Counter-Terrorism: The Chinese Loyal Wingman

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January 15, 2021: In an unusual move Pakistan has moved to seize the assets of former Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour. This is part of its effort to keep itself off the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) blacklist. Currently only Iran and North Korea are on the blacklist and that means they have no access to the international banking system and are unable to obtain loans or sell bonds on international markets. FATF has been around since 2000 and its founding members were major industrial nations that, between them, are the international banking system. The gray list and blacklist were established as sanctions for nations found to be tolerating criminal organizations, including Islamic terrorists, using their financial systems to finance illegal activities. Banned activities were money laundering and raising money for criminal activities. Over the last two decades the existence of FATF has played an increasingly effective role in crippling illegal banking activities.

Pakistan was a special case because they had powerful allies, like China, who provided some protection from the blacklist, especially in the UN. China and Russia oppose Islamic terrorism, but they both valued Pakistan as a customer for weapons and other exports. Despite that protection the FATF is closing in.

Pakistan keeps making just enough progress to keep themselves off the FATF black list. Pakistan was on the gray list from 2012 to 2015, which was bad for businesses that import or export or need to get foreign loans or sell bonds. After 2015 Pakistan was still on the FATF list but not designated as dangerous. Being on the gray portion of the list makes it more expensive to do business and is very bad for the reputation of Pakistan and Pakistanis. The situation is worse this time because decades of corruption and government mismanagement have left Pakistan unable to raise enough money for its government budget. This threatens the Pakistani military, which has always taken a disproportionate portion of the budget and does not want to reduce its spending. Being on the FATF blacklist would be a financial and economic crisis for Pakistan. Since China is the major foreign investor in Pakistan, and Pakistan is the largest customer for Chinese weapons, China has much at stake here. Despite that, there is only so much China can do to keep Pakistan off the black list.

China played a major role in keeping Pakistan off the gray list in early 2018 but the odds were against Pakistan staying off the list because it has long been an open secret that Pakistani support for its own pet Islamic terrorists included making it easier for Islamic terrorists in general to do business in Pakistan. The United States gathered evidence to keep Pakistan on the FATF gray list (along with Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu and Tunisia) and eventually the black list. FATF meets every three months to consider new evidence to get nations on, or off, the lists. The U.S. now considers Pakistan a problem in the war against terrorism and not a reliable partner. India and Afghanistan share that view as do a growing number of UN members.

Back in October 2019 Pakistan had achieved only four of the 27 tasks the FATF set to keep Pakistan off the black list. Pakistan would already be on the blacklist for all that but pressure from China got Pakistan another “last chance”. Since 2019 Pakistan has raised the number of goals achieved to 14. All 27 reform goals must be met by the next FATF review in 2021. Since 2016 it was increasingly obvious that Pakistan was not making enough effort to block Pakistan-based terrorist groups from using the international banking system to finance their violence.

Which leads us to the unusual case of Pakistan seizing the assets of deceased Afghan Taliban leader Mansour. He died in May 2016 when an American UAV missile hit his vehicle in southwest Pakistan, an area that was off-limits to U.S. UAVs. A Pakistani general called this a violation of Pakistani sovereignty that must stop. It is now believed that that Pakistanis tipped off the Americans about where Mansour would be, and indicated a UAV missile attack would be protested but go no further and that Mansour's death might be beneficial to all concerned, except Mansour and his loyalists.

Meanwhile the Pakistan government quietly took care of the embarrassing revelation that Mansour was living in Pakistan when Pakistan always insisted they were not providing sanctuary for the Taliban. Yet when the wreckage of the car Mansour was killed in was found, it became public knowledge that Mansour had been carrying one of the new “forgery proof” Pakistanis IDs that depicted him as someone else. In an effort to placate (by deception) the angry Americans Pakistani police diligently followed the evidence and arrested six government employees who had supplied Mansour, and apparently other Taliban, with authentic new IDs and fake names. But by mid-2017 those six government employees had been bailed out of jail and disappeared as had others who had been close to Mansour in Quetta. All this angered the Americans, who had seen the same sort of behavior in the wake of the 2011 U.S. raid into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. The Pakistani military went to a lot of effort to try and hide their connections with bin Laden but it was an obvious cover up and the Americans (and the rest of the world) accused the Pakistani military of that along with the continued support for Islamic terrorists.

