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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.

US authorities slap $55m fine on National Bank of Pakistan for anti-money laundering violations, compliance failures

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US authorities fined National Bank of Pakistan $55 million in separate orders, with the US Federal Reserve Board announcing a $20.4-million penalty for anti-money laundering violations, while New York State Department of Financial Services said the bank agreed to pay a $35-million penalty for failure to maintain an ‘effective and compliant anti-money laundering program’.

The US Federal Reserve Board announcement can be found here.

Similarly, Superintendent of Financial Services Adrienne A Harris announced that NBP and its New York branch have agreed to pay $35 million in penalties pursuant to a Consent Order entered into with the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS).

“The Consent Order resolves the Department’s investigation into compliance deficiencies at the Branch with respect to Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML) requirements,” the statement added.

“The National Bank of Pakistan allowed serious compliance deficiencies in its New York branch to persist for years despite repeated regulatory warnings,” said Superintendent Harris. “Foreign banks that enjoy the privilege of operating in New York have an obligation to maintain effective controls, and the Department will continue to promote financial transparency and take action to protect the global financial system when those obligations are not met.”

It said that following examinations conducted by the Department and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) in 2014 and 2015, the New York branch was found to have inadequate BSA/AML compliance programs, serious issues with its transaction monitoring system, and significant shortcomings in managerial oversight.

“As a result, in 2016, the Department and the FRBNY took enforcement action against the Bank in the form of a Written Agreement in which the Bank acknowledged its oversight and compliance deficiencies and agreed to remediate them.

“As reflected in the examinations following the Written Agreement, however, the Branch’s overall condition and its risk management and compliance programs continued to deteriorate. These continued failures revealed that the Branch’s senior management were unwilling or unable to promote a culture of compliance, adequate resources were not provided for compliance programs, and the Bank failed to adequately supervise the Branch by allowing problems to worsen year after year. The conditions at the Branch demonstrated severe weaknesses, and unsafe, unsound conditions requiring urgent restructuring.”

Under the settlement reached today, it said, in addition to payment of a $35 million penalty, the National Bank of Pakistan will be required to create a written plan, acceptable to the Department, detailing enhancements to the policies and procedures of the Bank’s BSA/AML compliance program, its Suspicious Activity Monitoring and Reporting program, and its customer due diligence requirements.

“Additionally, at the Department’s discretion, the Bank may be required to engage an independent consultant to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the Bank and the Branch’s remediation efforts — an evaluation that could lead to the imposition of a full monitorship.”

“DFS acknowledges the Bank’s cooperation with the investigation and its ongoing remedial efforts.

“The Department coordinated this investigation with the FRBNY which has reached a separate settlement with the Bank.”

Read the DFS statement here.

The fines are a fresh blow for the nation, that has been on the monitoring list of Paris-based Financial Action Task Force since 2018 for similar deficiencies. Habib Bank Ltd. and United Bank Ltd. have also faced similar issues in the U.S. for its branch operations in New York.   Both banks subsequently closed their branches.

NBP’s shares fell 7.4% as of 9:28 a.m. in Karachi Friday, the most in a year.

SOURCE: BLOOMBERG / BUSINESS RECORDER

British-Pakistani ‘hitman’ found guilty of plotting to kill Pakistani activist in exile. Hit ordered from Pakistan, court told.

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A British-Pakistani “hitman” has been found guilty of conspiring to kill a Pakistani dissident in the Netherlands.

A court in London heard Muhammad Gohir Khan was offered £100,000 (about $134,000) to carry out the murder in Rotterdam last year.

However he failed to track his target down, and was arrested on his return to the UK.

Now a jury has given a unanimous guilty verdict of conspiracy to murder and he is set be sentenced in March.

The intended victim – Waqass Goraya – is a prominent social media activist and critic of the Pakistani military and government, living in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

The guilty, Gohir Khan, from east London, had racked up debts of more than £200,000 whilst running a cargo company. He was working as a delivery driver for a supermarket, but reacted enthusiastically when he was contacted about a “job” in Europe by a contact in Pakistan.

Khan claimed in court that he initially did not know what the job entailed, but he used fishing analogies in a WhatsApp conversation with a middleman man named as Muzzamil who was to take 20% of the fee.

