The threat of Pakistan being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has been hanging as a sword of Damocles over Pakistan for the past several years.
That sword seems to have been removed in the recently held plenary meeting of the Paris-based anti-money laundering and terror-financing watchdog last week when it acknowledged the “steps taken by Pakistan towards implementation of Action Plan and welcoming its high-level political commitment.”
The FATF highlighted the need for further actions for completing the Action Plan by June 2020.
“FATF members agreed to maintain Pakistan’s status on FATS’s Compliance Document normally referred as the Grey List.”
The Pakistani authorities must have taken a sigh of relief over the decision as India was hell-bent over doing everything it can in terms of lobbying to put Pakistan on the notorious blacklist, which would have grave political, economic and financial consequences for the country that urgently needs help from the international financial institutions as well as foreign investment to resurrect its ailing economy.
Ironically, before the FATF plenary meeting’s decisions were formally announced in Paris, the Indian media had started churning out false reports that China has teamed up with India and other countries to send a strong message to Pakistan to fulfill its commitment to fight terror-financing and money-laundering.
They even construed this twist as a “major shift in China’s position since it has been a staunch supporter for Pakistan within the FATF”.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang promptly quashed the reports and said Beijing’s position remained unchanged in this regard.
“Pakistan has made enormous efforts in improving its counter-terror financing system, which has been recognised by the vast majority of FATF members, it said adding that China maintains that the purpose and aim of the FATF is to support countries' efforts to strengthen institutions against money-laundering and terror-financing and safeguard the international financing system. “We stand ready to work with relevant parties to offer more assistance to Pakistan in this area.”
The four-month breathing space provides an ample opportunity to Pakistan for fulfilling its remaining commitments in this regard.
Before taking further decision in June, the FATF member countries would minutely scrutinise Pakistani actions before deciding whether it deserves to be taken off the grey list.
The conviction of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed in two terror financing cases appears to have played a significant part in dissuading the FATF countries from taking any extreme action against Pakistan.
Saeed’s conviction won praise from the United States with its top diplomat for South Asian affairs, Alice Wells, calling it a “The conviction … 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.”
Though the actions taken by Pakistan to curb money-laundering and terror financing were prompted by FATF decision to put on the grey list but such actions were required for the sake of Pakistan’s own security and national interests.
Pakistan has rendered lives of 70,000 people and suffered financial losses worth billions of dollars in the fight against terrorism.
Pakistan should not let these sacrifices to go in vain.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guettress in his recent visit to Pakistan recognised Pakistan’s efforts to combat terrorism and urged the world to promote the soft image of Pakistan.
In view of growing realisation by the international community about anti-terror efforts, Pakistan needs to consolidate on this global recognition and put the genie of terror back into the bottle and gear its efforts towards achieving economic development.
For the past four decades, militant groups of different hues have been ruling the roost in Pakistan but it is time for Pakistan to get rid of this malaise once for all.
Interestingly, the FATF announcement came the same day when the Afghan Taliban announced they were going to sign an agreement with the United States on February 29 aimed at ending the 40-year conflict and war in their country.
The peace deal between the Taliban and Washington would not have been possible without Pakistan’s help and President Donald Trump had recognized Pakistan’s efforts in this regard many a times.
The US-Taliban deal in all likelihood would lead to talks between the Taliban and the US-backed Afghan government which could eventually lead to a comprehensive peace deal. It is still a long-drawn process but it undoubtedly a major beginning.
A durable peace in Afghanistan would promote Pakistan’s connectivity with the landlocked central Asia, which would spur economic progress in the region. However, the thorny relations between Pakistan and India are the major hurdle in exploiting full potential for economic uplift of the region.
It would be unfortunate for the people of the two counties numbering over a billion that at the time when wind of change for a durable peace is blowing across the region they have been deprived to enjoy the fruit of this change.
Trump is eager to finalise a deal with Taliban to pave the way for the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, where they have been fighting unsuccessfully to put down the insurgents’ rebellion for nearly two decades. Trump could showcase the possible Afghan pullout to win the next US presidential elections, but there is still is a danger of Afghanistan becoming a hotbed for proxy wars once again if peace between Pakistan and India was not made.
Therefore, in order to pave the way for a durable peace in Afghanistan, the US president has to play an active part, either through mediation or through any other mean, to bring the two nuclear-armed rivals to sit across a negotiating table.
Pakistan is required to step up its diplomatic efforts to tell the world that it is now the turn of the international community to play its part to resolve its lingering dispute with India over Kashmir after it made significant contribution towards facilitating talks between the United States and Taliban and showed its sincerity to weed out militancy from the region.
Recent history has shown that instability in Afghanistan breeds insecurity across the region and the world. Pakistan should convince the major powers that the road towards a durable peace in Afghanistan runs through Kashmir.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad