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Boko Haram: A Reflection of IS on Africa

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The terror of the Islamic State (IS) is hardly unheard of in any corner of the world. The tales of their manslaughter are enough to send a chill through bones. A reminder of the barbaric nature of the militant group that elevated it to global notoriety over the past two decades. While the Middle-East; Syria and Iraq more specifically, primarily suffered the carnage, the regional countries were not spared of the nightmare. Pakistan serves as a prime example of the chronic terror and ideology of IS that still continues to wage war-like frenzy. Pakistan continues to fight against the offshoot of the Islamic State, under the banner of ‘Daesh’, that has wreaked havoc in the past years: a spree of the inhuman massacre that has all but surpassed the gruelling era of Taliban in the north-east Pakistan. However, despite of numerous examples of the spreading influence of IS all over Middle-East and Asia, none compares to a singular fragment that started off on a similar timeline when IS loomed the State of Libya. The Nigerian-niched group, notoriously known as ‘Boko Haram’, gripped the county in a vise quite similar to IS in Syria. Though while the Islamic State relinquished over the recent years, Boko Haram still grips the roots of Northern Africa, stretching over a decade of chaos.

Nigeria is arguably the most famous African country in the world. Serving as the parental root of the black diaspora around the globe, Nigeria also stands as the most populous country of the continent while also enjoying the technologically advanced industries like none other in the North African region. What a layman might deem as success and a progressive trajectory, however, was not regarded as such by a particular stratum of the Nigerian society. Early 2000’s marked the birth of Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah, more commonly known as ‘Boko Haram’ ~‘Western Teachings are Forbidden’. A charismatic religious speaker, Muhammad Yusuf, founded the group in 2002 as an academic institution to preach the teachings of Islam though his perspective. He set up his teaching complex in Maiduguri, Borno; a far north-east state of Nigeria. Yusuf’s ideology paced like wildfire, spewing hatred against the western teachings, degrading the culture and accusing the Nigerian government of beingun-Islamic, corrupt and under the influence of the western countries. His hatred pulsated in all circles of Nigeria regardless of age, gender or the socio-economic standing.

Boko Haram steadily picked up the trackage to their eventual eruption in July 2009. The group, still nascent, launched a floundering uprising against the government of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The Nigerian military crushed the upheaval with a severe crackdown; the retaliation killing over and above 800 supporters of Boko Haram. The survivors, including the founder Muhammad Yusuf, were immediately taken into custody to avoid further furore. The victory over the group was nailed to the head when Yusuf died in police custody, presumably diffusing Boko Haram. However, the dismantled group was just the beginning of the most blood-stained decade of the Nigerian History.

The Nigerian regime celebrated the victory over Boko Haram yet the reverie was short-lived. Just a year following the death of Yusuf, one of his Lieutenants known by the name of ‘Abu-Bakr Shekau’ claimed to be the new leader of Boko Haram and was pledged allegiance by the followers. The group rampaged the streets of Nigeria under the newfound leadership of Shekau, murdering anyone who dared to counter their modus operandi. The victims of their blood-thirst ranged from religious clerics; regardless of their religious affiliation, to police officers to politicians. Boko Haram pervaded from its initial roots in Borno towards northern and central Nigeria, launching bombings and suicide attacks on churches, mosques, police stations and transit circuits. The attack that compelled global attention to the group’s escalation was the car bomb blast in the compound of the UN headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja back in 2011. The attack accounted to 23 fatalities along with dozens severely injured.

In 2013, the United States marked Boko Haram as a recognised global terrorist group, projecting a fear of the group’s ultimate transition to the likes of Al-Qaeda. The bad omen proved right as Boko Haram continued its bloodletting over the following years to completely hold the reigns of Borno. By 2015, Boko Haram stood as the only militant group to have stirred such a mass butchery in Africa, adding a tally of 11,000 murdered in the regions of Bama, Gwoza and Chibok while simultaneously spreading wings beyond the Nigerian borders in the neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Boko Haram established their capital in Gwoza as their spread over Northern Africa eerily reminisced the spread of the Islamic State over Syria and Iraq.

Boko Haram shook the world again in 2014 when they invaded the girls’ school in Chibok, kidnapping over 200 girls with the intention of Marriage and settlement. In spite of the global outrage and western pressure for the release of the abducted girls, to date over 100 girls remain under captivity with no trace or hope of return. The hapless state of the country and plummeting power of the Nigerian military is evident by the fact that while the regime successfully regained the capital of Gwoza, Boko Haram continues to flow through Nigeria and advances in its strategies and technology, imminent enough to thrum the military in years to come.