The Pakistan-based “client” who had ordered the hit was never named in court, though Muzzamil referred to a “big boss” who gave a green light to the operation and who he had worked with for around 20 years.

Muzzamil’s full identity has not been disclosed either, though he appears to be a British national living in Pakistan. Police officials simply said the case remains an “active investigation”.

The threat to Pakistani dissidents extends to other dissidents in exile.

Ayesha Siddiqa is an academic who has written extensively about the Pakistani military. In January 2019 she received a visit and letter from police in Britain warning of “credible information” that her life was in danger if she travelled back to Pakistan.

Three other Pakistanis living in the UK confirmed to the BBC they had contact with the police over the possibility of them being targeted in Britain.

One of them, Fazal Khan, is a lawyer whose 14 year-old son Sahibzada Umer Khan was amongst the victims of a massacre at a school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar by militants in 2014.

Others elsewhere in Europe have also been warned by Western intelligence agencies, including Taha Siddiqui, a journalist who escaped an abduction attempt in Islamabad and now lives in France.

SOURCE: BBC

Pakistani money-laundering ring involved in washing millions of Euros busted in Paris.

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Police in the French capital city of Paris dismantled a major Pakistani money-laundering ring with a net worth of 70 millions Euros of transactions in the last two to three years, and arrested 10 Pakistanis involved in the criminal activity.

In a statement released by the Head of the Central Office for the Suppression of Serious Financial Crime (OCRGDF), Anne-Sophie Coulbois said that several people, all from Pakistan had been arrested, indicted and imprisoned last Friday. The ring was mostly living in Seine-Saint-Denis, a neighborhood in the Parisian suburbs, known for its violence and crime, according to Sud-Ouest, a local French daily.

Police started to investigate the ring in June 2020 after it found suspicious packages carrying fake European paperwork arriving in France, from Pakistan by way of Turkey and Greece. The fake documents included official documents of countries in the Schengen area and in particular for France, including passports, identity cards and residence permits.

During the probe, the French authorities also unearthed 20 legal companies connected to the arrested Pakistanis, and involved in the construction business which were linked to a large network of “shell” companies. These companies were used to redirect funds to nearly 200 bank accounts, opened with various false documents.

This network transferred money to the various accounts using fake invoices or documents and then got the money out of the legal circuit by withdrawing large amounts from these bank accounts through ATMs. Part of the money withdrawn was used to pay illegal Pakistanis working in these construction sites and the remaining diverted to Pakistan.

Searches at the houses and offices of these 10 individuals in Paris led to the recovery of 157 fake identity documents, Euros 134,000 in cash, four vehicles including a Maserati, documents related to 180 bank accounts and the false papers used to open these accounts.

As per the police, between 2019 and 2021, at least Euro 28 million were transferred to the bank accounts of different people and another Euro 13 million were transferred to the accounts in the names of front companies, according to media reports.

This development comes at a time when Pakistan is up for a review at the FATF next month. The country has remained on a grey-list for the last couple of years for not doing enough against terror-financing and money-laundering, according to the international monetary watchdog.

But this is not the only case that has surfaced in recent months that points to Pakistan still being a hub of money-laundering and terror-finacing with global networks.

In another court case currently on-going in London, U.K., the British police arrested a Pakistani-British man for plotting to kill a Pakistani dissident in exile, after being promised 100,000 Euros for the hit by a contact back home in Pakistan. Investigators revealed that the hitman was paid around 5000 Euros through a Pakistani bank account and hundi networks in the country, once again exposing how Pakistan continues to have money-laundering channels open, even for transnational crimes like murdering someone on European soil.

Lashkar-e-Taiba linked humanitarian group resurfaces in Murree for rescue efforts

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In what appears to be a repeat of the same old, a Lashkar-e-Taiba linked humanitarian organization with the name of Tehreek Allah-u-Akbar was seen at the forefront of rescue efforts in the calamity hit area of Murree city. The hill station experienced heavy snow fall that resulted in 22 people, including women and children, freezing to death in their vehicles, after being stranded and stuck on the roads, for several hours, without help.