In late 2020 a Pakistani investigation revealed that Mansour had used his fake ID to purchase a life insurance policy. It would have paid off if Mansour had died a natural death, but death by American missile revealed the fraud and a Pakistani court compelled the insurance company to turn over the $2,200 in premiums Mansour had paid before his death. Worse for the Mansour heirs was the seizure of five properties Mansour had bought in the post city of Karachi. These were worth $200,000. The court also seized that and other assets are being sought. In going after Mansour's assets Pakistan demonstrated to the FATF that it was doing what it should have been doing for years and had always claimed it was doing. Another Pakistani measure to improve their FATF situation was to make life harder for Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. This action serves a dual purpose. The less publicized one is to punish Taliban leaders who do not follow Pakistani orders promptly, correctly or at all. Since early 2017 a growing number Afghan Taliban leaders, or former leaders, and their families left sanctuaries in Pakistan and returned to Afghanistan. This isn’t a long trip as it usually means goring from Taliban headquarters in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province near the border with Afghan Helmand and Kandahar provinces, to safety in Kandahar city. It’s a four-hour drive (239 kilometers) from Quetta to Kandahar city.

These exiles included those related to or associated with Mullah Omar, one of the Taliban founders and until 2015 the leader of the Afghan Taliban. The problem is that Mullah Omar had died in a Pakistani hospital in 2013 and that was kept secret by the acting head of the Taliban; Mullah Akhtar Mansour. That revelation led many Afghans to wonder if you could trust the Taliban if the Taliban don’t trust each other. Mansour had been Omar’s chief deputy for many years and knew his way around the organization as well as traditional allies like the Haqqani clan, an even more murderous bunch who eventually took control of the Taliban. Because of that anyone close to Mullah Omar now feared their sanctuary guarantee might be revoked at any time so that Pakistan can turn them over to the Americans as part of some deal that restores American aid or prevents stronger international moves against Pakistan, like the FATF blacklist. Despite enjoying Pakistani protection, even from American UAV attacks, since 2002 the Mullah Omar group came to mistrust the Pakistanis and the favorite Afghan Islamic terror group of the Pakistanis; the Haqqani Network.

The Taliban refugees in Kandahar spoke freely of their years in Pakistan and admitted, as have a growing number of retired Pakistani generals and senior government officials, that the army and its intel organization (ISI) have indeed provided sanctuaries for helpful (to the army) Islamic terror groups. The Pakistani military officially denies these accusations and usually blames India, Israel, the United States or all three for inventing and spreading lies. That excuse doesn’t have the potency it once had and many Pakistanis quietly mock their own military for it. Mocking the generals in public is risky and doing in the media can get you killed, kidnapped (and released after you recant) or disappeared (for those who won’t recant).

The Pakistani generals needed someone more reliable to run the Afghan Taliban for them. That new leadership was found in the Haqqani Network. This is a group of Islamic terrorists operating in the Pushtun tribal areas along the Afghan border. Founder Jalaluddin Haqqani was a major player during the 1980s war over the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. He joined the Taliban in 1995, and became a senior official. But after 2001 he gradually grew apart from Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The Haqqani Network has survived by being the most obedient Afghan ally of Pakistan. That means no terror attacks in Pakistan and, when called on, carrying out specific attacks that Pakistani intelligence (ISI) wants carried out in Afghanistan. Jalaluddin Haqqani died in 2014 and his successor continued to cooperate with the Taliban and maintain subservience to ISI. Because Jalaluddin Haqqani helped Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders escape Afghanistan in 2001 there has always been a sense of mutual dependence. For that reason, Haqqani leaders were able to help fix the 2015-16 power struggle within the Taliban and thwart (but not stop) the recruiting efforts of ISIL. Given that Haqqani works for ISI, Pakistan is believed to have played a role the growing Afghan Taliban willingness to negotiate a peace deal with the Afghan government.

 


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