The Pakistani state machinery has been mobilised to carry out an operation against Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) since the start of December 2017. In this operation, no top leaders have been taken into custody by the security forces and no mass arrests of the groups’ cadre have taken place. In fact, the operation’s aim is to shatter the capability of the group to conduct financial transactions inside and outside the country.
The groups’ spokesmen say that in the last 30 days, more than a hundred bank accounts of theirs have been frozen. Although this is not the first crackdown against these organisations — there was a massive onslaught against them in 2008 after the Mumbai attacks — those in power have, nonetheless, decided that this would be a conclusive operation.
At the start of December 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had forewarned the government machinery that if JuD and its associate organisations’ activities — which include fund-raising, and national and international financial transactions through banking channels — continues unabated, there will be impending sanctions from the international community. As a result, the Ministry of Finance sent a secret memo to the provincial home ministries and the federal capital territory administration on December 19, asking them to work out a plan of action to curb JuD’s fundraising activities inside Pakistani territory, and to immediately take control of all the charities affiliated with JuD and FIF.
At that time, the Paris meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global watchdog of terror financing, was still a month away and apparently there were no signs the government in Islamabad had panicked. But, gradually, as local newspapers started carrying news about the upcoming meeting, the government crackdown against JuD gained momentum.
On February 9, 2018, the federal government promulgated an ordinance banning operations of all organisations that were listed as terrorist organisations by the UN. This led to a massive crackdown against JuD- and FIF-affiliated schools, colleges, seminaries, hospital and dispensaries across Pakistan. Although, there have been no arrests, members and workers of JuD are accusing the government and police of harassing their staff.
Nadeem Awan, a Lahore-based spokesman of JuD told The News on Sunday that JuD’s entire public welfare set-up has been halted. He said their dispensaries, hospitals, schools, colleges and water supply projects have either being shut down or taken over by government administrators. In his opinion, this means their working has considerably slowed down. “There were around 50,000 workers employed with us on these projects, which included drivers of ambulances, paramedics, teachers and doctors and engineers,” said Awan.
He added the JuD ambulance service has been suspended ever since the local police stations confiscated their ambulances. “On February 9, the presidential ordinance was issued and, immediately after that, the government took control of our institutions …It started in the capital city and spread to Punjab and other provinces,” he said. “In Muridke, our headquarters were taken over by the Punjab government and its name was changed from ‘Markaz-e-Taiba Muridke’ to ‘Government Health and Educational Complex’ and their administrators began controlling it.”
So far, the government has confiscated 148 properties and assets of JuD and its associate organisations in the province of Punjab. Additionally, “All properties of JuD and its charity arm, FIF, have been confiscated in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan,” said a senior official of Interior Ministry, who wishes to remain anonymous.
The JuD spokesman said that the government operation has also begun in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. “In Balakot on March 10, the government and local police closed our hospitals and confiscated our ambulances,” he said.
Many in the state machinery believe that JuD is committed to welfare work, in fact there are very few who believe that JuD’s role in the region is a cause of embarrassment for Pakistan. Pakistan finds itself cornered in multi-lateral forums about terrorism because of JuD’s role in atrocities such as Mumbai Terror attacks and more generally its role in terrorism in Indian-controlled Kashmir and India proper since 9/11.
Many a time, Pakistani state was saved from complete isolation, at international forums due to the intervention of China. However, this time around, the international consensus against JuD and its role in the regional terrorism was so united that even Pakistan’s powerful backers could do nothing against international pressure.
After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan came under intense pressure to move against the JuD and LeT, the pressure was felt to such an extent that even Pakistan’s closest allies, China and Saudi Arabia, helped India investigate the attacks. Saudi Arabia helped by handing suspects with connection to the Mumbai attacks to the Indian government; and China played its role by formally holding talks with India on the side-lines of UN for assisting it diplomatically.
Meanwhile, Pakistan continued to allow JuD to operate under different names. In the past, Pakistan’s efforts to legally curb the activities of JuD and its affiliate, LeT, have remained unsuccessful. In 2002, the Pakistani government banned LeT under Indian military pressure after the Indian Parliament was attacked. As a consequence, Hafiz Saeed started functioning under the banner of JuD. When that was banned, the leadership and cadre continued functioning under the banner of FIF.
This last organisation was still operating as a welfare organisation when the latest crackdown started. The fact that the core organisation, leadership and cadre of these organisations have always found space to operate in Pakistan is indicative of the fact that the state machinery has a soft corner for them.
As far as latest crackdown is concerned, the civil government and the military are on the same page. Civil government official say that the latest crackdown was launched after consultation with the military authorities who gave full consent.
