• Wednesday, May 29, 2024


UK panel explores ‘rebrand’ of Pakistan away from terrorism

Pakistan’s prime minster Imran Khan (Photo: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

By: Sarwar Alam

A panel of academics and South Asia experts from around the world explored the prospect of a “rebrand” of Pakistan away from an ideology of jihad and terrorism, with the Pakistani diaspora playing some role in such a move.

Reimagining Pakistan: A Global Perspective, organised by the Jammu Kashmir Study Centre UK think tank and the Indian National Students Association (INSA) UK in London on Saturday, highlighted that Pakistan’s so-called “jihad strategy” dates back to 1947 when it tried to “forcibly annex Kashmir”.

The panelists were in general agreement that Pakistan risks becoming increasingly isolated in the wake of its recent grey-listing by the global money laundering watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) unless some urgent steps are taken and that China could act as a counter-weight, given its own economic interests in the region.

Putting Pakistan on notice, the Paris-based FATF in October warned it will be blacklisted if it does not control terror funding by February 2020, voicing serious concern over that country’s failure to deliver on most of its 27 targets.

The FATF gave the warning to Pakistan at its five-day plenary held in Paris, while deciding to again put the country on the ‘Grey List’.

Since Pakistan continues to be in the FATF Grey List, it would be very difficult for the country to get financial aid from the IMF, the World Bank, ADB and the European Union. There is also the risk of reduction in rating by Moody’s, S&P and Fitch, making Pakistan’s financial condition more precarious.

The FATF plenary noted that Pakistan addressed only five out of the 27 tasks given to it in controlling funding to terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen, responsible for a series of attacks in India.

Pakistan was placed on the Grey List by the FATF in June last year and was given a plan of action to complete it by October 2019, or face the risk of being placed on the blacklist with Iran and North Korea.

“Pakistan has a unique opportunity to reposition itself as a leader in the region. The Kartarpur Corridor is a good start…but it needs to rebrand the country away from the ideology of jihad,” said Seth Oldmixon from the Liberty South Asia, an independent group promoting political pluralism in South Asian.

“It (Pakistan) has been consumed by this ideology and its long-term interests lie in reimagining the country or it risks becoming increasingly isolated and economically destitute,” he said.

In a rare and landmark initiative, the Kartarpur corridor facilitating Indian pilgrims to visit one of Sikhism’s holiest shrines in the Pakistani town of Narowal was thrown open on November 9 by Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan, as part of the celebrations to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Sikh faith’s founder Guru Nanak Dev.

The corridor links Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur in India to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan, the final resting place of Guru Nanak.

The inauguration of the corridor comes in the midst of frayed ties between India and Pakistan following New Delhi’s decision in August to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories.

Dr Christine Fair, a Georgetown University professor of security studies with a focus on South Asia, informed the gathering that the Pakistani High Commission in London had tried to coerce the venue of the panel discussion into cancelling the event.

“That is reflective of the kind of state it is,” she said, adding that a reimagining of Pakistan could happen from within its diaspora, but diaspora communities are not often fully in tune with the realities on the ground.

“Washington needs to cut off all aid because aid is toxic to that state. The longer it stays on the grey list, it gets to bargain with the international community using the threat of terrorism,” she said.

Other panelists, including Pakistani journalist-in-exile and Founder of safenewsrooms.org Taha Siddiqui, highlighted the pressure on the media in the country but expressed hope that voices are on the rise against such a crackdown.

Khalid Shah, Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi, traced the history of “Pakistan’s jihad in Kashmir”, leading up to what he described as the current “cyber jihad” aimed at radicalising Kashmiri youth and glorifying the idea of jihad.

“Pakistan is like a shark in the region…It is an existential threat to its neighbours in the region and countries beyond. The UK should stop all aid to Pakistan,” noted David Vance, a writer at AltNewsMedia.

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