The United States Department of State recently published its annual Country Report on Terrorism. The report, which criticized Pakistan for failing to uniformly implement the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations and not taking action against regionally-focused terrorist groups, is important for several reasons.
What is encouraging for Pakistan is that the 2018 report doesn’t carry the punitive language which was prevalent in the 2017 report. For instance, the 2017 annual report notes that “Pakistan did not take sufficient action against other externally focused groups such as Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which continued to operate, train, organize, and fundraise in Pakistan.” In the 2018 report, however, Pakistan’s action against the JeM and LeT is described in terms of the groups still retaining their “capability and intent to target Indian and Afghan targets.” Still, the report considers Pakistan’s actions to contain regionally focused groups ineffective.
Islamabad, for its part, claims that the country has taken credible action against India-focused militant groups. During the last six months, Pakistan’s prime minister has not only condemned individuals and groups trying to endorse the use of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, but has also termed it a threat to regional peace and Pakistan’s efforts to highlight the issue internationally.
However, beyond rhetoric, there appears no convincing evidence that could suggest that Pakistan has choked India-focused groups’ operational capability or capacity to act in the future. Arguably, the focus on Pakistan’s part appears to be aimed at placing the group away from the media’s glare and signifying small steps against these groups’ activities as part of the state’s broad plan to defang the organizations.
Moreover, the report’s content largely focuses on reminding Pakistan that a further expansion of the country’s counterterrorism actions can serve Islamabad’s interests effectively. The noted “uneven implementation” of Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism is considered flawed as it remains selective when it comes to acting against all forms of terrorist groups.
While the report may not have an impact on Pakistan’s bilateral relationship with the United States, the findings can be noticed by other institutions such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), where Pakistan’s fate hangs in the balance. Pakistan has another four months to implement major reforms required by the FATF to not only tighten its policy against terror financing but also to show that the country has taken verifiable actions to undermine groups such as JeM and LeT.
The report’s content concerning Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan’s instability largely focuses on the support that the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network enjoy from Islamabad. Interestingly, the report calls the Afghan Taliban a terrorist group that has “safe havens” in Pakistan and still targets U.S. interests. This, to an extent, confirms that for the United States, the issue of Afghanistan remains central in its relationship with Pakistan. Additionally, this also confirms that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s personal rapport, which he developed with President Trump recently, won’t help Islamabad in evading criticism from various other state institutions in the United States.
While Imran Khan and the country’s national security establishment need to work on developing ties that can diffuse international pressures on the country, Islamabad needs to ensure that such acts are followed by comprehensive progress on the ground. Even one of Pakistan’s closest allies, China, which holds the FATF’s presidency warned the country of serious implications if steps are not taken to control terror financing in the country. “Pak needs to do more and faster. Pakistan’s failure to fulfill FATF global standards is an issue we take very seriously. If by February 2020, Pakistan doesn’t make significant progress, it will be put on the group’s ‘Black List,’” said Xiangmin Liu who recently become the head of the FATF.
On the whole, Pakistan took some serious criticism irrespective of the country’s efforts to manage militancy domestically. However, such reports are annual and Pakistan still has the chance to truly implement its plans that Islamabad has long talked about.