The worst fears of both the western world and the Nigerian government came about in 2016 when the Islamic State announced its budding alliance with Boko Haram. The group eventually split, one part still under the leadership of Shekau while the other going by the name of Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) under the leadership of the Abu Musab al-Barnawi, rumoured son of the late founder of Boko Haram. However, despite of the split, the groups have maintained ties in strategic coordination that has completely sabotaged the defence of the Nigerian army.

Boko haram has repeatedly claimed, in the words of Abu-Bakr Shekau: “We are an Islamic Caliphate and have nothing to do with Nigeria”. Evident from the tone and context that the group has gained enough power and network over the past decade to have a fearless tenor to their violence. Boko Haram has killed more than 30,000 people in its decade-long slaughter and has been the root cause of over 2 million Nigerians being displaced and diffused to neighbouring counties to seek asylum from the terror-spewing dominance of Boko Haram. The bifurcated groups operate more than 9000terrorist cells all over the Nigerian terrain while holding over 1000 natives as captives. Despite of the repeated warnings, Islamic State has found another base in the form of ISWAP after its throttling defeat ad annihilation in the Middle-East. Boko Haram with its terror-paved ideals and sophisticated networks has laid a plush carpet for IS to lay its foundations in Africa and start afresh. Now as ISWAP and Boko Haram gain more footing in the region, military failures allowing more room of expansion and government dilemmas putting a damper on foreign support, a sinister possibility is emerging in the form of a blood-tainted decade mirroring the mayhem faced by Syria.

I am an active current affairs writer primarily analyzing the global events and their political, economic and social consequences. Currently, I’m pursuing a Bachelors at Institute of Business Administration, Karachi Pakistan

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Terrorism

FATF and Pakistan: The Impact of Being in the ‘Grey’

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The recently concluded Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Paris has come out with an expected outcome. It has continued to put Pakistan on the Grey List, demanding compliance again on at least three of the remaining 27-point action plan that was given to the country in June 2018 when it was placed on the list for the second time.

The country’s ‘selected’ Prime Minister Imran Khan, along with a host of intellectuals and media professionals, alleged Indian role behind the decision. Imran Khan went on to suggest that the FATF is acting on political cues and purpose and that will not be helpful for developing countries.

The 39-member FATF is an influential inter-governmental body that formulates and monitors the role of financial mechanisms in the growth and promotion of money-laundering and terror-financing activities worldwide. It has the Black List that leads to direct economic sanctions and creates severe economic difficulties for the nation. Currently only two countries, Iran and North Korea are on the list and that has resulted in a massive financial stress for both of them.

 Since Pakistan has been globally acknowledged as a hub of terrorism and a good number of terror activities across the world, have had their genesis or linked someway to it, one cannot forget the Osama Bin Laden’s link and his subsequent elimination there, it has the dubious distinction of being on the Grey List, thrice. It was on this list for three-years 2012-2015 and again has been there since June, 2018.

Now the very basic objective behind grey listing by the FATF is to change the behaviour of some of the nations, involved in using terrorism as a means of promoting foreign policy goals. It aims to strengthen money-laundering and financing mechanisms so as to alleviate sources of financing to the terrorists, operating in any part of the world. Based on Pakistan’s activities for a long period of time, it has been put on the list twice.

When it was put on the list for second time in 2018, the country negotiated a 26-point plan with the FATF to work on and show meaningful improvement at the earliest. One interesting point is that since Imran Khan has become the PM, the country has remained on the list. In spite of tremendous financial complications, Pakistan has been ‘deliberately’ slow to work on these measures.

While there have been talks of Pakistani economy and diplomacy being hugely affected on account of being in the list for such a long time, the previous experience in 2012 however, had not been that difficult. It was able to secure loans from the IMF and other multilateral financial institutions. It was also able to bank upon its Arabian allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and secured their financial backing on a bilateral basis. Hence, it did not face much problems during that period.

However, situation has changed now. Its political relations with both major Arabian powerhouses is abysmal and that has reasons for its increasing bonhomie with the Turkish Erdogan. While Erdogan is pursuing his personal agenda and using Pakistan as a tool in his scheme of things, Imran Khan has suddenly created a catch-22 situation for his country. By getting too close to Erdogan, he has virtually alienated the Arabs and consequently, his financial support base has eroded.

