Published by Liberty South Asia on November 24, 2019

“Reimagining Pakistan: A Global Perspective”

Remarks delivered by Seth Oldmixon on November 23, 2019 London

Pakistan finds itself in a tough spot right now. But it has a choice: It can either approach this situation defensively, as a threat, or positively, as an opportunity. Allow me to explain: Last June, Pakistan was added to a what is commonly known the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) “grey list.” A list of countries that are failing to adequately address terror financing. This is not the first time Pakistan has appeared on the FATF’s grey list. It was also grey-listed in 2008, and from 2012 to 2015. That path that brought Pakistan to this point, however, dates back even further – all the way to the country’s founding.

There is a popular myth that continues to influence the way many people understand Pakistan’s relationship to terrorism. I call this, “the myth of Charlie Wilson’s War.” According to this myth, terrorism was introduced to Pakistan during the Cold War. This is historically inaccurate.

Pakistan’s first dalliance with terror groups took place in October of 1947, when the emerging country deployed an invasionary force of militants in an attempt to forcibly annex Kashmir during partition. The plan achieved only limited success. Rather than submit to Pakistan’s militants, the Maharaja who ruled Kashmir called for Indian military support in return for which he agreed to sign an Instrument of Accession with India. As the dust settled, Pakistan had only managed to successfully seize control of about 30 percent of Kashmir.

Despite this limited success, Pakistan continued its jihad strategy – both against its own people in Bangladesh, and soon after in Afghanistan. But this was well before the entrance of the U.S. into the region. In fact, Pakistan’s organization of the Afghan mujahideen began in 1974 – five years before the Soviet invasion. As with Kashmir, Pakistan’s jihad strategy in Afghanistan had little to do with the Cold War and much to do with partition. Muhammad Daoud Khan, who took over Afghanistan in a 1973 coup, was a Pashtun nationalist who did not recognize the Durand line – Pakistan’s western border which bifurcates the areas historically populated by Pashtun tribes. By organizing an Islamist resistance, Pakistan saw an opportunity to deter Afghan expansionism in the near-term and, in the long term, to reinforce its security vis-à-vis India by establishing an Islamist ally to the West, providing support for the military doctrine of “strategic depth.”

In both cases, Pakistan saw success in its jihad policy – limited and unfinished in Kashmir, but perfected in Afghanistan, where the Soviets were roundly defeated and the Taliban elevated to power in the 1990s.

In the following decades, Pakistan reinvested in this policy, both in support for the Afghan Taliban and the establishment of a slew of new domestic militias, groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Hizbul Mujahideen among others. These were focused both on completing the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir, but also replacing the country’s patchwork of ethnic and linguist identities with a common national identity based in religion.

It is these domestic groups, more than any others, that have caused Pakistan harm. They have significantly damaged Pakistan both in terms of economic impact, social deterioration, lives lost, and international isolation. Troublingly, these domestic groups have received material support directly from Pakistani officials. For years, the Government of Punjab provided funds to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terror kingpin Malik Ishaq. In 2013, the Government of Punjab allocated hundreds of millions of Rupees for Markaz-e-Taiba, a massive Jamaat-ud-Dawa center outside Lahore. And these are just two of the most egregious examples.

But that was then. Since grey-listing by the FATF last year, Pakistan has taken a number of steps to indicate a change in direction. Pakistan has seized a number of of JuD charities. And in July of this year, authorities in Pakistan registered dozens of new terrorism financing cases against Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed and his associates. Of course, actions against Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its leadership have been announced before. In 2017, Hafiz Saeed was placed under arrest in Pakistan, only to be released ten months later. Even while he was ostensibly detained, his photograph adorned political campaign posters. And in September of this year, Pakistan asked the UN to allow Hafiz Saeed to make draws from his bank account. In this case, U.S. officials praised Pakistan for at least being transparent, but for many people it has given a sense of deja vu.

No reasonable person wants to see Pakistan fail. So, many are likely to approach the current charges with some skepticism, but it will be a hopeful skepticism; and if these cases are carried out with sincerity and transparency, the outcome will be welcomed.

