Aug. 30, 2020, 1:38 p.m.
Islamabad: It can’t get more ironical than this. Exactly at the moment Prime Minister Imran Khan was trying his best to extricate Pakistan out of the notorious list of terror supporters and promoters, he finds himself sinking deeper into his country’s well-developed terror bog.
Reports came out this week that the US and Syria have nabbed 29 Pakistanis who were fighting for the dreaded Islamic State (IS) against the Syrian government. Interestingly, nine of these 29 are women. Now the US is interrogating them to find out who sent them to Syria to fight and whether they were in league with other terror organizations before joining IS.
Pakistan has been on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list since 2018 for playing a pivotal role in terror financing and money laundering. If it does not show the FATF that it has cleaned up terror organizations from its soil, it will be moved into the black list which will entail sanctions from multilateral agencies. The country has been making vague noises about battling terrorism and being a victim of terror groups, but its efforts get undone through evidence submitted by Afghanistan and India about Pakistan’s unbridled support to terror groups and individuals.
The FATF is an inter-governmental body that was established by the G-7 countries in 1989 to fight money laundering. In 2001 it widened the scope to include human trafficking and terror financing. It first included Pakistan in the grey list from 2012 till 2015. Soon enough Pakistan managed to get itself into the list the second time in 2018. Now it wants out as it faces financial sanctions at a time when its economy is floundering and external debt touches new highs. Despite overwhelming evidence in support of Pakistan being a haven for terror elements, China and Turkey have been helping it out.
In March this year, American journalist Lindsey Snell broke the news that Pakistani mercenaries are joining the Syrian conflict in support of Turkey. The civil war in Syria that started in 2011 has multiple actors, countries and sects fighting each other. Snell’s information caused much excitement as this was the first time that Pakistani men in the Syrian quagmire were coming to fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Snell indicated on her Twitter that nearly 1,400 Pakistani mercenaries were coming to support a Turkish-backed militia against Assad. Snell’s information caused an uproar because earlier, Shia fighters from Pakistan had been coming to Syria in support of Assad.
Because of this sectarian background, people took note when the American journalist reported that Pakistani mercenaries would be opposing the Syrian government. In other words, the Pakistani Sunni fighters battling on the side of Turkish militia may end up fighting Pakistani Shia militants on the side of the Assad government.
Over the years Pakistan has become used to receiving the body bags of its militant nationals from the Syrian battlefield as they have been involved since the early days of the conflict. In March this year, news agencies reported that up to 50 Pakistani Shia fighters had been killed by Turkish forces in Syria and they had been given burial in the Iranian holy city of Qom. Pakistanis keen to join the jihad in Syria leave for pilgrimage to the Shia holy sites in Iran and Iraq, take terror training and join Iran-backed groups supporting the Assad regime.
The Pakistani hand in militancy in Syria is not surprising as men from the country have been crisscrossing continents for jihad for decades. Besides the Syrian involvement, Pakistanis have been involved in terror in almost every part of the world including the notorious September 2001 attacks in the US and the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.
Though Pakistan has been an ally in the US-led ‘global war against terrorism’, an aftermath of the September 11 attacks, it continued playing a double game, sheltering Osama bin Laden in the country while sending American troops on a wild goose chase in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains. Funnily, while hunting the Al Qaida militants with American forces, Pakistan also kept providing unstinted support to the terror group-all under the nose of the Americans.
Pakistan has been immensely successful in exporting terrorism. This export has been a favourite with all of its governments irrespective of political affiliations, and also the military. Nobel prize winner Malala’s attacker escaped from a Pakistani jail while the doctor who helped catch terror leader Laden languishes in one.
The infernal state policy tool of using terrorists to bleed other countries, which all Pakistani governments have wielded so successfully keeps coming back to bite the country, as happened during the Pakistan Army School attack. Now countries are closing ranks on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism that piggy-rides on religious fundamentalism which the Pakistani governments and the army have so lovingly nurtured.