms deal commissions to stop.

FRANCE CONVICTS EX-MINISTER FOR INVOLVEMENT IN KICKBACKS TO PAKISTAN

A French court last year handed a suspended jail term to Francois Leotard (former defence minister of Edouard Balladur’s government which was in power during the nineties) for his hand in allowing corruption in these said arms deals. 

Several other French government officials at that time were also found involved in approving payment of the commissions to intermediaries in the sale of three submarines to Pakistan. 

These facts came to light while French prosecutors were investigating the Karachi affair and they found members of the French ruling class involved, with investigators looking into allegations that kickbacks from the arms sales to Pakistan helped fund the failed 1995 presidential primary campaign of Edouard Balladur. 

DANIEL PEARL MURDER AND THE KARACHI AFFAIR – THE REVENGE ATTACKS

There are also reports that the murder of American journalist, Daniel Pearl, just three months before the bus bombing, was also carried out in connivance with Pakistani state operatives. Pearl was kidnapped on a reporting mission in Karachi and the involvement of state operatives became obvious when one of the demands made by his kidnappers after his abduction also pointed to a possible ulterior motive.

In two emails sent just after his kidnapping, his captors listed a number of conditions for the release of their hostage, one of which was for the United States to deliver the F-16 fighter jets that Pakistan had paid for but never received due to a diplomatic wrangle. 

This has led to further belief among the French investigators that the bus bombing was also a revenge attack. 

PAK-FRENCH WORSENING TIES SINCE THE KARACHI AFFAIR

Today, two decades later, the French state continues to hold those involved accountable in the Karachi affair, with jailing six other officials but the Pakistani state operatives have evaded justice. Not only that, Pakistan has pursued an anti France agenda in recent years, perhaps in response to the allegations it has faced over the killings of French nationals. 

An Islamist violent extremist group Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) known have close ties to the Pakistani army has organized several anti France protests in recent years in the country and its leaders have called for attacking the French embassy in Islamabad on more than one occasion. The reason – the group says the newly re-elected French President Emmanuel Macron has blasphemed by supporting anti Islam cartoons. 

Such anti France Islamist radicalization has not led to violence in Pakistan but also in France. 

PAKISTANI ATTACKS ON FRENCH SOIL

In the last few years, Pakistani radicals in France have carried out attacks against people for committing so-called blasphemy. 

In 2018, an Irish university lecturer was stabbed to death by one of his former students for allegedly ‘insulting the Prophet Mohammed’. The 66-year-old academic, named locally as John Dowling, was attacked and stabbed 13 times outside the Paris university where he worked. Police said Ali R., a 37-year-old Pakistani national was involved and had been arrested. After the killing, Ali told police that the teacher had made fun of his Muslim religion during English classes at the university.

Then in 2020, Zaheer Hassan Mahmood, a Pakistani man living illegally in Paris was caught after he stabbed and injured two people outside the former offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Police say he was radicalised by videos of preachers in Pakistan and anti-France demonstrations back in his country.

The 26-year-old had spent the days leading up to his knife attack watching extremist preachers on YouTube and TikTok denouncing France and Charlie Hebdo.

Reportedly, Mahmood watched videos by protest leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the late founder of TLP party, and other radical preachers. He was also influenced by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who in speeches when in power had accused Macron of “attacking Islam”.

Owing to the so called blasphemous cartoon controversy, Pakistan is yet to post its regular ambassador to France. Although with a new government in power in Islamabad, there have been efforts to reset the ties, but without much progress, given Pakistan’s known duplicity in the past and lack of accountability, even today.

Imran Khan whipping up anti West sentiment among Pakistanis living abroad can lead to dangerous consequences – ANALYSIS

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Since being ousted out of power some three weeks ago, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly targeted the United States and the West for being responsible for his ouster.

On Monday, he once again took to the microblogging website Twitter to post tweets demanding answers directly from the US President Joe Biden’s administration over his ouster and calling upon the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) to form a judicial commission to probe the US-backed conspiracy to oust his government.

In one of the tweets Khan said: “Clearly, the US wants an obedient puppet as PM who will not allow Pak choice of neutrality in a European war; a PM who will be obedient to US demands; who will not sign agreements with Russia & who will downgrade our strategic r’ship with China. If a PM asserts Pak’s sovereignty & an indep[endent] foreign policy he will be removed & a subservient, crooked PM like Shahbaz Sharif will be brought in.”

Khan has always resonated with Pakistanis living abroad and following such anti-Western rhetoric, several Pakistanis across the globe have come out in large numbers to denounce the involvement of the United States and the West in Pakistan, and have threatened to march towards US embassies around the world, as witnessed in the street agitations organized in London, United Kingdom.

Overseas Pakistanis have also been posting videos showing them tearing or setting fire to green passports. In one such recent video (reportedly from the United States) which went viral, three men can be seen burning Pakistani passports in a barbeque grill and condemning the removal of Imran Khan, calling it a Western conspiracy.

In the UK, protests were held in London, Bradford, Glasgow, Manchester and Nottingham. Reportedly, in a video message on social media, Imran Khan’s UK spokesperson Sahibzada Jahangir urged PTI supporters to march to the US embassy in London and protest against the foreign interference by America.

Similar protests have been witnessed in the US, France, Germany and several Gulf countries in the Middle East.

In one such protest in Saudi Arabia, several Pakistanis shouted slogans at the current Pakistani government’s entourage when they were visiting Masjid e Nabvi – the main mosque in Medina city considered as one of the holiest sites for Muslims. Following this protest, Imran Khan and his political party’s leadership in Pakistan are now being prosecuted by the Pakistani state for orchestrating such a move and therefore committing blasphemy, as they desecrated the sanctity of the holy mosque by raising abusive slogans there. In Medina, few of the organizers have also been arrested and are expected to pay heavy fines and spend time in prison before being deported.

Interestingly, when Khan was in power (and even before him becoming the PM), he used blasphemy laws to his advantage against his political opponents and also led an international campaign over Islamophobia, denouncing blasphemous cartoons published by the French media.

Such Islamist radicalization by Khan and now by the new government, along with the whipping of anti Western-sentiment is a dangerous game that Pakistani politicians are playing, as it will only lead to common Pakistani at home and abroad taking laws in their own hands, and ending up in trouble with local and foreign authorities.