By: Anjali Mahto, Research Analyst, GSDN
More than a dozen suspected terrorists on New Delhi’s “Most Wanted List” were killed in various Pakistani cities beginning in 2022. All of them were involved in terror attacks on Indian security forces and other assets. The militants were linked to organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujahideen (HuM), the Khalistan movement, and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM).
Among those murdered were Zahoor Mistry on March 01, 2022, a terrorist affiliated with JeM was involved in the hijacking of an Indian Airlines IC-814 plane from Kathmandu to Delhi in 1999, as were LeT’s Maulana Ziaur Rehman and Mufti Qaiser Farooq who died in 2023 on September 12 and October 01, respectively. On October 11, 2023 Shahid Latif, another prominent JeM operative and alleged mastermind of the 2016 Pathankot attack, was shot dead by three unknown individuals on a motorcycle in Sialkot, Punjab.
The most recent victim was top LeT commander Adnan Ahmed, popularly known as Abu Hanzala, who was assassinated outside his Karachi home in convening night of 2 and 3 December 2023. He was a close associate of terror organization founder Hafiz Saeed and the mastermind of the 2015 attack on a BSF convoy in Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur.
A failed assassination attempt in 2021 on the life of LeT founder and mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Hafiz Saeed, happened in Lahore. This followed a series of assassinations following a similar pattern, anonymous men riding motorcycles targeting militants accused of terrorism in India.
Pakistan on Attacks
Pakistani officials involved in the investigations have linked the assassinations to a hostile country’s intelligence organization, hinting India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Some allege that a hostile intelligence agency has set up a network of local assassins, some of whom are discontented former law enforcement officers, to carry out these targeted executions. It is further alleged that India runs this network through operatives stationed in a Gulf state, most likely the UAE, and also that New Delhi has shared the names and whereabouts of several terrorists with Islamabad over the years, and several have been killed by unknown assailants.
Following a press conference held by then-Pakistan Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah in 2021 in response to a blast near Hafiz Saeed’s apartment in Lahore, Islamabad has kept down the mysterious assassinations of militants linked with the LeT, JeM, HuM, and the Khalistan separatist organization. This is interpreted as an attempt to conceal the identities of the “most wanted terrorists” in India. Pakistan has remained silent on the possible executions of these militants, presumably due to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) pressure. Pakistan has guaranteed the international terrorist funding and money laundering watchdog that it will take credible and long-term measures against terror groups operating within its borders.
Three prominent Let/JeM terrorists were killed in the first two weeks of November 2023, including a close friend of Maulana Masood Azhar and the LeT’s head recruiter, but neither the Pakistani government nor the media have publicly acknowledged them as terrorists. Maulana Raheem Ullah Tariq, a JeM leader and close friend of Maulana Masood Azhar, was assassinated on November 13, 2023 in Karachi. The incident was presented in Pakistani media as the assassination of a local preacher. Former LeT terrorist Akram Khan, also known as Akram Ghazi, the chief of the LeT’s recruitment unit, was shot dead on November 9, 2023 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Bajaur tribal district. In Pakistani media, he was referred to as a “muezzin,” or someone who announces the call to daily prayers. On November 5, 2023, Khwaja Shahid, also known as Mian Mujahid, was allegedly kidnapped and later found beheaded near the Line of Control in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Shahid was a prominent LeT figure and one of the masterminds behind the 2018 terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in Sunjuwan, Jammu which claimed seven lives.
Other terrorists killed in Pakistan by unknown gunmen
- On October 21, 2023 Dawood Malik engaged in anti-Indian actions. Malik was a prominent member of Lashkar-e-Jabbar and had a strong relationship with Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the terrorists most sought in India.
- Syed Khalid Raza (February 27, 2023), a former Al-Badr Mujahideen commander, was assassinated in Karachi. He was connected to Hizbul Mujahideen head Syed Salahuddin and was particularly instrumental in infiltrating militants into the J&K district of Kupwara.
- Imtiyaz Alam (February 21, 2023) also known as Bashir Ahmad Peer, was a commander in the Hizbul Mujahideen. He was killed in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi. He had been in Pakistan for more than 15 years and had a significant part in the terrorist actions in the Kashmir valley. He had been in Pakistan for more than 15 years and had a significant part in the terrorist actions in the Kashmir valley.
