The security situation in the country has vastly improved over the past few years due to multiple counter-terrorism operations undertaken by law enforcement agencies and armed forces.
Analysis of data on terrorist incidents shows that there has been a consistent decline in the number of attacks as well as the casualties every year since 2013. Security agencies are continuing with their fight against terrorism in view of the persisting threat from the terrorist organizations operating not only in the country, but also in the neighbourhood, some of whom are being supported by the foreign intelligence agencies that are hostile to Pakistan.
At the same time, scepticism about the intensity, focus, and even-handedness of the counter-terrorism operations has persisted, especially at the international level. Just few weeks back, the global illicit financing watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force, extended Pakistan’s stay on the grey list, which contains countries with inadequate counter-terror financing and anti-money laundering regimes, after reaching to the conclusion that Islamabad had not met the goals set for it.
Now the State Department’s ‘Country Reports on Terrorism 2018,’ an annual Congressionally-mandated assessment of the terrorism trends and the international efforts to counter the threat, painted a rather negative picture of the Pakistani efforts.
It rightly pointed towards the persisting threat and a rather high frequency of terrorist attacks in the past year targeting various segments of the society including government officials, security personnel, journalists, ordinary citizens, community leaders, and importantly the religious and sectarian minorities. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), Da’ish, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) were identified as the major terrorist groups involved in attacks.
However, the worrying part of the report was that Da’ish, referred to ISIS-K, operated from Western Pakistan, and remnants of Al-Qaeda’s global leadership existed here. Hopefully, the government would be aware of the situation and would be working to neutralise them through better intelligence and security operations.
The politically inconvenient part of the report included allegations that “sufficient action” was not taken against “externally focused groups” like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) as they continued to “operate, train, organise, and fundraise” here. It was noted that candidates “overtly affiliated with LeT front organisations” were allowed to contest last year’s general elections. It was further alleged that despite pledging support for political reconciliation in Afghanistan, the activities of Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network were not restricted.
On Pakistan’s counter-terror financing and anti-money laundering actions, it observed that while relevant Pakistani laws conformed to international standards, the authorities failed to uniformly enforce sanctions against UN listed entities and individuals because of which they exploited the domestic financial system. It, moreover, pointed out that hundi and hawala systems continued to operate in the country and authorities’ capacity to detect smuggling by air travel was limited.
Pakistan expressed its unease over the report. The Foreign Office in its reaction said, “Pakistan is disappointed with assertions made in the U.S. Department of State’s Country Report on Terrorism 2018, concerning its counter-terrorism efforts. The report completely overlooks the factual situation on the ground and the tremendous contribution made and sacrifices rendered by Pakistan over the last two decades in the international struggle against terrorism. These efforts have not only resulted in the elimination of Al-Qaeda from this region, but have also made the world a safer place”.
There is no denying that such US reports, besides providing its policymakers a situational analysis, have also served to push the (US) administration’s political agenda, and malign the opponents, while ignoring the misdeeds of those aligned with it. This report is no exception. For instance, as pointed out by FO as well, that while the report mentions the continuing threat from groups like TTP, JuA, Da’ish, and LeJ, it does not mention that this threat was primarily emanating from the ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan and that Afghan government’s non-cooperative attitude towards Pakistan on this issue was a major obstacle towards addressing it. Similarly, India was depicted as a victim in the report, while completely ignoring its destabilising actions not only against Pakistan by engaging in sub-conventional warfare, but also in the region. There are multiple statements of Indian government leaders in which they have publicly spoken about supporting terrorist groups in Pakistan. There was no mention either of hardline Hindu extremists perpetrating violence against minorities in India in the context of extremist violence.
Such issues raise doubts about the fairness of the assessment.
It is important that the government should refute these allegations with the help of verifiable facts and with greater transparency instead of just issuing a political statement. It must be remembered that this report feeds perceptions about Pakistani counter-terrorism actions not only in US, but other countries as well as one of the State Department officials, while speaking at the launch of the report said: “It helps us make more informed judgments and plans about our policies, priorities, and where to place resources”.
The writer is a senior researcher at Islamabad Policy Institute. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org