By Dr. James M. Dorsey
June 29, 2018
The Pakistani government’s removal of a
virulently anti-Shiite militant from its terrorism list at the very moment that
an international money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog was deciding
to put the country on a watchlist highlights Pakistan’s struggle to come to
grips with militancy.
The decision by the Financial Action Task
Force (FATF) that was reported by Pakistani media but has yet to be announced
by the group itself also puts China’s ambiguous attitude towards Pakistani
militants on the spot.
It further raises questions about attitudes
of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia attitude towards Pakistani
Like China, Saudi Arabia has adopted
contradictory attitudes towards Pakistani militants, supporting those that
serve its geopolitical objectives while seeking to neutralize militants that
either threaten its interests or are of little value to the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia and China paved the way for
this week’s decision to put Pakistan on FATF’s grey list by acquiescing in
February to a FATF decision to give Pakistan three months to clean up its act.
The grey listing means that Pakistan’s
financial system will be designated as posing a risk to the international
financial system because of “strategic deficiencies” in its ability to prevent
terror financing and money laundering.
Pakistani officials downplayed the
significance of the grey listing, noting that the country was able to float
international bonds, borrow from multilateral bodies, receive or send
remittances or conduct international trade when it was listed between 2012 and
In March, then finance minister Miftah
Ismail told the national assembly that the listing would not affect Pakistan’s
economy and at best cause the country embarrassment.
Pakistan, nevertheless, sought to evade
listing by issuing this month a directive that strengthened its anti-money
laundering and terrorism finance controls.
The government earlier cracked down on
entities associated with Hafez Saeed, an internationally designated terrorist,
who is believed to be responsible for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai in which more
than 160 people were killed.
Pakistani officials suggested that they had
evaded blacklisting by presenting a 26-point action plan that would address
FATF’s concerns in the next 15 months.
The plan promised that Pakistan would share
with FATF its steps to counter the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the
Haqqani network; efforts to halt the transfer of funds to militants via
couriers; work to enhance the capacity of prosecutors; and moves against
illegal money changers and cross border smuggling of currency.
The Pakistani effort however did not stop
the government from removing Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the head of Ahl-e-Sunnat
Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), from its terrorism list on the day that FATF was discussing
Pakistan in Paris.
ASWJ, which is fielding dozens of
candidates for Pakistan’s July 25 elections, is the successor of long-banned
Sipah-e-Sahaba, a virulently anti-Shiite group that has close ties to Saudi
“Some things are natural. It’s like when
two Pakistanis meet abroad or someone from Jhang meets another person from
Jhang in Karachi. It’s natural to be closest to the people with whom we have
similarities… We are the biggest anti-Shiite movement in Pakistan,” Mr.
Ludhianvi said in 2016 over a lunch of chicken, vegetables and rice.
Mr. Ludhianvi sits at the intersection of
both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s two-pronged attitude towards militancy.
Madrassas or religious seminaries operated
by ASWJ in the Pakistani province of Balochistan that borders on Iran have
benefiited from an injection of funds from the kingdom in the last two years,
according to militants.
The source of the Saudi funding remains
unclear but is believed to have tacit government support despite Prince
Mohammed’s propagation of an undefined form of moderate Islam, a cutback in
Saudi funding of ultra-conservative Sunni Muslims worldwide, and the kingdom’s
stepping up its economic cooperation with Afghanistan in a bid to isolate both
Iran and the Taliban.
Saudi ambiguity is matched by a similar
Chinese haziness in its attitude toward Pakistani militants.
China’s sincerity will be put to the test
when later this year the United Nations Security Council is likely to again
debate designating Masoud Azhar, a fighter in the anti-Soviet jihad in
Afghanistan in the 1980s and an Islamic scholar who is believed to have been
responsible for an attack in 2016 on India’s Pathankot Air Force Station, as a
China has repeatedly vetoed Mr. Azhar’s
designation. China shielded Mr. Saeed from being listed by the UN prior to the
Men like Messrs. Saeed and Azhar serve
China’s interest of keeping India off balance as well as the People’s
Republic’s relations with the powerful Pakistani military, which it views as a
more reliable partner than Pakistan’s unruly and rambunctious politicians.
Complicating the equation is the fact that
Chinese and Saudi selective support for Pakistani militants works at cross
China’s focus on India does not threaten
Saudi interests but Saudi support of anti-Shiite militants in a region that is
key to China’s US$50 billion Belt and Road-relative investment in Pakistan
could put Balochistan’s already fragile security at risk.
The question is whether Saudi and Chinese
acquiescence in FATF’s grey listing of Pakistan signals that the two countries
may have second thoughts about their ambiguous approaches to Pakistani
militants. If so, that may be the key to untying Pakistan’s knots in its
struggle with militancy.