Pakistan’s Simulated Terror Crackdown

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.

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