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Pakistan Still Seen As ‘Safe Haven’ For Regional Militant Groups

FILE: Pakistani army tanks form a column during a ground military operation in Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.
FILE: Pakistani army tanks form a column during a ground military operation in Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan.

A U.S. government report has noted that despite some counterterrorism measures, Pakistan still remains a sanctuary for Islamist militant groups focused on attacks inside its South Asian neighbors.

Pakistan remained a safe harbor for other regionally focused terrorist groups,” noted the U.S. State Department’s Annual Country Report on Terrorism 2019, which was released on June 24.

“It allowed groups targeting Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and affiliated HQN [Haqqani network], as well as groups targeting India, including LeT [Lashkar-e Tayyiba] its affiliated front organizations, and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), to operate from its territory,” the report added.

Islamabad, however, rejected the findings. “We are disappointed,” said a June 25 statement by the Pakistani Foreign Affairs Ministry. “[The report] is self-contradictory and selective in its characterization of Pakistan’s efforts for countering terrorism and terrorist financing.”

The U.S. report noted that despite committing to “ensure that no armed militias are allowed to function in the country,” under its counterterrorism National Action Plan, Islamabad has done little to prevent LeT, JeM, and the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban’s most dangerous militant wing, from operating from its territory.

“The government and military acted inconsistently with respect to terrorist safe havens throughout the country,” the report said. “Authorities did not take sufficient action to stop certain terrorist groups and individuals from openly operating in the country.”

The report said that Islamabad failed to act against known terrorists. “JeM founder and UN-designated terrorist Masood Azhar and 2008 Mumbai attack ‘project manager’ Sajid Mir, both of whom are believed to remain free in Pakistan,” it noted.

The State Department acknowledged that while Pakistan faced some terrorist attacks their overall number and the casualties from them continued to decline compared with 2018. “Pakistani military and security forces undertook counterterrorism operations against groups that conducted attacks within Pakistan, such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS-K [Islamic State Khorasan], and the Balochistan Liberation Army,” the report said.

In recent years Islamabad has consistently struggled with pressure and demands from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global financial watchdog, which keeps Pakistan on its “gray list.” “Pakistan made some progress toward meeting the Action Plan requirements for the FATF, allowing it to avoid being blacklisted, but did not complete all Action Plan items in 2019,” the report said.

The report also noted some “modest steps” Islamabad took last year to restrain the LeT and JeM from launching attacks in India by going after their finances. “Pakistan took action against some externally focused groups, including indicting Lashkar e-Tayyiba founder Hafiz Saeed and associates in three separate terrorism financing cases,” the report noted.

Washington also highlighted Islamabad’s contribution to the ongoing Afghan peace process in neighboring Afghanistan. “Pakistan] did make some positive contributions to the Afghanistan peace process, such as encouraging Taliban reductions in violence,” it said.

Islamabad, however, challenged the report’s findings. “We reject any insinuation about any safe haven. Pakistan will not allow any group or entity to use its territory against any country,” the Pakistani foreign office said. “On the contrary, it is Pakistan that faces the threat of terrorism from externally based and foreign sponsored groups, like the TTP, ISIS-K, and others.”

In January 2018, Washington suspended most of its security assistance to Islamabad “over its failure to adequately address the threat posed by militant and terrorist groups operating on Pakistani soil.”

The aid remained suspended last year.

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