A deep divide has emerged within the Foreign Ministry and the Pakistan military on the latter’s policy of using terror groups as strategic assets. Though Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, a very highly regarded diplomat, has been pushing for a turnaround in this perilous policy over the last year, the current crisis appears to have really shaken the Ministry. The visible diplomatic isolation of Pakistan, after the Indian Air force strike on terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad’s (JeM) training camp in Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has ruffled the Pakistani foreign service officials. Things appeared to reach rock bottom when Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi failed to attend the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in Abu Dhabi, while Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj addressed the grouping as a guest of honor. Pakistan is one of the founding members of the OIC and its repeated attempts to lobby within the group to withdraw the invitation to India, failed to bring results.
Moreover, the Kashmir Branch of the Foreign Ministry has drafted a paper recommending the government of Pakistan to urgently consider a re-think of the Pakistan military’s policy of training, sheltering and using terror groups and their leaders like Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed or Sirajuddin Haqqani for achieving its strategic goals. The paper has warned that if Pakistan continues with its policy to harbour terrorists, it ran the risk of not only diplomatic isolation, but also being branded a ‘terrorist’ State. The Kashmir Branch has then concluded that the Army will have to be made to become conscious of the fact that such a policy was not sustainable any longer and would finally be detrimental to the very existence of Pakistan.
This can partially explain the events of the past few days. First, pressured by the international community, the Government of Pakistan announced a crackdown on terrorist groups claiming that 44 ‘under-observation’ members of proscribed organisations, including Abdul Raoof and Hamad Azhar, the brother and son of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar, had been taken into “preventive detention” for investigation’. An updated list of proscribed organisations has been realised, and JuD and FIF, declared long ago by US as terrorist organisations, has been included into the list. The paper includes 68 organisations proscribed by the Government, some of them, like the JeM, long ago but still operating in the country. However, the list does not include JeM front groups like Al Badr, recently and openly recruiting for jihad in Kashmir, or the famigerate Haqqani network. And while a little group of madrasa has been targeted, no training camp has been mentioned by the Government nor the Darul Uloom Haqqania ‘jihadi university’, financed by Imran Khan government in KPK last year, has been touched.
The Government added also that at a point jihadis might be hired into paramilitary forces. The action has been prompted, first of all, by the disastrous economing situation of the country, facing the concrete chance of being blacklisted from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) over non-implementation of its recommendations. Pakistan is at the moment on the FATF’s grey list. Of course, crackdowns on terrorist groups and bans on this or that organisations have been announced before and turned to be always eyewashings. Arresting few people, in fact, or banning a group means absolutely nothing. Dismantling a terrorist network means, first of all, dismantling their finance assets. Until now, nothing has been done: banning have been largely anticipated, so bank accounts could be emptied and opened under other names while the organisations were re-grouping under other names.
And this time is not different, just some tragicomic flare has been added to the usual drama. While pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was telling a number of international media channels that the Government is in touch with Azhar and the JeM and even reporting on the bad health conditions of Masood Azhar, the pakistani Army spokeperson Asif Ghafoor told the CNN that “JeM does not exist in Pakistan”. Imran Khan, at this point, is between the devil and the deep blue sea: he has been backed by Army and ISI, has founded openly Haqqania, spoke more than once in favour of ‘freedom fighters’ just to find himself cornered between his sponsors and his cabinet.