Pakistan’s Covid-19 gambit| HT Editorial
Pakistan is using the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) to secure its terror infrastructure. First, there were reports that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) — which in February, gave Pakistan only four months to deliver on an action plan to curb terror financing — is expected to put off a review of steps taken so far by Pakistan till much later in the year because of the pandemic. On April 20, another report emerged of Pakistan removing almost 3,800 names from a terrorism watchlist for Punjab province. Of these, more than 1,800 names were removed since early March, while the international community was focused on the Covid-19 pandemic. Counterterrorism experts also noted that Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) cited no explanation for the removal of names, which is the standard practice during such delistings.
Pakistan’s counterterrorism practices are notoriously opaque. For years, NACTA’s website only maintained a list for proscribed organisations, with officials asserting that the maintenance of lists of proscribed individuals was the responsibility of provincial authorities. It is not just the listing of terrorists; there is no information in the public domain regarding the trial of the seven men arrested for alleged involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. There is also no information on the whereabouts of one of these men, Lashkar-e-Taiba operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, following his release on bail five years ago.
Pakistan is clearly making the most of reduced pressure from the world community to crack down on terrorism at a time when most countries are focused on defeating the pandemic and addressing its impact on their economies. This is shameful. The let-up of pressure on terrorists comes at a time when Pakistani forces have intensified shelling along the frontiers in Kashmir. India will find it hard to take up these issues with other countries as bilateral and multilateral meetings have ground to a halt. The only option now is for India to keep its powder dry to deal with mischief by Pakistan-based terrorists, and to firm up its plans to increase the cost for Pakistan using terrorism as a State policy.