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​Ahead of FATF Meet, Pakistan Knocks on Masood Azhar's Door, Says He Wasn't at Home

By: Arunima

Last Updated: June 03, 2021, 20:08 IST

New Delhi

File image of Jaish chief Masood Azhar.

File image of Jaish chief Masood Azhar.

Pakistan has also registered two cases against terrorists Azhar, Rauf Asgar and Sajid Mir in what is being seen as a bid to get off the watchdog's grey list.

Ahead of the next meeting this month of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global watchdog for terror financing and money laundering, Pakistan has scrambled into action by registering two cases against Maulana Masood Azhar, Rauf Asgar and Sajid Mir— top leaders of the jihadi group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). It has also carried out raids to locate Azhar but, reportedly, unsuccessfully. “They have informed that raids were carried out at Bahawalpur but only Masood Azhar’s wife and a few aides were found at that residence,” officials aware of the developments told News18. Pakistan is likely to officially inform FATF of these steps in its bid to get off the agency’s grey list.

The FATF in 2018 placed Pakistan on the grey list of countries whose domestic laws are considered weak to tackle challenges of money laundering and terrorism financing. The agency was formed by the 1989 G7 Summit in Paris and was charged with studying money laundering trends, monitoring legislative, financial and law enforcement activities taken at the national and international level, reporting on compliance, and issuing recommendations and standards to combat money laundering. Its mandate was expanded to include terrorist financing following the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks in the United States. The watchdog blacklists countries which it judges to be disregarding the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing, calling them Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories (NCCTs). Such an outcome would be a crippling blow for Pakistan, which is grappling with double-digit inflation, high interest rates and spiralling unemployment.

In May 2019, the United Nations designated Masood Azhar a “global terrorist”. He is a fugitive released by India in exchange for passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane IC-814 in 1999. After his release, Azhar formed the JeM and scripted many terror strikes in India. Jaish claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack of February 14, 2019, in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed. Twelve days later, India launched airstrikes on JeM’s biggest training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot.

In January this year, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) judge at Pakistan’s Gujranwala, Natasha Naseem Supra, issued an arrest warrant for JeM chief Azhar on charges of terror financing. This was done after disclosure by Pakistani authorities of his presence in the country. This was a huge departure from the past when Islamabad had refused to acknowledge that Azhar was in Pakistan. India has learnt that a second case was registered against Azhar, Rauf Asghar and Sajid Mir a few weeks ago. India feels all these actions are because of the upcoming FATF meet.

Pakistan had complied with 24 out of a mandatory 27-point action plan by February this year when FATF reviewed the progress. Officials said it has also attempted to meet two other points by registering cases against Azhar, and acknowledging that he is present in Pakistan. “In the June meeting, Pakistan could show compliance in 26 out of 27 points and these raids are to prove that action is being taken,” sources said.

Pakistan is hoping to get out of the grey list of the watchdog after its plenary scheduled from June 21-25. The country could seek more time to implement the 27th point on the action plan citing the Covid pandemic.

The counts on which Pakistan was found wanting in February were:

  1.  Demonstrating that TF (terrorism financing) investigations and prosecutions target persons and entities acting on behalf or at the direction of the designated persons or entities;
  2. Demonstrating that TF prosecutions result in effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions; and
  3. Demonstrating effective implementation of targeted financial sanctions against all 1267 and 1373 designated terrorists, specifically those acting for or on their behalf.

At the February plenary, FATF president Dr Marcus Pleyer had said, “Pakistan remains under increased monitoring. It had made significant progress but some serious deficiencies in mechanisms to plug terrorism financing remained.”

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first published:June 03, 2021, 20:08 IST
last updated:June 03, 2021, 20:08 IST