So far, Pakistan has managed to avoid international sanction over its jihad policy, but its time is running out. In recent years, Pakistan has been protected from accountability by China, who sees Pakistan as both a counterweight to India in the region, and a critical component of its neo-mercantilist expansion policy, CPEC. But even China’s patience appears to be wearing thin. China has, in recent years, openly pointed to Pakistan-based training camps as sources of their own terror concerns. Earlier this year, China decided it could no longer stand in the way of the United Nations Security Council designating the head of Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, as a global terrorist. And the current president of the FATF, China’s Xiangmin Liu, told reporters in Paris last month regarding the country’s efforts to curb terror financing that “Pakistan needs to do more and it needs to do it faster”.

And Pakistan has quite a bit to do. In October’s Mutual Evaluation Report cited by the FATF, Pakistan received a “Low” effectiveness rating in 10/11 categories, and was found to be fully compliant in only 1/40 areas. (Largely compliant in only 9/40.)  Pakistan was given an extension until February to achieve compliance, or to face joining Iran and North Korea on the “black list.” This would be economically devastating, as it would threaten not only Pakistan’s critical IMF support, but it’s ability to engage with global banking networks.

As Pakistan moves to satisfy the FATF, it has a unique opportunity to reduce tension and, indeed, reposition itself as a positive influence and leader in the region. To accomplish this, though, Pakistan must look beyond mere technical compliance to a broader reimagining of itself. This reimagining must begin with the state’s attachment to a divisive and exclusionary Islamist ideology.

The inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor is a good start. As is the government’s declared intention to reclaim, restore, and return hundreds of Hindu temples that have been lost to seizure or encroachment in past decades.

But for Pakistan to successfully reposition itself, more difficult issues will have to be addressed. These include the country’s draconian blasphemy laws which, while admittedly extremely politically sensitive, continue to embolden and empower violent non-state actors, undermining confidence in the rule of law, particularly among the country’s most vulnerable communities of religious minorities. We saw the unfortunate ramifications of this in Ghotki, Sindh.

Likewise, Pakistan should address additional fundamental legal issues including the Second Amendment to the Constitution and Ordinance XX (twenty) which, both independently and together, not only facilitate the persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims but cultivate a social and legal environment in which religious exclusivity not only turns against non-Muslims, but Muslims themselves. The National Assembly should also re-consider the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019, tabled earlier this year, which would have amended Articles 41 and 91 of the Constitution to allow non-Muslims to serve as prime minister and president, allowing at least the most basic appearance of religious impartiality in government.

Most importantly, though, the Pakistani state should immediately work to disarm and dismantle not only militias like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Hizbul Mujahideen, but the extremist groups that cultivate them such as Jamaat-e-Islami, which has declared that jihad is the only solution for Kashmir, and announced demonstrations in Islamabad next month to whip up hysteria over Kashmir and the government’s alleged abandonment of “two nation theory.”

Accomplishing all of this won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.

Once of the greatest challenges to Pakistan’s progress will also need to play a key role in facilitating it. Despite the nominal return to civilian democracy in 2009, Pakistan’s all-powerful military still calls the shots. Just this month, the Economist Intelligence Unit concluded that Pakistan’s Army will continue to shape the country’s foreign and security policy for the foreseeable future. [The armed forces in Pakistan closely control the media and carefully shape national narratives.] With its unparalleled influence, Pakistan’s military leadership could help improve Pakistan’s global reputation by reorienting the country away from the ideology of jihad and returning to the vision articulated by Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, in which he envisioned that “Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

It is not clear whether Pakistan will able to make the changes necessary to avoid blacklisting by the FATF in February. Even if it does, though, it remains to be seen whether Pakistan can make sustainable changes necessary to keep from being listed by the FATF again in the future. For years, Pakistan has tried to have their jihad and fight it, too. But it is increasingly clear that Pakistan’s long-term interest lies in reimagining and reorienting the country away from being an ideological state that tries to advance its interests via Islamism and jihad. Unless and until it is able to do so, however, Pakistan will continue to become increasingly isolated, economically underperforming, and internally fractured. Let’s hope this isn’t the case.