This is interesting because merely six months ago, the military and its intelligence agencies were in disagreement with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) governmentabout how to deal with the JuD and its affiliates. There was special incongruity on the issue of the collective deradicalisation of these organisations, and their rehabilitation. While some in the intelligence agencies were actively advocating the mainstreaming of the JuD; the PML-N was opposing the idea.
The ruling party’s opinion on this issue took the form of Foreign Ministry and Interior Ministry objecting to mainstreaming the JuD and its affiliates. Both ministries told the Election Commission of Pakistan, when it started considering Milli Muslim League’s (MML) application for registration as a political party, that “mainstreaming” these groups will promote violence in the society as well as becoming a source of international embarrassment and isolation.
Now the PML-N government appears keen to launch the latest phase of the operation against JuD for its own political expediencies. “It has become a matter for their survival as a political entity,” said Khurram Iqbal, an associate professor of security issues at the National Defense University (NDU), Islamabad, and a counter terrorism expert. “In Lahore’s by-elections, the logistics of FIF were used in the election campaign of MML against the ruling party. They need to curb the activities of FIF and JuD as these organisations will be providing logistics to MML in the next elections. The success of the operation is necessary for PML-N to protect its vote bank in big cities …
“Secondly, the government will have to carry out the operation for preserving its international constituency. It has been projecting itself, before the international community, as an effective counterweight to extremist forces, and now they need to do this to protect their image,” Iqbal cited his two reasons for PML-N’s about-turn.
Some experts in Islamabad are sceptical about the success of this operation, primarily because of the undocumented nature of Pakistan’s economy which makes it difficult to put an effective check on the financial activities of JuD and its affiliate organisations. “I am not too optimistic about this operation. The result may not be very different from previous operations,” said Muhammad Amir Rana, a counter-terrorism expert.
There is another and more pertinent reason to be sceptical: the lenient view taken by Pakistan’s superior courts towards JuD and its activities. “The government and military are on the same page as far as going after JuD and LeT is concerned, but the judiciary is a major variable,” said Iqbal of NDU. It is true that the superior courts have many times struck down government orders to put Hafiz Saeed behind bars and blocked government efforts to ban his charities.
Even now, JuD has thought it proper to knock on judicial doors to seek relief. “We have filed two petitions in the high courts. One challenges government actions against our institutions and the other challenges the presidential ordinance under which these actions are being taken,” said Nadeem Awan, spokesman of JuD.
Initially, the idea of launching a protest movement with the help of other religious forces in the country was put forward by some within JuD. But the idea was rejected by the central leadership, on the grounds that the group was not interested in projecting itself to be on the wrong side of Pakistani state. The decision to launch a protest movement would have come at the cost of ignoring too many linkages that the JuD leadership has developed with the state machinery over the years.
Two examples of strong linkages between the Pakistani state and Hafiz Saeed are worth quoting here: Firstly, Saeed himself has been part of Punjab government’s deradicalisation programme. This was run by the provincial government in the South Punjab towns of Bahawalpur, Rajanpur and D.G. Khan. The programme to deradicalise LeT cadres was initiated in 2014 under the supervision of Punjab government. “Around 1,600 to 1,800 LeT members have been deradicalised under this programme,” said Iqbal. “Hafiz Saeed personally used to go to these programmes to explain to the militants that fighting against a Muslim State is not lawful”.
Secondly, more concrete cooperation between the Pakistani state and JuD leaders emerged when Pakistani intelligence agencies sought the help of JuD and LeT cadres in identifying and destroying Daesh cells in Punjab in 2014. Experts say that when Daesh came to this region in 2014, they approached the Salafi organisations and, JuD being the major Salafi organisation in Pakistan, they carried out their first recruitment from its ranks.
“I can tell you that initially all Daesh activists arrested by the Pakistan security forces were former members of JuD and they were arrested on tip-offs from JuD leadership … These people were identified by JuD leadership after which they were arrested,” said Iqbal.
Eight months ago, the military-led intelligence agencies presented a plan to PML-N to bring these militant groups into mainstream politics by allowing them to participate in regular political activities such as electioneering, rallies and processions. However, this plan was rejected by the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif before he was ousted through a court order. Sharif’s rejection found its way into Pakistani newspapers’ front pages after he launched his political campaign to hold the military establishment responsible for his ouster.
Analysts say that Sharif’s rejection story was an afterthought that surfaced because of political expediency.
Despite the former prime minister’s rejection of the plan, the JuD now has a political party by the name of MML which is still not registered as a party by the Election Commisssion of Pakistan. Despite a massive crackdown against the parent organisations, MML has escaped the wrath of the state machinery. “There is no crackdown against us,” said Muhammad Tabish, the spokesman for MML. While opposing the registration of MML with Election commission of Pakistan, the Interior Ministry raised the objection that it was an affiliate of JuD which has a history of engaging in violence in regional conflicts.