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TematicheCina e Indo-PacificoChina-Pakistan axis continues 

China-Pakistan axis continues 

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The China-Pakistan axis plays a central role in Asia’s geopolitics, from India’s rise to the prospects for a post-American Afghanistan, from the threat of nuclear terrorism to the continent’s new map of mines, ports and pipelines. China is Pakistan’s great economic hope and its most trusted military partner. 

Pakistan lies at the heart of China’s geostrategic ambitions, from its take-off as a global naval power to its grand plans for a new silk road connecting the energy fields of the Middle East and the markets of Europe to the mega-cities of East Asia. The latest manifestation of the growing strength of the Beijing-Islamabad axis seems to be coming from the handling of one most-wanted terrorist, who was reported to be dead until he was arrested at the end of June. Except for the fact that his arrest was never made public, considering he had been reportedly dead. According to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Sajid Mir, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) operative who masterminded the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, was born in January 1978 in Lahore, Pakistan. Notably, the FBI, which put a US$ 5 million reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction, records that Mir has skin discoloration on his face, and a scar on his left cheek and his right eye. By Pakistan’s own admission, Mir died in 2016, yet as recently as the end of June the Nikkei Asia reported that Pakistan had arrested Mir to get off the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international anti-terror finance watchdog. 

However, Pakistan’s double standards on terrorism in the case of Sajid Mir were overshadowed by China through blocking of the designation of Abdul Rehman Makki, LeT and Jamaat-udDawa (JuD) leader, as a global terrorist at the UNSC’s Al Qaeda and ISIL Sanctions Committee, also known as the 1267 Committee. Abdul Rehman Makki is a LeT Deputy Commander and brother-in-law of Hafiz Saeed, founder of the LeT. The UN Committee has also declared JuD, the political branch of the LeT, a terrorist front group. Hafiz Saeed was sentenced on 8 April 2022 by a special anti-terrorism court in Lahore, to a jail term of 33 years for “financing terrorism.” 

Resolution 1267 provides for sanctions against individuals and entities that support or finance the acts or activities of ISIL, Al-Qaida, associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities. LeT, JuD, Hafiz Saeed, Jaish-e-Mohammed and its head Masood Azhar, are listed under 1267. India and the United States have been looking for Sajid Mir since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. They did not believe in 2016 that Mir was dead. In fact at that time, David Coleman Headley, a LeT terrorist who later turned approver, told a special TADA Court from a US jail, via video conferencing that, Sajid Mir had been his main contact in the LeT. Mir’s recent arrest in Pakistan confirms the suspicion that he was kept from public view to get Pakistan off the hook with the Financial Action Task Force, which recently retained (17 June 2022) Islamabad on its Grey List, subject to conduct of an on-site visit. At that time, when Pakistan pronounced Sajid Mir ‘dead’, the concern was that his capture could reveal links between the LeT and Pakistan’s ISI. Evidence of Sajid Mir being alive comes from Hammad Azhar, Pakistan’s former finance minister, who reportedly said that Pakistan took measures against Sajid Mir and other designated terrorists that were “satisfactory” to the FATF. 

Further evidence comes from Nikkei Asia, which quotes an unnamed FBI official, who said that Mir is “alive, in custody and has been sentenced” in Pakistan. Another Pakistani official said the “Pakistanis have acknowledged to both India and America that a man called Sajid Mir, who was wanted in connection with the Mumbai attacks, and whom Pakistan had long said was either dead or not locatable … they have actually found where he is.” Pakistan’s response to the Mumbai attacks has been a series of about-turns and pointed efforts to block international pressure to bring the perpetrators to justice. It has failed to take adequate steps to prosecute terrorists including masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai attacks such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) founder Masood Azhar and LeT’s Sajid Mir, according to the 2020 US Country Report on Terrorism. 

The Report states that “Pakistan made limited progress on the most difficult aspects of its 2015 National Action Plan to counterterrorism, specifically in its pledge to dismantle all terrorist organizations without delay or discrimination.” The report recalled how in February and again in November 2021, a Lahore anti-terrorism court convicted LeT founder Hafiz Saeed on multiple counts of terrorism financing and sentenced him to five years and six months in prison. “Pakistan did not, however, take steps under its domestic authorities to prosecute other terrorist leaders residing in Pakistan, such as JeM founder Masood Azhar and LeT’s Sajid Mir, mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks,” it had said. At that time, Makki happened to be among the six who were acquitted by the Lahore High Court of charges of terror funding through a LeT front organisation, Al Anfal. The Counter Terrorism Department of the Punjab Police in Pakistan had filed over forty cases against several members of the JuD, including Makki and Saeed. 

A lower court had sentenced Makki to six months imprisonment. Saeed was convicted in several of the cases for a total of 36 years. He is behind bars at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail. It would be recalled that from 2009 to 2019, China systematically vetoed the designation as global terrorist of Mohammad Masood Azhar Alvi, the leader of the Deobandi ultra-fundamentalist Islamic organization Jaish-e-Mohammed, responsible for a series of bloody terrorist attacks. Only after ten years of vetoes, China finally relented on 1 May 2019, resulting in Azhar being designated as a global terrorist. Last week, China continued to steadfastly support Pakistan and its deep state, by making the not unexpected move of blocking the designation of Abdul Rehman Makki as a global terrorist on “technical grounds” at the UNSC 1267 Committee meeting. 

The US Treasury Department describes Makki as having “occupied various leadership roles within Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization and has also played a role in raising funds for LeT operations.” It is well known that the LeT and JuD cannot operate in Pakistan without the protection and cooperation of the ISI and local police. By protecting Abdul Makki at the UN, as a member of the Security Council with veto power, China in a sense, acted as a proxy for Pakistan. At the same time, this move sends a signal that within the framework of the current international situation, anti-Western (and anti-Indian) feelings so much colour China’s moves to the point that it is prepared to contradict its rhetoric of fighting international terrorism and may in fact protect it. Both China and Pakistan are in fact obstructing the cause of the international fight against terrorism.

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