Is the UN sanctions committee asleep at the wheel?

PARIS, France

At the same time Pakistan is claiming to take action against banned militant organizations on its soil to avoid being blacklisted by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international watchdog that monitors efforts by countries in curbing terror financing, and money laundering, it is also asking for monetary relief from the United Nations for leaders of Jamat-ud-Dawa, a front organization for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that conducted the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 174 people. LeT is on the UNSC Resolution 1267 Al-Qaeda Sanctions List.

These developments come at a time when Pakistan is up for a review at the FATF –Pakistan was put on the grey list last year and remains on it. The FATF will meet in February to discuss Pakistan’s case and see if it has complied with objections raised in October 2019 to get off the grey list

In documents (see at the end of the article) from 2019 exclusively available from The Investigative Journal, the Pakistani government approached the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to allow five individuals who are on the UN list of terrorists to get monetary relief from UN sanctions.

Earlier reports indicated that in August 2019 Pakistan had asked for such relief for Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai Attacks. Saeed heads Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) which claims to be a “humanitarian” organization but was designated a “foreign terrorist organization” by the US in 2014. It is believed to be a front for the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was designated an FTO (Foreign Terrorist Organization) in 2001 by the US. There is a $10 million US bounty on Saeed’s head.

Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai Attacks in 2008. Saeed heads Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) which claims to be a “humanitarian” organization and but is known to be a front for the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The UNSC had granted Saeed’s permission as it received no objection from any member of the UN sanctions committee, but further documents have revealed that it is not just Saeed for whom Pakistan has sought this assistance but also for four other individuals, all of whom are known to have terror links: Zafar Iqbal, Haji Muhammad Ashraf, Yahya Mujahid, and Abdul Salam Bhuttavi.

Muhammad Yahya Mujahid, the media head for Lashkar-e-Taiba since 2001. As per the United Nation’s Security Council listing, he is also “associated with Al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban” for participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of acts or activities by these groups.

All of the five requesting documents sent to the United Nations open similarly, presenting their compliments from the Pakistani government to the Security Council Committee and refer to the UN “resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Jamat ud Da’wa and associated individuals, groups, undertaking and entities.” The documents further state that the Pakistani government has received requests from the five Pakistani citizens to allow them to use their bank accounts, which were suspended by the government of Pakistan in compliance with UNSC resolution 1267, and ask the UNSC for an asset freeze exemption to access those frozen funds.

Each such application consists of three pages with the first one having the introductory text described above and then a box that specifies the name, address, bank account information of the individual/entity seeking the exemption, with their permanent reference numbers on sanctions list. The document then gives a breakdown of monthly living expenses with amounts for food, rent and utility charges, medical treatments, taxes, school fees for children, etc. Some of these have figures, others have “nil” written in them. Then the application specifies from where the person intends to receive this money. And finally the last column lists the names of those that the individual is supporting or intends to support with the money released.

Alleged Mumbai attack mastermind and head of Jamat ud Dawa Hafiz Saeed has asked for Pakistan Rupees (PKR) 150,000, which is equivalent to 1000 US dollars. The breakdown says he needs PKR 70,000 for food, PKR 25,000 for medicine, PKR 30,000 for school expenses for his children. It then specifies that the money will be sent to Saeed’s bank account from two sources, first from his pension at the government-managed HBL Engineering University, where he used to teach, and second from his son Hafiz Talha Saeed. The application also says there is a due amount of PKR 1.1 million that has been blocked since his account was frozen.

The second application is of Zafar Iqbal, who is a senior leader and co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as per the United Nations Security Council listing. As per the UNSC record, in 1989 – 1990, Iqbal traveled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with Hafiz Muhammad Saeed to request financial support from the former Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Zafar Iqbal has served in various Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa (LeT/JuD) senior leadership positions and was once considered the LeT/JuD second-in-command. Iqbal has been also involved in recruiting activities on behalf of the group. He has also been involved in LeT/JuD fundraising activities. As per the UNSC record, in 1989 – 1990, Iqbal traveled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with Hafiz Muhammad Saeed to request financial support from the former Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Zafar has also asked for PKR 150,000 (USD $1000), with PKR 50,000 for food, PKR 20,000 for medicine, PKR 50,000 for utility charges, and PKR 30,000 for school expenses for his children. It then specifies that the money will enter Iqbal’s bank account from two sources. First, like Saeed he will be receiving a pension from the HBL Engineering University, where he also used to teach, and second from his son Hafiz Hussain Zafar. The application then also says there is a due amount of PKR 1.4 million that has been blocked since his account was frozen.

The third application is of Haji Muhammad Ashraf who is the chief of finance for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) – a position he has held since at least 2003, as per the United Nations Security Council listing. In 2003 and 2004, Ashraf traveled to the Middle East, where he personally collected donations on behalf of LeT. In 2003, Ashraf assisted Saudi Arabia-based LeT leaders to expand its organization and increase its fundraising activities. According to the UNSC he maintains and manages funding networks in Saudi Arabia.

Ashraf has also asked for PKR 150,000, equivalent to USD $1000. The breakdown says he needs PKR 50,000 for food, PKR 30,000 for medicine, PKR 30,000 for utility charges, and PKR 40,000 for school expenses for his children. It then specifies that the money will be sent to Ashraf’s bank account from two sources. Firstly, he will be receiving PKR 50,000 from Dar ul Andlus publishers. Second from his brother – Muhammad Rizwan. The application then also says there is a blocked amount of PKR 650,000 in the bank account that was frozen.

The fourth application is for Muhammad Yahya Mujahid, the media head for Lashkar-e-Taiba since 2001. As per the United Nation’s Security Council listing, he is also “associated with Al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban” for participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of acts or activities by these groups.

Mujahid has asked for a monthly payment of PKR 100,000 (USD $650), with PKR 50,000 for food, PKR 15,000 for medicine, PKR 15,000 for utility charges, and PKR 20,000 for school expenses for his children. The money will come from his nephew Waleed Essa who will transfer PKR 100,000 every month through a local bank account.

The fifth person that the Pakistani government has asked relief for is Abdul Salam Bhutvi. On the United Nations website his last name is spelled as Bhuttavi, but the reference number corresponds with the UN Security Council (UNSC) listing for Abdul Salam Bhuttavi.

Bhuttavi helped prepare the operatives for the November 2008 terrorist assault in Mumbai, India, by delivering lectures on the merits of martyrdom operations. Bhuttavi is responsible for LeT/JuD’s madrassah (religious school) network. In mid-2002, Bhuttavi was in charge of establishing an LeT organizational base in Lahore, Pakistan. Bhuttavi is also LeT/JuD’s scholar, has instructed its leaders and members, and has issued fatwas authorizing LeT/JuD operations.

As per UNSC, he is a founding member of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and deputy to LeT emir Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Bhuttavi has served as the acting head of Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa (LeT/JuD) on at least two occasions when Saeed was detained. Bhuttavi handled the group’s day-to-day functions during this period, and made independent decisions on behalf of the organization.

Bhuttavi’s application says he seeks an expense of PKR 100,000 (USD $650), with PKR 50,000 for food, PKR 25,000 for medicine, and PKR 25,000 for utility charges. The application then specifies that the money will come from his son Abdul Rehman who will transfer PKR 100,000 every month through a local bank account.

It is unclear yet if the UN approved these applications but analysts have expressed concerns over the Pakistani government even approaching the UNSC for such relief.

“These men are terrorists. They have committed crimes. When criminals are put behind bars, their families should not be provided their pensions. The families are free to work and do whatever they want to earn money but why should they get relief from the state and the society,” says Marvi Sirmed, a well-known Pakistani political analyst, who also works on human rights issues.

According to Ms. Sirmed, the likely reason for the government to request such relief is to ensure that the members of Lashkar-e-Taiba do not defect to anti Pakistan groups. “When many such groups who were close to Pakistani establishment faced a crackdown, their members ended up joining anti Pakistan groups like recently we have heard of them joining ISIS in South Asia. So the Pakistan Army does not want to completely cut them off, and providing them such relief is a strategic decision,” she adds, explaining that it is quite likely that the Pakistani state may want to use these militants for its proxy war in future, even if it is under international pressure to crackdown against them today.

Some also point out that Laskhar-e-Taiba has been one of the most loyal militant group among the different ones that Pakistani state allegedly backs, and therefore this request for relief is a reward of some sort. “The government of Pakistan is keen on providing relief to these men because LeT is its most loyal terrorist group. It wants to keep it that way,” says Dr. Christine Fair, who has written extensively on Pakistan and recently published a book on the LeT called “In Their Own Words: Understanding Lashkar-e-Tayyaba”.

It could be argued that the UN should allow this relief on humanitarian grounds for the families of the terrorists. However, Dr. Fair thinks otherwise. “I think this is absurd. Many of Saeed’s wives are in fact “jihadi widows.” I would ask UN spokespersons whether the UN has ever made such requests for the families of cartels or other criminal organization,” she says.

These developments come at a time when Pakistan is up for a review at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – the international watchdog that monitors efforts by countries in curbing terror financing, and money laundering. Pakistani was put on the grey list last year and continues to remain on it. The FATF is planning to meet in February next month to discuss Pakistan’s case and see if it has complied with objections raised in October 2019.

The FATF had at that time expressed “serious concerns with the overall lack of progress by Pakistan to address its terror-financing risks, including remaining deficiencies in demonstrating a sufficient understanding of Pakistan’s transnational terror financing risks, and more broadly, Pakistan’s failure to complete its action plan in line with the agreed time-lines,” a statement by the group had stated.

Analysts believe that even though Pakistan may have complied with some of the demands of the FATF, and taken some recent steps which reflect a crackdown against terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the request to the UN for relief for these five known terrorists reflects Pakistan’s double game when it comes to dealing with militancy.

“I have long-held that Pakistan should be put on the FATF “black list.” This is yet more evidence for this claim,” says Dr. Fair

Experts urge the UN to put its foot down and not allow Pakistan to give financial access to these terrorists as it may help them continue with their terror activities. It also brings disrepute to the UN itself, as it is letting Pakistan get away with support to terror groups and maybe seen as complicit in this act.

Taha Siddiqui
Taha Siddiqui

Taha Siddiqui is an award-winning Pakistani journalist who fled to Paris, France, after narrowly escaping an armed abduction in January 2018. He has reported for The New York Times, The Guardian, France24, Al Jazeera, Christian Science Monitor, The Telegraph, Arte and others and won the Prix Albert Londres in 2014 for his documentary on polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He also manages safenewsrooms.org, which was shortlisted for the Prize for Independence by RSF Press Freedom Awards in November 2018, and lectures on social media and journalism at prestigious French university Sciences Po.

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