On March 5, 2019, Pakistan’s Federal Ministry of Interior claimed that 44 ‘under-observation’ members of proscribed organisations, including Mufti Abdul Raoof and Hamad Azhar, the brother and son, respectively, of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar, had been taken into "preventive detention" for investigation’. Though open sources do not have access to the list of members ‘under-observation’, according to the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) Website 70 organisations were proscribed.
Azam Suleman Khan, Secretary Federal Ministry of the Interior, acknowledged that some of the people who had been detained — including Raoof and Azhar — were named in the dossier on the Pulwama (Jammu and Kashmir) attack handed over by India to Pakistan. He asserted, however, "it does not mean that action is being taken against only those individuals who are mentioned in the dossier”. He did not reveal the name of the detainees other than Raoof and Hamad Azhar, stating, “we cannot reveal any more names at this point”. The detentions are at present for just two weeks, and if no evidence is found against the detainees, they will be released.
Significantly, according to a release by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on February 27, 2019, the Ministry had summoned the Acting High Commissioner of Pakistan and had handed over a dossier to Pakistan “with specific details of JeM complicity in Pulwama terror attack and the presence of JeM terror camps and its leadership in Pakistan”. According to a media report dated February 28, 2019, the dossier mentions nine specific instances, in the past two years, when JeM had conducted rallies and religious congregations in Pakistan, to recruit men to the terror outfit.
Interestingly, despite being included in the list of proscribed organisations way back on January 14, 2002, JeM continues to operate out of Pakistan with full impunity and under the direct aegis of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s’ external intelligence agency and the fountain head of terrorism directed against India and Afghanistan. JeM has openly claimed responsibility for several major attacks in India since its inclusion in the banned list in 2002, including the latest Pulwama attack which resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.
Meanwhile, on the same day, March 5, 2019, the list of proscribed organisations was updated and the Jamaat-ul-Da’awa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) were included in the list for the second time. Significantly, the United Nations had declared JuD a front organization of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in 2008, and (LeT) had been on the list of proscribed organisations in Pakistan since January 14, 2002. In 2010, the US issued an executive order against the FIF, essentially the renamed JuD, and named it a terrorist organization. Later, in April 2012 the US declared a bounty of USD 10 million for "information leading to the arrest and conviction" of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the head of the JuD-LeT-FIF complex. Despite this the JuD and the FIF were kept out of the list of proscribed organisations till February 2018. In February 2018, the then President Mamnoon Hussain promulgated an ordinance amending the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, which resulted in the declaration of JuD and FIF as proscribed groups. However, the ordinance lapsed, as the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not bring it to Parliament in the subsequent session, which ended in May 2018. The National Assembly was subsequently dissolved for General Elections. During a hearing in the Islamabad High Court on October 25, 2018, it was disclosed that the presidential ordinance had lapsed and had never been extended. Again, clearly with intent, the list of proscribed organisations updated on September 5, 2018, had 66 organisations, excluding JuD and FIF, which were put on a separate list of ‘Organisations under-Watch’, where they remained till March 4, 2019.
Meanwhile, despite facing a ban LeT, like JeM, continued to operate freely out of Pakistan, carrying out deadly attacks in India and Afghanistan. Most prominently, the outfit was involved in the November 26, 2008, Mumbai attacks, also known as 26/11, which resulted in the death of 175 persons, including 144 civilians, 22 SF personnel, and nine attackers.
Pakistan admitted that the actions of March 5, 2019, were necessitated as Pakistan was facing the possibility of economic sanctions that could result from a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blacklisting over non-implementation of its recommendations. Pakistan is presently on the FATF’s grey list. The impact of sanctions would be disastrous for the country’s crumbling economy, as Pakistan seeks its 13th bailout since the late 1980s, with the Central Bank holding just USD seven billion in foreign reserves.
Media reports indicate that the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) of the FATF, which assessed Pakistan’s action plan in recent meetings, was not satisfied with the progress on milestones set for January 2019, FATF urged “Pakistan to swiftly complete its action plan, particularly those with timelines of May 2019.” Reports indicate that the successful implementation of the action plan will lead FATF to clear Pakistan off its ‘grey list’, while a failure would move it into the ‘blacklist’ by September 2019. FATF had finalized 40 recommendations for de-listing Islamabad from its 'grey list'. FATF put Pakistan on its ‘grey list’ in June 2018. The FATF process against Pakistan had been initiated in February 2018, which had prompted the ordinance temporarily banning JuD and FIF at that time.
Pakistan was under FATF’s ‘grey list’ between 2012 and 2015 as well, but was then removed as, according to the FATF, it had made “significant progress in addressing the deficiencies earlier identified by the FATF and included in their action plans”. The export of terror, however, continued thereafter as well.
Pakistan has long refined the art of the ‘minimal satisfier’, going through the motion of compliance when placed under extraordinary pressure, but ensuring that the infrastructure of terrorism and its strategy of using terrorist groups as instruments of state policy remain intact. There is, consequently, nothing to celebrate in the current rash of arrests and updating of the list of proscribed organizations. The danger these groupings pose in the neighbourhood is in no way going to diminish in foreseeable future. The Government’s actions are a mere eyewash, to help Pakistan escape the immediate threat of sanctions and divert rising international pressure in the wake of the Pulwama attack and the consequent and rising brinkmanship between New Delhi and Islamabad.