It has been evident in the two countries, stopping their line of credit to Pakistan and asking for return of loans, before the schedule. Turkey is no financial powerhouse and its President Erdogan has his own personal and diplomatic agendas, very little of them are in common with Pakistan’s geo-political interests. China, the only other country it can bank upon, is more interested in promoting its own brand of debt-diplomacy for which Pakistan, currently is a prime candidate.

An Islamabad-based think-tank has recently come up with a research paper that suggested the country has lost about US$ 38 Billion on account of its listing thrice in the FATF Grey List since 2008-2021 period. Tabadlab, the think-tank worked out the losses on the basis of a decrease in the national domestic consumption, foreign direct investment (FDI) and exports. A large part of the losses has been attributed to a significant reduction in household and government consumption and expenditure.

While an accurate economic analysis on this basis will be difficult and might well be hypothetical. Politically and diplomatically, Pakistan has had to endure a big loss. A continued listing in the FATF, discourages better diplomatic relations with most countries. Also, potential investors and financial institutions will find it uncomfortable to do business with such a country. Further, when the country has acquired a notorious reputation of being home to terrorists from Al Qaeda, ISIS, Lasker-eTaiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and their leaders, banks and financial institutions will not find the place attractive enough to do business.

 To make the situation worse, Pakistan is in a very delicate financial state. Inflation is very high, unemployment is rampant, GDP figures are down while forex reserves are at a very low of US$ 12Billion. The Gross Public Debt has risen from 72% of GDP at US$95 Billion (2018) to 87% at US$112.8 Billion currently. Pakistan’s Debt to GDP ratio currently stands at an abysmal 107% of GDP. Total external debts and liabilities have risen from 33% of GDP (2018) to 45% of GDP (2020). And the political instability is worrisome while the role of Army in making of economic and foreign policy remains, as it had been for decades.

Though PM Imran Khan continues to accuse the FATF of playing politics, it cannot shy away from the fact that globally-acknowledged terrorists, continue to have a free run in the country. To create troubles for neighbouring India, its army and the ISI provide sanctuary, arms and financial support to terror kingpins like Salahuddin, Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehamn and many others.

The politically-motivated widespread support to anti-France protests (probably to please Erdogan), the dilly-dallying of the judicial process for Daniel Pearl killers and a continued brinkmanship against the Indian government, have made situation further difficult for Pakistan. While most of the Pakistani analysts are expecting the country’s likely exit from the list in June this year and are putting their hopes on a phone call by Biden to Imran Khan that could change the fate of Pakistan, it is clear that Pakistan really needs to change its attitude, behaviour and actions to use terrorism as a tool of foreign policy.

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Despite acknowledging strict measures, Pakistan has to stay on the grey-list in FATF

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President of The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Dr. Marcus Pleyer, announced in a press conference held on 25 February 2021 after the four-day virtual plenary meeting in Paris, France, that  “Pakistan remains under increased monitoring,” adding that while Islamabad had made “significant progress,” there remained some “deficiencies” in mechanisms to plug terrorism financing.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-governmental formal decision-making body. It was founded in 1989 during the G7 Summit in Paris to develop policies against money laundering. It is a “policy-making body “that generates the political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in money laundering. It has also started dealing with virtual currencies. The FATF Secretariat is located in Paris. It sets standards and promotes effective implementation of:-

a. Legal, regulatory, and operational measures for combating money laundering.

b. The FATF works to identify national-level vulnerabilities to protect the international financial system from misuse.

Pakistan has been on the FATF grey list since June 2018 and has been asked to implement the FATF Action Plan fully by September 2019. Pakistan has implemented almost 90% of the recommendations; only three out of 27 points are not fully implemented.

Pakistan has suffered heavy economic losses due to being put on the grey-list; according to some estimates, Pakistan has suffered US Dollars 38 billion.

The FATF president noted that Pakistan was working towards its commitment made at a high level to implement the illicit financing watchdog’s recommendations, saying “that is not the time to put a country on the blacklist.”He added that as soon as Pakistan completed the action, the watchdog “will verify the reforms’ sustainability and discuss in next plenary in June.”

However, there are no chances that Pakistan could be put on the blacklist because it has at least three members of the FATF — China, Turkey, and Malaysia — that can sustain all pressures against any downgrade.

The government of Pakistan is committed to fully implementing the action plan, and to date, the progress achieved is admired by other FATF members.

