Pak giving up Sajid Mir a devious ruse

When a team from the global anti-money laundering watchdog, FATF, visits Pakistan most probably in the last week of July, they must keep in mind the fact the Sajid Mir case, more than ever, underlines Pakistan’s successful use of terrorists as strategic instruments of diplomacy. It has been done in the past—Khalid Mohammad Sheikh, Osama bin Laden and several top notch global terrorist leaders were given up in exchange for dollars or immunity from global sanctions. What should not be lost is the fact that it took Pakistan over 12 years to secretly arrest and sentence Mir despite considerable international outcry and pressure. It shows the state’s aggressive defiance of global conventions on terrorism. It is clear that only a combination of impending economic doom and tough posturing by international organisations like IMF, prodded by the US, has forced Pakistan to act against a terrorist known to be a key asset of the Pakistan Army.

The goal of Pakistan

There ought to be a similar clarity in understanding that the arrest and sentencing of Mir is not a move by Pakistan to disassociate itself from terrorism but to extricate from grey listing of FATF, get IMF bailout loan and reset its relations with the US, all in one go. Mir was reportedly arrested in April and sentenced in June this year for 15 years of imprisonment, perfectly timed to persuade FATF to take Pakistan off the grey list. Mir, with $5 million reward on his head, is high on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists. He is one of the prime accused in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead, including six Americans.

It was not easy for the army to give up its one of the most protected assets. After the Mumbai attacks, the military and civilian leadership deflected international pressure to arrest Mir, declaring the LeT commander to be dead or hiding in foreign countries or gone missing. But in reality, Mir remained a key instrument of the army to carry out assassinations, threats and terrorist attacks in different parts of the world. A year ago, Mir’s name surfaced in the suspicious accidental death of the Swedish cartoonist, Lars Vilks. Vilks had been facing death threats over his controversial cartoon on Prophet Mohammad. Mir has also been instrumental in threatening several Pakistani bloggers and writers who had dared to question the army and forced to flee the country.

General Qamar Bajwa’s move

General Qamar Bajwa, the army chief, beleaguered from all sides since the abrupt removal of his protégé Imran Khan as the Prime Minister, is desperate to leave behind a positive legacy. He has taken upon himself, and the army, to rescue Pakistan from economic collapse—a part of this exercise was to rescue Pakistan in FATF. At the last FATF meeting, when it was decided to take Pakistan off the list after an onsite inspection, the army was quick to claim credit. The army claimed that it had a special cell working directly under Bajwa to fulfill the conditions set by the global anti-money laundering watchdog, FATF.

A critical part of the work involved in giving up, partly, its many assets in the terrorist domain. The army was not keen on giving up Mir and other primary assets. But when the combined weight of FATF and IMF fell on Pakistan, already struggling with political upheaval and economic collapse, Bajwa had no choice but to pull out his aces– the first one to go was Sajid Mir because an FATF member cornered Pakistan with irrefutable evidence of Sajid Mir’s presence in the country. There are several others, for instance Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammad.

Not to be ignored is another fact–the persuasive hand of the United States which wants Pakistan’s help in reclaiming lost strategic ground in Afghanistan. It is not a surprise that the ISI chief, Lt.General Nadeem Anjum’s visit to Washington this year coincided with the secret arrest of Sajid Mir. The ISI chief’s visit was followed by the new Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto visiting the US where similar assurances were offered between the two countries. Mir’s arrest is part of this reset maneuver between the two old allies. Although there might be a sense of victory in forcing Pakistan to cough up its prime assets, the Mir’s arrest in effect underlines how Pakistan continues to use terrorists as state instruments in subverting international sanctions. The FATF must realise that Sajid Mir’s imprisonment is no indication that Pakistan’s would give up its patronage of terrorist groups in the near future.