ISLAMAB – Washington’s annual terrorism report said Pakistan was doing too little to counter terrorist groups, particularly those taking aim at rival India and the dreaded Haqqani network operating in Afghanistan.
Islamabad bristled at the criticism in the U.S. State Department report, saying it has been relentless in its assistance to Washington as the United States brokered a peace deal with the Taliban, which it signed in February. At the time, the deal was touted as Afghanistan’s best chance in four decades of finding a lasting peace.
Amir Rana, executive director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, which tracks militant groups, said Friday the report is a warning to Pakistan that it needs to do more to target terrorist financing and dismantle terrorist networks if it wants to avoid being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force, the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog based in Paris.
Pakistan, which was put on a so-called grey list by the task force in 2018, was given a further reprieve this month to avoid the blacklist by meeting a series of benchmarks set by the task force. If Pakistan is put on a blacklist, its international borrowing would be severely restricted.
“The tone of the report this year was more critical than the previous year’s,” said Rana. “This is a warning that it needs to do more to stay off the blacklist, to dismantle terrorist groups still operating in Pakistan.”
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry in a statement late Thursday called the report disappointing.
Pakistan has arrested some high profile terrorist group leaders, such as Hafiz Saeed, chief of the outlawed Lasjkar-e-Taiba. However, the whereabouts of others, such as Maulana Masood Azhar, the head of Jaish-e-Mohammad, is still unknown, said Rana. That group took responsibility for the devastating 2019 attack on Indian troops in Indian-ruled Kashmir.
More than a dozen Al-Qaida in the Asian Subcontinent operatives have been arrested in Pakistan’s Punjab province in recent months and this week several were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, said Rana. That would indicate Pakistan’s willingness to tackle some of the militant groups in Pakistan.
“While the Report recognizes that Al Qaeda has been seriously degraded in the region, it neglects to mention Pakistan’s crucial role in decimating Al Qaeda , thereby diminishing the threat that the terrorist group once posed to the world,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.
The State Department report called Pakistan’s help in getting a deal with the Taliban “a constructive role.”
Pakistani officials who addressed the report’s finding Friday asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media. They said that on the one hand, the U.S. wants Pakistan to break all ties with Afghanistan’s Taliban groups, like the Haqqani network. Yet it wants Islamabad to use its influence to bring that group to the negotiating table.
Rana said it was Pakistan’s decades-old association with the Haqqani network, which dates back to the 1980s invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union, that helped move U.S. talks with the Taliban forward.
The next stage of the peace deal, which is considered crucial, is negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict. Those negotiations are expected to take place sometime in July in the Middle Eastern State of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.