Pakistan still has to do the hard part of combating extremism

In recent days, Pakistan has once again taken action against some extremist groups and sought to demonstrate to the world that this time round it is serious about acting against terrorism. One of the key reasons Pakistan has undertaken these acts is to get off the ‘grey list’ of FATF (Financial Action Task Force). The next meeting of FATF is in June and Pakistan would like to demonstrate that it has taken action.

However, as veteran journalist and columnist Irfan Hussain wrote in Dawn recently “this was the easy part and has also been attempted by past governments. But soon, the political bill is presented, and judicial and bureaucratic lethargy kicks in. Those arrested are released due to a lack of evidence as witnesses are often terrified of appearing against vicious killers. And judges, too, have been known to succumb to fear.”

Husain notes that “we’ve been here before. Déjà-vu. Grabbing the suspects is the easy part as they have been free to roam around in public despite being on several terrorism lists. The hard part is to try and sentence them. And the toughest bit is to drain the swamp of the extremist venom that has poisoned the public discourse.”

Further, he states “In Pakistan, an entire generation has grown up thinking it is normal for terrorist gangs to operate freely, apparently with the blessings of the state. So whenever there’s a terrorist atrocity in our neighbourhood, and a Pakistan-based organisation claims credit for the operation, the mantra from the Foreign Office, talking heads on TV, and much of the public is: ‘where’s the proof?’”

Hussain quotes a very senior air force officer who when asked “about our use of jihadi militants in Kashmir. “You civilians don’t understand,” he said in an obnoxiously superior tone. “With about 5,000 fighters, we have tied up several divisions of the Indian army in Kashmir. Had it not been for our boys, these divisions would have been on our border.””

Further, “By appearing to use militancy as an instrument of policy, we were becoming isolated in the community of nations. Even those who feebly support the Kashmir cause are critical of the unconcealed presence of an array of jihadi groups in Pakistan.”

Finally, Hussain notes that “In earlier FATF meetings, Pakistan had stonewalled by claiming that organisations like the militant Islamic State group, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed fell into the ‘low to medium risk’ category. Really? ‘Low risk’? Now they have been upgraded to the high-risk category where they belong. But as our negotiating team has discovered, the rest of the world is neither blind nor stupid. In fact, Pakistan has been given a lot of time on the grey list to block channels of terrorist financing. Now, the vice is tightening, and if our tottering economy is to avoid a mortal blow, the authorities had better deliver on their promises.”

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