By Imtiaz Gul
In the post Pulwama stand-off, Pakistan has displayed its tactical brilliance. From the downing the Indian Mig 21 to the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, Prime Minister Imran Khan has won accolades from all over.
But the big question still facing Pakistan is whether all this will result in any strategic gains for a country whose narrative, despite its sufferings, remains as unattractive and dogged as that of the Iranian clerics?
Following formally banning Jamaat ud Dawah (JuD) and its humanitarian arm, Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), the government on March 5 also moved to take over the institutional paraphernalia associated with Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) across the country.
As of today, authorities in Pakistan have said that a nationwide counter-extremism effort has brought under government control 216 religious seminaries and educational institutions run by outlawed Islamist groups. The federal interior ministry has also said that provincial governments have also seized control of 176 mostly health-related welfare facilities, and scores of ambulances run by banned entities.
For optics, this all looks good. But the issue begging a fundamental question is whether semantics will also change? Will the provincial governments, supported by the security establishment, be able to exercise real control over the institutions brought under administrative control.
Let us look back as to what has been happening in Pakistan on this count!
Under former president General Pervez Musharraf several militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Tehreek-i-Islami (TI) and Tehreek-i-Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) were outlawed on Jan 14, 2002, followed by the ban on the shia Tehreek-i-Jafria Pakistan (TJP) on Jan 28.
Two others, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-i-Mohammad Pakistan (SMP), militant outfits of SSP and TJP respectively, were banned on Aug 14, 2001. In August and November 2003, the government added the names of Al Qaeda, Millat-i-Islamia Pakistan,
Khuddamul Islam, Jamiatul Ansar, Jamiatul Furqan and Hizbut Tehrir also to the list of proscribed organizations, many of which were already designated as terrorist entities either by the United States or the United Nations or both.
Another four groups were banned after a gap of about two years – the Lashkar-i-Islam, Ansarul Islam and Haji Namdar Group on June 30, 2008, and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan on Aug 25, 2008.
In addition to these radical relgio-political entities, the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army was placed on the list on April 7, 2006.
The latest additions to the list are the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Rahmah Welfare Trust Organisation (ARWTO), and of course the Jamattudawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat, raising the number of proscribed organizations to at least 70.
On paper this record always looked impressive. Largely it has also constrained space for most of the banned militant organizations. Yet, the seminaries and mosques that many organizations ran under new names (Rehmat Trust for example for JeM) continued to thrive, draw donations, support from local politicians as well as officials.
JuD and its affiliates did the same, including collecting hides and cash donations even in Islamabad – despite the February 2018 announcement that its entire infrastructure had been taken over by the government, only a couple of days ahead of the Paris meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The same happened this year; on the eve of another FATF review meeting, the Punjab government announced to take over the JeM headquarters in Bahawalpur. However well-meaning it may have been, but outsiders took it as an attempt to hoodwink the observers, raising serious questions about the move.
And we should not forget that Jaish-e-Mohammad has been at the centre of Pakistan’s stand-off with India for over a decade; beginning with the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in Dec 2001 to the Jan 2106 Pathankot and September Uri raids, the JeM has been omnipresent – regardless whether rightly or wrongly.
This has haemorrhaged Pakistan’s image all over the world as much as claims of similar acts by Lashkar e Taiba. This gives Islamabad all the more reason to neutralize and disband these organizations ASAP.
How can the state tolerate outfits that continue to hurt Pakistan internationally more than anything else?
Isn’t it about time to terminate the red herring that is being used to drag and muddy Pakistan’s image?
Given the existing desire for doing so, this will be achievable only through a united and pro-active civil-military leadership. They shall have to ‘walk the talk’ through demonstrable indiscriminate actions against all non-state actors.
However, at this point in time, when Pakistani showing its seriousness in curbing extremism and militancy, the International community also needs to fulfill its duty of pressuring India on the latter’s human rights violations in Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK). India and the international community cannot continue to externalize all of New Delhi’s problems on Pakistan.
None of the “global powers” have said much over India’s oppression in the IoK; their economic interests in the ‘1.3 billion India’ far outweigh the interests of a few million Kashmiri Muslims. Yes, they would certainly have raised hell had these this oppression and these human rights violations obstructed their economic and commercial interests.
In conclusion, on domestic front, for achieving our development-focused objectives, we do need smart, proactive policies for a process, and not one-off actions under external pressures. We also know that the General Headquarters has been resonating with the realization that economic development was the only panacea for many of Pakistan’s woes. Even a rethink on relations with India as well as on ties with Israel has also been discernible “if we want to transition from a security to normal state.”