Very little is known of this obscure group called Tehreek Allah-u-Akbar that came to the aid of those affected by this tragedy, except that it is headed by Saifullah Khalid, a close confidante of Hafiz Saeed, the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba (convicted in 2020 for terror-financing and sentenced, but continues to spend time at home, which has been converted into a sub-jail, according to media reports). Saifullah was also part of the political party backed by the terror group called Milli Muslim League.

Saifullah shared a video on social media being thanked by the people of Murree for rescue efforts that led to an investigation by South Asia Press and it was found that dozens of recruits who are allegedly affiliated with LeT were dispatched to provide humanitarian aid to those affected by the calamity. According to media reports, thousands of people were stranded in the area for several hours before help arrived. Social media platforms are flooded with photos and videos of the rescue efforts by the banned militant group, with several posts thanking Hafiz Saeed for coming to the aid of the people. But what comes as a bigger shock is that a senior Pakistani police official is seen thanking Jamat ud Dawa (one of the many names of LeT) in a video obtained by South Asia Press. 

Yaseen Janjua, who is currently posted in the region, thanked the banned militant group, calling it by the name of Jamat ud Dawa, confirming that it was involved in the rescue efforts as much as other government departments.

See video here:

Another video obtained by South Asia Press shows several people sitting in a vehicle thanking Hafiz Saeed for helping them, with a man saying some social activists (affiliated with Hafiz Saeed) came and provided them with food.

But these militants-disguised-as-humanitarian-workers were not just helping the ordinary citiens who were stuck, as seen in another video obtained by South Asia Press, in which they can be seen handing out food packets to not only the public but policemen and even military officials.

See video here:

Interestingly, they can be seen wearing the same colored jackets that they have used in the past but it appears that they have tried to hide their previous affiliation by putting the name of Tehreek Allah-u-Akbar, hand-written over the old names, but the cover up seems obvious as seen in the photos below:

For last few years, the Pakistani government has claimed that it had clamped down on the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba (recently known as Jamat ud Dawa and then Falah e Insaniyat Foundation). But the terror organization – known for its involvement in the Mumbai attacks of 2008 which killed at least 175 people – apparently went underground to ease international pressure on Pakistan, and has once again resurfaced with a new name Tehreek Allah u Akbar, but with the same old tactics. And it appears that such militants are still able to raise funds for their activities, as the rescue efforts in Murree show that the group has ample of resources available at its disposal.

LeT and other such Kashmiri jihadi groups have been softening their image using charity as a front, especially since the 2005 devastating earthquake in Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, when such groups provided rescue, food, and shelter to thousands of Pakistanis affected by the natural calamity. But LeT does not do such acts for altruistic reasons alone. Rather it uses such opportunities to find recruits that it can dedicate to its terror activities in the region, especially to foment unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir and previously in Afghanistan also. Investigations on ground have proven that LeT finds vulnerable Pakistani families who are in need of aid, and by providing them help, it asks for youngsters in such families to be sent to serve the terror organization.

With the Murree tragedy, the group is active again and is using this incident to gain sympathy and subsequently recruits, which puts a serious question over Pakistani government’s claims that it is containing such terror groups.

With Pakistan’s review at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris coming up next month, will the international monetary watchdog take some concrete action against Pakistan for continuing to allow such terror groups to openly organize and fund their activities? It is time that FATF must go beyond lip-service and make Pakistan accountable for its continued support to terror.

EXCLUSIVE: Is Pakistan using Turkish and Chinese drones in Kashmir conflict?

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By Taha Siddiqui

Between the night of Saturday 2nd of October and Sunday 3rd October, in the southern part of the Kashmir valley nearby the village of Almore Mandal in Jammu district, the Indian police discovered a yellow polythene bag with a package containing weapons. Witnesses in the area said a drone had dropped the package, and the police suspect it came from the Pakistani border. But reports from the area unveil that this is not the first such case.

Since beginning of this year, local police have reportedly seized a large number of weapons and ammunition brought in by drones allegedly from Pakistan. 

A SHORT HISTORY OF DRONE WARFARE

Drone warfare against India from Pakistani soil was aimed for surviellance at first, Indian authorities say. But recently the interventions from across the Line of Control (LoC) (the cease-fire border between the two sides) have become bolder, with drones not only dropping packages but also carrying out attacks.

