Another FATF Reprieve for Pakistan

The ever-blustering foreign minister of Pakistan, Mahmood Qureshi, had declared just ahead of the three-day (October 21-23) plenary of FATF in Paris that it would see Pakistan pulled out of the grey list that carries the opprobrium of terror financing and money laundering. His boast was duly magnified by the country’s media.

The virtual FATF meeting dealt a blow to the foreign minister’s swagger when it decided to continue with grey listing of Pakistan at least till early next year  

But the virtual FATF meeting dealt a blow to the foreign minister’s swagger when it decided to continue with grey listing of Pakistan at least till February next year when there would be yet another review of Pakistan’s compliance with its obligations to take effective steps to end terror financing and money laundering.

What will happen in the February meeting cannot be said but what needs to be emphasized is that there can be no laxity in coming months and years in monitoring terror activities of Pakistan, which are planned and executed under the patronage of its army and its intelligence wing, ISI.

The fact that the army in Pakistan as well as ISI are currently fending off attack by the Opposition parties who have joined together to dislodge the government of Imran Khan, the prime minister ‘selected’ by the army, will not lessen Pakistan’s appetite to continue pursuing its terror policies.

The Pakistani ‘establishment’-army and the civilian government—habitually blame India for all their troubles and create illusions among their people of Indian ‘terrorism’. Currently, India is being blamed for the current standoff between the army and the Sindh police. The men in khaki had staged an ‘abduction’ of the Sindh police chief after they had forcibly entered the hotel room of son in law of PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif in Karachi. Blaming India is the best way of diverting attention from their own wicked policies.

The American troops may be pulling out of Afghanistan next year but no matter what accord or agreement is arrived at with the Taliban in Afghanistan there should be no doubt that Pakistan will get a free hand in a US-free Afghanistan to spread terrorism in the region. After letting Pakistan off the hook, FATF will not act immediately on any complaint of Pakistan spreading its terror network via Afghanistan.

The fact that army in Pakistan as well as ISI are currently fending off attack by the Opposition parties who have joined together to dislodge the government of Imran Khan,  will not lessen Pakistan’s appetite to continue pursuing its terror policies.

FATF has been rather indulgent towards Pakistan since June 2018 when the country was first put on the grey list. It has been given repeated extensions or opportunities to take action against terror financing and money laundering. After nearly two years, Pakistan has still been found wanting yet FATF has risked its own reputation by remaining tolerant of its defiance.

FATF may have been rather lenient on Pakistan by giving it repeated opportunities to act effectively against terror financing but the UN-backed, Paris-based body did not bestow the same favour on Iran and North Korea, which have been condemned to the black list that virtually blocks all international financial aid. Pakistan has managed FATF’s extreme step with the help of its all-weather friend China and Turkey, its new-found ally in a radicalised Islamic world. Saudi Arabia and Malaysia too have been coming to the rescue of Pakistan, though efforts to win over the US and European members have failed.

But there are other factors that should worry Pakistan. Staying in the grey list–though not a new experience for Pakistan– does not help the country retrieve its long-held image as the epicentre of global terrorism. Pakistan needs to desperately come out of the FATF doghouse. It has tried hard but with no success so far to put the terror tag on India. The so-called evidence that Pakistan fabricates against India has failed to be noticed by the world.

Weeks before the FATF meeting, Pakistan had hired a US lobby firm that made wild claims of its proximity to various governments and its record of ‘winning results’ on complex issues. The services of the firm come at a high price which the nearly bankrupt, cash-starved country can ill afford.

Weeks before the FATF meeting, Pakistan had hired a US lobby firm that made wild claims of its proximity to various governments and its record of ‘winning results’ on complex issues.

It would have certainly saved the millions of dollars paid to the US lobbyists if Pakistan had the good sense of realising that its game of aiding and abetting cross border terrorism had become counter-productive and harmed it much more than the countries targeted.

It is hard to believe that the rulers of Pakistan are so naïve or so arrogant that they believe their cosmetic and misleading steps in the name of containing and mitigating the curse of terror would carry conviction in the outside world, particularly with a global monitoring body like FATF.

Before presenting itself to FATF scrutiny, Pakistan had done two things which it imagined would bail it out: Last August, Pakistan announced that it had put the names of 88 banned groups and their leaders on sanctions list. The names included the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai terror mastermind and JuD chief Hafiz Saeed, JeM founder Masood Azhar and the fugitive Indian underworld don Dawood Ibrahim now living in ISI guarded havens in Pakistan.

Illusory ‘actions’ against prized terror possessions like the three mentioned above cannot fool the world. Regardless of whether men like these have been ‘sanctioned’ or jailed or whatever, they face no obstruction in continuing with their nefarious activities. They have the tacit freedom to operate from ‘jails’ which are not of the ordinary places of incarceration but houses that are ‘guarded’ by security personnel who are not expected to question their movements inside or outside the ‘jail’. Also to be noted is the fact that no lawyer is willing to stand against terror leaders in a court.

As part of the sanctions, the bank accounts of the terror leaders are supposedly frozen, but that does not mean their finances are choked. In one case, the courts had actually allowed one of them to operate the bank account to meet his routine expenses. In another case, though it goes back to a few years, one of the ‘jailed’ terror masterminds was able to sire a child when he was said to be confined to a solitary cell. As part of its hoodwinking exercise, Pakistan had released a list of nearly 8000 terrorists but the names of about of half of them disappeared mysteriously. No wonder, Pakistan’s hope of removal from the grey list was dashed.

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Journalist, South Asian Analyst