Posted on Feb 11, 2021
The appointment of former railways minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad to the post of Interior Minister of Pakistan will ring alarm bells in the offices of security services across the globe.
Despite reportedly describing him as a “peon”, an unskilled labourer or farm worker, Prime Minister Imran Khan recently made the 70 year old responsible for implementing the internal policies, state security, and administration of internal affairs involving the state.
Former Railways Minister Rasheed is known in the west primarily for his reported links to Islamic terrorist organisations, and in particular has been associated with the notorious Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), perpetrators of the November 26th 2008 attack on Mumbai in which at least 166 people, mostly civilians, were murdered.
The group is banned in Australia, the European Union, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and has been sanctioned by the United Nations. Although it has been banned in Pakistan, it is regularly linked with Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and is known to have training facilities in the country.
Following his appointment Pakistani journalist Bilal Farooqi tweeted video footage in which Prime Minister Imran Khan himself appears to link Rasheed with the training of terrorists.
The appointment of a terrorist-linked individual to such a prestigious post as that of Interior Minister of Pakistan in itself raises eye-brows for world leaders who may have to deal with him in future. The move by the Pakistani government also suggests that it is run by Pakistan Army cohorts who decide on internal as well as external policy of the country along with appointments to top posts.
In 2012 Sheikh Rasheed was briefly detained on arrival at Houston airport, reportedly over his connections with LeT and the group’s co-founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, mastermind of the Mumbai terror attack, for which the US government placed a bounty of $10 million on him.
According to Rasheed his phones were confiscated and all the data was obtained from it by the airport authorities.
In 2014 he was removed from a Toronto-bound flight from Pakistan. Canadian Michael Rudder who was shot four times during the Mumbai massacre later said of Rasheed "The fact that a community is welcoming this man to Canada is utterly shocking to me.”
Money laundering and human trafficking activities.
Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), recognised by the UN as an "alias" for LeT, has been implicated in money laundering activities, a common practice for terrorist groups around the world. Bilal Farooqi has also linked Rasheed to JuD UN-sanctioned terrorist Hafiz Saeed.
In December 2020 the group’s three leaders, Abdul Rehman Makki, Zafar Iqbal, and media chief Yahya Mujahid were convicted by a court in the eastern city of Lahore. “They have all three been convicted, all on charges of terrorism financing,” Deputy Prosecutor General Abdul Rauf Wattoo said.
In 1989-1990, Iqbal traveled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, to request financial support from Osama bin Laden, the UN reported in March 2012.
Saeed is currently serving an 11 year jail sentence for financing terrorist operations. Following his sentencing the US State Department tweeted, on February 12th 2020 “Today’s conviction of Hafiz Saeed and his associate is an important step forward both toward holding LeT accountable for its crimes, and for Pakistan in meeting its international commitments to combat terrorist financing.”
He has also been implicated in the kidnapping of young children: this heinous crime was exposed in September 2014 when journalist Arif Jamal, author of book Call for Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba (1985-2014), said “It recruits through families. They have probably recruited upward of 100 babies already. Some people in Pakistan prefer to donate their children instead of money. These newborns are returned to the families, who are then told to make sure they are raised as JuD members. .. There is a scripted act every time Saeed addresses a crowd. During the speech, a man will suddenly walk up to the stage and hand over his child, who will then of course be returned. I remember once asking Saeed who are these people who give him money. His reply was, "Those who give me their babies also give me money."
In a speech in Pakistan’s Parliament, Rasheed disclosed that another Islamist terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), operated a training camp in Jabba in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan. It has been widely reported that JeM was established in the 1990’s by ISI, and that it has had links with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Following its nominal banning by Pakistan it has twice rebranded itself and now poses cynically as a charity called the Al-Rehmat Trust.
Like LeT, JeM has also been heavily implicated in money laundering activities. Both terror groups, along with JuD, were named in an August 2017 report by the Amsterdam-based European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), “Human Trafficking, Religious Indoctrination & Radicalisation.”
Human trafficking, like money laundering, is a criminal activity often associated with terrorist groups.
In 2011, the public opinion researcher Shehzad H. Qazi published an article on the origins, organisation and recruitment of Taliban groups in Pakistan. In that paper he reported that: “In 2009, the Pakistan Army rescued almost 20 boys, most of who had been kidnapped in Swat [a valley and an administrative district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province] by the local Taliban. While some were cleaning dishes in camps, others were being trained to fight in the field or become informants or suicide bombers. The boys had been kidnapped from their villages and some underwent Islamist indoctrination, being told that militant jihad was the boys “religious duty.”
In June 2018, The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Paris-based international terror financing and money laundering watchdog placed Pakistan on its grey list of nations that have been found to be non-compliant on money laundering and terror financing standards.
In late October 2020 FATF did state that despite addressing some issues of concern, Pakistan’s failure to take action against LeT and JeM, as well as other continued transgressions, meant the country would likely remain on the grey list, as some even speculate that the country may join Iran and North Korea in being blacklisted.
The 5-year jail sentence handed down in January 2020 to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi (pictured), chief of operations and military commander of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and accused of being a leading figure behind the 2008 Mumbai Massacre, in which at least 160 died, by a court in Pakistan's Punjab province was welcomed at the time. However it was noted that following a previous 5-year conviction for his involvement in the atrocity he was released on bail, prompting speculation that his detention may have been timed to influence the looming FATF plenary.
However, in late February, when the organisation meets again to review the situation, evidence suggests that nothing is likely to change for Pakistan, at least in the short term.
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