In late June two members of the Indian Air Force were injured when two bombs dropped by drones exploded at the military airport in Jammu region. This was the first such drone attack in this part of Kashmir region, which has been hit by numerous terrorist attacks in the last several decades.

According to South Asia Press research, in January 2021, the Jammu & Kashmir Police caught two persons while they were picking up a consignment of 16 grenades, two AK-74 rifles, nine AK magazines, a pistol and ammunitions, which were smuggled via drones, as per investigations.

In another case, the Punjab Police seized 11 grenades that were allegedly air-dropped from Pakistan in December 2020.

In October 2020, the Indian Army reportedly shot down a drone along the Line of Control.

A case of dropping arms was also reported when the Indian Border Security Force shot down a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) near Rathua village in the Hira Nagar sector of Jammu on June 20 last year. The drone was transporting an American-made M4 rifle, several grenades and ammunitions.

In yet another case, in the intervening night of June 3 and 4, 2020, a consignment of weapons was dropped through three drone sorties outside Dharamkot Randhawa in Punjab’s Gurdaspur. The consignment included two MP-9 guns, six pistols and counterfeit currency.

Owing to such cross border activity, the Indian Kashmir police chief recently acknowledged that despite the ceasefire agreement since February this year between Pakistan and India along the Line of Control and the International Border, some “Pakistani state actors” have been helping Pakistan-based terror groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir, by trying to maintain their supply chain of arms, ammunition and cash.

PAKISTAN’S DRONE TECHNOLOGY AMBITIONS

Pakistan had several requests for drone technology reportedly rejected by the United States, and went on to manufacture its own drones, with the help of Chinese and Turkish technology. Just this August, Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) signed a contract with Pakistan’s National Engineering and Science Commission (NESCOM) to jointly produce Anka military drones. Also, China has become a major exporter of armed drones, with Pakistan being one of its 11 customers, with negotiations between the two countries starting in 2011.

It appears that Pakistan has started using this foreign drone technology as an alternative to sending militant proxies into the other side as it was facing immense pressure to crackdown on Kashmiri militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad at home. These groups regulalry infiltrated the border in the past, especially during cross-fire between the two sides, which Pakistani military sources say was a way to distract attention of the Indian side from finding out about such infilitrations. However, in recent years, such infiltrations have become harder due to improved border management from the Indian side. Also, given the international negative attention such groups were bringing to Pakistan, there were some cosmetic and performative judicial actions against these groups, thereby limiting their cross-border movements but they remain fairly operational domestically. And hence, Pakistan has opted now for deploying drones as a tactic to continue this conflict.

INCREASE IN VIOLENCE IN INDIAN KASHMIR LINKED TO INCREASED DRONE ACTIVITY?

Since the last few months, a new wave of violence and targeted killings has been observed in Indian Kashmir. This year 196 terror incidents took place till mid November, with October being one of the deadliest months in 2021.

On October 5, unidentified gunmen killed three civilians, then on October 7, militants shot dead two Hindu teachers in a school in Srinagar, and on October 11, five Indian soldiers were killed near the Line of Control.

From January 1st this year, about 200 people – mostly Indian security personnel and separatist militants – have died in the violences in Kashmir. Some 30 civilians, have been shot dead.

In response to the new warfare in Kashmir using drones, the Indian government is reportedly further upping its defences also by installing drone detection and countermeasures, such as radars, RF sensors, GPS spoofing and D4 systems.

Experts say that in due course, such drone warfare will become a constant irritant and a source of low-intensity attacks that India will have to face. The drone attacks on the Jammu air base strongly suggest that, even though Pakistan may have reined in its proxy forces, a new front may be opening up in the conflict over Kashmir, as Foreign Policy recently reported.

 

In Naya Pakistan, you can get a peace deal if you are a terrorist!

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Days after making a deal with the banned Islamist extremist group, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), the Pakistani government has announced that it has made another peace deal with another banned Islamist terror group – the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

It is being reported that the Pakistani military has been behind these peace deals, as it wants to use such Islamists for its own purposes.

The first peace deal the government made a few weeks ago was with the TLP which became prominent in the aftermath of anti-government protest in 2017 in support of blapshemy laws. Later, the country’s top courts investigated and questioned the role of the Pakistani military in orchestrating these protests to undermine the then civilian government, which had a troubled relation with the Pakistan army and the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted by the country’s generals in 1999.