However, FATF is also being used as a political tool against other nations. By reviewing the countries on the blacklist, the new additions are  North Korea and Iran- the West’s adverse enemies. Also,the addition of   Morocco, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and the Cayman Islands, are political decisions. As a matter of fact, the Western world is using international organizations, including FATF, to coerce their political opponents. Pakistan was a close ally with the West during the cold war era, and the front line state on Afghan war and non-NATO ally in the war on terror, yet faced worst sanctions like Pressler Amendments, Kerry Loggar Bill, etc.

Pakistani journalist Adeela Khan stepped up and raised a question asking FATF president Marcus Pleyer why India is not on the grey or blacklist of FATF even after financing proxies in Afghanistan, using Afghan soil to end terrorism in Pakistan, and violating human rights in India Occupied Kashmir. There more than forty banks in India involved in money laundering. The Incident of terrorism in Sri Lanka can be traced back to India. Yet India is not on the grey list or blacklist. India has been playing an ugly role in keeping Pakistan on the grey list. Although the EU Disinfo lab has revealed that Indian state-sponsored media think tanks and professionals play a dirty role in spreading fake news and disinformation against China and Pakistan yet, the world has not realized India’s evil intentions.

A bais and discriminatory attitude may harm the FATF’s reputation ultimately.

Many neutral people ask similar questions and demand justice and a fair playground for all nations, above the political motives and discrimination. The international community may maintain the reputation of International organizations and integrity – merit-based decisions.

On the one hand, Pakistan is trying its best to implement the FATF plan fully, and on the other hand, it is demanded that a fair playground be provided to judge the case for Pakistan. It is expected that in the next plenary session to be held in June 2021, Pakistan will come out of the grey list.

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‘Disturbing spike’ in Afghan civilian casualties after peace talks began

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A family runs across a dusty street in Herat, Afghanistan. (file photo) UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan witnessed a sharp rise since peace negotiations started in September last year, even though overall deaths and injuries dropped in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to a UN human rights report launched Tuesday. 

In their annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) documented some 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries) in 2020, about 15 per cent less than in 2019.  

It was also the first time the figure fell below 10,000 since 2013. 

However, the country remains amongst the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”, according to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

“I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September”, she said. 

At least 11 rights defenders, journalists and media workers lost their lives since September, resulting in many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and even leaving their homes and the country – in hope it will improve their safety. 

Rise in ‘targeted killings’ 

According to the report, the overall drop in civilian casualties in 2020 was due to fewer casualties from suicide attacks by anti-Government elements in populated areas, as well as drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.  

There was, however, a “worrying rise” in targeted killings by such elements – up about 45 per cent over 2019. The use of pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by the Taliban, air strikes by the Afghan Air Force, and ground engagements also resulted in increased casualties, the report said. 

According to the report, anti-Government elements bore responsibility for about 62 per cent civilian casualties, while pro-Government forces were responsible for about 25 per cent casualties. About 13 per cent of casualties were attributed to crossfire and other incidents. 

2020 could have been ‘a year of peace’ 

Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, called on all parties to take immediate and concrete action to protect civilians, urging them “not to squander a single day in taking the urgent steps to avoid more suffering”. 

“2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict”, Ms. Lyons said

The “overriding objective” of the report is to provide the parties responsible with the facts, and recommendations, so they take immediate and concrete steps to protect civilians, she added. 

Ms. Lyons highlighted that “ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire” – a call consistently made by Secretary-General António Guterres and the Security Council

“Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.” 

UNAMA-OHCHR report: Women casualties (killings and injuries) documented between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2020

‘Shocking toll’ on women and children 

The report went on to note that the years-long conflict in Afghanistan “continues to wreak a shocking and detrimental toll” on women and children, who accounted for 43 per cent of all civilian casualties – 30 per cent children and 13 per cent women. 

“This report shows the acute, lasting needs of victims of the armed conflict and demonstrates how much remains to be done to meet those needs in a meaningful way”, High Commissioner Bachelet said. 

“The violence that has brought so much pain and suffering to the Afghan population for decades must stop and steps towards reaching a lasting peace must continue.” 

Attacking civilians ‘serious violations’ 

With the conflict continuing, parties must do more to prevent and mitigate civilian casualties, the report said, urging them to fully implement the report’s recommendations and to ensure that respect and protection of human rights is central to the ongoing peace negotiations. 

It also reminded the parties that deliberately attacking civilians or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes. 

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