- Syed Noor Shalobar (March 04, 2023) accused for recruiting terrorists in the Kashmir valley and collaborating with the Pakistan Army and Inter-Service Intelligent (ISI) of Pakistan, was killed in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region.
- Malik Sardar Singh (May 6, 2023), also known as Paramjit Singh Panjwar, the head of the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) and had been placed on India’s most-wanted list,
was slain not far from his Lahore, Pakistan, house.
- Abu Qasim Kashmiri, also from Jammu and also known as Riyaz Ahmad, was the main man behind the Dhangri assault in Rajouri on September 8, 2023. In Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), he met his demise.
Pakistan as Safe Haven
After the 9/11 attacks, several non-state regions of the world were identified as directly endangering national security. These uncontrolled regions, sometimes known as “safe havens,” provide terrorists and other enemies the space they need to plan and prepare for strikes. Extremists are able to plan, organize, raise money, communicate, recruit, train, and operate in certain regions of the world with a degree of relative safety since they are still either ungoverned or poorly governed.
Since December 2001, the United States Secretary of Defense has considered northwest Pakistan to be a safe haven for terrorists. Many Taliban fighters and al-Qaeda members crossed the border into Pakistan after the Taliban’s defeat in Afghanistan. Specifically, al-Qaeda and other militants looking to attack coalition and American forces in Afghanistan as well as launch operations in other nations, such as India, have made the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, a politically unstable region that primarily operates outside the purview of Pakistani civil and military forces, their center of activity.
Pakistan has been charged by India for sustaining the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir by arming and funding militant organizations and smuggling terrorists trained by the state across the border to conduct attacks in both Indian-administered Kashmir and mainland India.
News reports indicate a growing body of evidence tying Pakistani intelligence to militant groups, some of which are responsible for assaults against US interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Since 9/11, Pakistan has been involved in the majority of important terror plots in Great Britain.
On February23, 2023, India used its Right of Reply (RoR) against Pakistan at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), accusing Pakistan of providing terrorists with a place to hide out. The primary point of contention between India and Pakistan that cannot be overlooked, according to S. Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs (MEA), is terrorism. A nation whose “basic industry” is terrorism is unlikely to succeed.
Pakistan has been accused of state-sponsored terrorism
Pakistan’s participation in terrorism through its sponsorship of multiple designated terrorist organizations has led to accusations of state-sponsored terrorism. Numerous nations, notably the US, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan’s neighbors, have regularly accused Pakistan. Pakistan has persisted in offering sanctuary to a few terrorist organizations that are focused on the region. It allowed organizations that were aimed toward India, such the LeT and its front groups, and the JeM, to operate from its territory. These groups included the Afghan Taliban.
Osama bin Laden, the head of al-Qaeda and the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, was killed by US Navy SEALs during Operation Neptune Spear in his bunker at the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Although Hafiz Saeed, the co-founder of LeT, was indicted by Pakistani authorities in 2020 and given an extra 31 years in prison in 2022, they have refused to release him into Indian custody. Sajid Mir, a top leader of LeT and one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) most wanted individuals, was successfully convicted in Pakistan in May, 2022 on charges of financing terrorism. After that, he received a 15-year prison sentence.
These actions led the FATF to removed Pakistan from the “gray list” of nations identified as having strategic deficiencies in their AML/CFT (Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism) systems in October 2022 after Pakistan made notable progress. Pakistan was first placed on the gray list in 2008 and has remained on it since 2018.
In conclusion, there are concerns regarding the possible involvement of foreign intelligence services in the wave of targeted killings that have occurred in Pakistan, especially involving people connected to terrorist attacks against India. The pattern of these secret operations which is consistent, and the supposed links to organizations such as RAW, point to a complicated geopolitical dimension. As India accuses Pakistan of supporting terrorism on behalf of the state, the designation of Pakistan as a terrorist safe haven continues to be a difficult subject. The recent removal of Pakistan from the FATF’s “gray list” is indicative of the continuous efforts made to resolve issues pertaining to money laundering prevention and countering terrorist financing. The state of affairs highlights the complex security difficulties in the region and the continuous fight against terrorism and the unknown killings are raising questions whether Pakistan is still a safe haven of terrorists.