The second and the most recent peace deal that the government has made is with the TTP which came into existence in 2007 after failure of successive peace deals with the then military government of General Pervez Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008. Since its inception 14 years ago, the terrorist group has unleashed a campaign of bloodshed and violence, killing thousands of Pakistani civilians, and soldiers. In 2014, the TTP carried out its deadliest attack in a school in Peshawar city killing 150 people, a majority of which were children, resulting in Pakistan Army to finally launch a full-fledge operation against the group. But it soon emerged that the military had allowed most of the militants to escape across the border in Afghanistan, and now with the acscension of the Afghan Taliban in power there, it is being reported pushed the Pakistani Taliban to make a peace deal with the Pakistani government.

At the same time other banned extremist groups are also demanding Pakistani state to unban them. For example, the banned anti-Shia political party known as Sipah e Sahaba (SSP) originally and which goes by the name of Ahl e Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) today, is demanding that the government unban them. The party is responsible for violence against the Shia sect across Pakistan.

Such appeasement of and deal-making with Islamist groups has been a hallmark of the Pakistani state, and in past such peace deals have always failed, resulting in the terrorists coming out stronger on the other side, with the state’s writ weakening further. But Pakistan seems not to learn a lesson. Or is this what the Pakistani state want? To continue to be a terror factory because such groups serve the strategic purposes of the Pakistani military, that runs the country from behind the shadows.

The Pakistani military has been accused for pushing Islamist militant groups and ideology across its borders to disrupt peace in Afghanistan and Kashmir for several years now. And it has also been accused of using such militants at home to counter ethno-nationalist sentiments among the Baloch and the Pashtuns by Islamizing the population at large.

Alarmingly, Pakistan is making such peace deals with terrorists at a time when it is on a review with the international financial watchdog – the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in failing to stop terror-financing and money-laundering, and has remained on its grey-list for the last three years. Also most of such deals are being done behind closed doors with the country’s military’s involvement while the civilian leadership is being kept out of these vital negotiations, raising serious concerns of transparency and accountability.

Is Pakistan Islamizing Gilgit Baltistan? South Asia Press investigates

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FILE PHOTO

On the morning of July 14th 2021, a bus transporting workers through the mountainous  terrain of Kohistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was attacked.The workers, mainly Chinese nationals, were travelling from their place of stay to the Dasu Hydropower project when their bus was intercepted by a car laden with explosives. 

In the ensuing suicide blast, nine Chinese nationals were killed along with a few Pakistani workers.

This attack, which is by far the deadliest in terms of Chinese lives lost, is just next door to the disputed region of Gilgit Baltistan (GB), an area through which much of China’s trade into Pakistan moves. 

GB is part of the ‘Kashmir territory’ which became a disputed piece of land following the India-Pakistan War of 1947, which was fought over the control over the region.

No group claimed responsibility for the bus attack but the modus operandi reflects it maybe the work of local Islamist militants. Many such extremist groups have proliferated in Gilgit Baltistan in recent years and the Pakistani state has chosen to ignore the matter and has even encouraged this radical Islamist expansionism. 

WHY THE ISLAMIST EXAPANSIONISM IN GILGIT BALTISTAN? 

The reason behind this rampant Islamization of GB is that the region has predominantly had a Shia majority, a sect of Islam that the Sunni State of Pakistan views suspiciously, since the 1979 Iranian revolution just next door. And to counter this Shia majority and its influence in the region, Pakistan has encouraged Sunni extremist groups to set up shop in the area. 

In 1974, the Pakistani government abolished the ‘State Subject Rule’ in GB which protected the local demography, but after its abolishment, Pakistanis from other parts of the country could settle in GB. This was one of the first political moves by the government in Islamabad as part of its Islamization process because most new settlers belonged to the Sunni sect, thereby reducing Shia influence which has gone from over 80% to just 39%, in the last 74 years. 

This illegal government-sponsored settlement scheme damaged the social fabric and provoked religious feuds that continue to simmer.

