The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the largest Armenian American political organization operating in the USA, called upon the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury to demand the blacklisting of Pakistan at the FATF meeting later this month. In a tweet last week, ANCA implored U.S. Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen to direct the U.S. representative for the FATF meeting to demand the blacklisting of Pakistan for “terrorist financing, including its funding of jihadist mercenaries to fight for Azerbaijan against Artsakh.”
This campaign from the ANCA comes in time for a series of meetings by the FATF’s working groups before the crucial plenary session during 22nd to 25th February, which will decide Pakistan’s fate. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is a global terrorist financing watchdog which sets international standards that aims to prevent illegal and harmful activities. Pakistan has featured in the FATF’s grey list since June 2018 with multiple deadlines and delays preventing its fall into the blacklist.
This push for the blacklisting of Pakistan by an Armenian lobbyist group comes in the backdrop of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Reports from Armenia suggest that Pakistani troops did have a huge role to play in this conflict against Armenia. According to FreeNews.AM, an Armenian news source, a telephonic conversation between two locals revealed the presence of Pakistani military in the conflict region.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed territory which is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan, but in de facto control of the Republic of Artsakh since the first Nagorno-Karabakh War in the early 90s. The Republic of Artsakh is an unrecognized state with no recognition from any United Nations member or observer state. Artsakh has close relations with Armenia and uses same currency. On 27th September 2020, clashes erupted on the Armenian-Azerbaijani Line of Control. Experts believe that the fighting started with an Azerbaijani offensive, with the support of Turkey.
Turkey has shown its support for Azerbaijan more overtly, choosing to send two Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups into the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone comprising of around 2,500 men. For this, France accused Turkey of sending Syrian jihadists to fight in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Both Turkey and Pakistan have been historically close to Azerbaijan, being the first and second country to recognize its independence from the USSR in 1991, respectively. Moreover, Azerbaijan and Turkey have openly supported Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir issue as opposed to India.
Understanding the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict
To understand the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a dive into this mountainous region’s history is necessary. The present day conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has its roots in the Soviet annexation of the South Caucus region. As Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia fell under Bolshevik rule, a re-organization of these regions into Soviet republics part of the USSR was inevitable.
During such a reorganization, the Nagorno-Karabakh region, with a supermajority of ethnic Armenians and Christians, was made a part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, instead of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic with which it shared its religious and linguistic culture.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region was a landlocked, self-governing enclave in the Azerbaijan SSR called the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. According to the 1926 census, the population of this region was 89.2% Armenian. The Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was a linguistic and cultural enclave in the Shia majority, Azerbaijani-speaking Azerbaijan SSR. It was a flawed decision by the USSR to not unite the Nagorno-Karabakh people with their linguistic, religious and cultural brethren in the Armenia SSR.
As the Soviet Union was headed for dissolution in late 80s early 90s, fighting broke out between the Armenians in the oblast and the Azerbaijan SSR in 1987. This fighting later escalated to the first Nagorno-Karabakh War, which went on till May of 1994. In 1991, an independence referendum was held in Nagorno-Karabakh, which received 99.98% of the voter favoring it. The local Azerbaijani population, which made up for around 20% of the population boycotted this referendum.
The newly established Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, with the help of Armenia, not only managed to retain control of Nagorno-Karabakh, but also captured seven Azerbaijani districts bordering the Nagorno-Karabakh region. From the early 90s, these districts were under either Armenian or Karabakh control. In the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, Azerbaijan re-captured some of these districts and regained some in the ceasefire agreement.
Thus the story is clear, Nagorno-Karabakh is a region dominated by Armenian Christians, which was handed over to the culturally and linguistically alien Azerbaijan SSR, either due to a mistake or due to a divide and rule policy. Post the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh, with the help of Armenia, established itself as a de facto independent state, which is now self-stylized as the Republic of Artsakh. However, it remains unrecognized because Azerbaijan is recognized to have de jure control over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Armenian lobbying efforts are targeting Pakistan, which has emerged as one of Azerbaijan’s closest geopolitical ally. Pakistan recognizes all Azerbaijani claims in the Nagorno-Karabkh region and Azerbaijan returns the favor in the case of Kashmir.
If the allegations coming out of Armenia are true, that Pakistan supported Jihadists in the Nagorno-Karabakh region during the 2020 war, it would make Pakistan’s FATF case even more difficult. Pakistan hopes to be taken off the grey list in the upcoming meeting, however according to experts, Pakistan is expected to remain grey listed post the FATF meeting later this month.
India’s stance on the conflict
India has employed a measured and neutral approach in its foreign policy with respect to the South Caucus region. At the very start of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 1993, India “followed with great concern the escalation of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh with considerable ingress of Armenian forces into Azerbaijan” and had called for “respecting each other’s’ territorial integrity and inviolability of existing borders”.
In 2008, India voted against Azerbaijan’s resolution in the United Nations General Assembly which inter-alia demanded “the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan”, joining Russia, France and USA. India has time and again sought a peaceful resolution of the conflict through diplomatic channels.
Despite Azerbaijan giving every reason for India to side with Armenia in this conflict, India has remained steadfast on her neutrality. India seeks a peaceful resolution this conflict, even as Azerbaijan whole heartedly supports Pakistan in the Kashmir issue. The principled stance of India on this conflict, calling for an immediate cease of hostilities, is certainly not anything new on India’s part.
But with Modi’s bold foreign policy vision at the helm, maybe it’d not be amiss to expect India to have a more forceful stance on such issues. Armenia is a potential strategic ally against an axis of countries which usually align against India which are Pakistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan. That, along with the ascent of Armenian lobbying against Pakistan in Washington D.C., can probably convince some in India’s foreign policy establishment to push for closer strategic ties with Armenia.