Gilgit Baltistan has witnessed several sectarian attacks aimed at the Shias in the past. The first attack can be traced back to the year 1988 when a large group of Sunni militants raided the land and massacred over 700 Shias. The Pakistan Army which was incharge of the country then,under the dictatorship of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, stood by silently as this bloody event unfolded in front of their eyes. 

In August 2012, as part of a ‘targeted genocide’, multiple gunmen dressed in military uniforms, forced 25 Shia passengers out of the buses they were travelling in and shot them point blank in GB.This was the work of Sunni militant organization, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. In April the same year, 20 people were killed in an attack in Chilas, Gilgit Baltistan. 

PERSECUTION OF SHIAS ACROSS PAKISTAN

The Shia population have been staring down the barrel of a gun, not just in GB but across the country. There are examples of numerous attacks against the Shias in various parts of Pakistan.

Just January this year, 11 Shia coal miners were abducted and shot dead in the Balochistan province by Sunni terrorists. Shia Muslims have often been targeted by Sunni terrorist groups over the years, one of the most brutal attacks happened in 2019 where a suicide attack in a busy marketplace in a Hazara housing society in Quetta, killed at least 21 people. In November 2012, a Talibani suicide bomber killed 23 in an attack targeted at a Shia procession in Rawalpindi. In a similar incident in Karachi, Taliban set off two bombs outside a Shia Mosque. And most recently, a bomb attack on a Shia Muharram procession, left 3 dead and scores injured in Bahawalnagar, Punjab. 

Since the turn of the century, there have been nearly 500 incidents of violence against the Shia population, which has led to over 2700 Shia deaths in the country.

A NEW TARGET FOR ISLAMIST MILITANTS: CHINA

But now it seems the same anti Shia militants are expanding their scope by going after international targets. And this can jeopardize the age-old strategic relations between Pakistan and China because the militants seem to have China as their new target. 

China appears to have taken due cognizance of the evolving situation and has expressed its concern through strongly worded statements such as the one given out by Chinese state owned media house, the Global Times which stated that China will not shy away from deploying its own troops in Pakistan, if Islamabad continues to fail in protecting Chinese nationals and interest in the region. 

Following the bus attack, Pakistan had tried to underplay the seriousness by calling it an accident arising from mechanical failure. This was met with stiff resistance by the Chinese who insisted that it was an attack and even sent its own team of investigators to look into the matter.  Thereby exposing the fault lines in the China-Pakistan relationship.  

Pakistan has created dedicated brigades for the protection of Chinese interests, namely the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Beijing has time and again extended its resources and its support to Islamabad in its fight against militancy of all kinds. It has invested money into creating and training a new Pakistani security force called the Special Security Divisions (SSDs). Two such outfits have been created with 15,000 troops each from the Pakistani Army. 

There has been a growing trend of attacks against Chinese nationals in Pakistan and there are multiple culprits. In April this year, there was a deadly blast at a hotel in Quetta where the Chinese ambassador was staying. Again in July this year, two Chinese nationals were shot at while travelling in a car in Karachi. Like these two incidents, many of the attacks aimed at the Chinese happen in the south of Pakistan where there is an ongoing insurgency by the Baloch population. But the cause of concern for the Chinese is that there is an increasing trend of attacks in the north as well, especially in GB, like the deadly bus bombing. 

It has become crucial for China and consequently for Pakistan, to have a tight control over GB. 

IS PAKISTAN PLAYING A DOUBLE GAME WITH CHINA?

In a move to impress its investment partner China, Islamabad has now decided to grant provincial status to GB, elevating it from an autonomous status and making it the fifth province of Pakistan. This move by Islamabad, seems to have Beijing’s backing as China stands to profit from this move. Now that GB is a province of Pakistan, China can bypass any issue of investment in a disputed region and also makes it easier for them to purchase land for its projects.

But the Sunni Islamist population that Pakistan has pumped in the region, shall become a spoiler for any Chinese advancements as there ought to be a spillover of Pakistan’s ulterior motives. 

But is Pakistan genuinely unable to contain militancy, which has been a result of its own doing? Or is it playing the same double game with China as it did with other international partners where it shakes hands with militants on one side and with international partners on the other. This double game that Islamabad is playing, will not only put the Chinese investment in Pakistan at risk, but such manipulations will also affect the local Shia population who already have felt the brunt of Pakistan’s policies.