Pakistan under pressure as FATF blacklist haunts Islamabad

"I am democracy. I was elected after bagging the most votes in Pakistan and won from five constituencies," Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan recently said while speaking at a function. In the same breath, he declared, "We are safe today because of the sacrifices rendered by our armed forces

Oct 13, 2020

"I am democracy. I was elected after bagging the most votes in Pakistan and won from five constituencies," Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan recently said while speaking at a function. In the same breath, he declared, "We are safe today because of the sacrifices rendered by our armed forces. The reason I did not have any problems with the Army and the military supported every agenda of my government is because of my clean record."

For all practical purposes, it is impossible to tell where the military's rule ends and where Khan's begins. The most recent evidence of the hybrid nature of the current regime came with the rushed passage of legislation aimed at hounding opposition politicians under the guise of countering money laundering and terror financing.

Under the garb of complying with the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Khan's government steamrolled eight pieces of legislation in mid-September that targeted the political opposition. In this effort, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has served its real master, the Pakistan Army's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI).

The robust opposition, led by ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), claimed that their members received mysterious phone calls telling some to stay away from the parliamentary proceedings, thereby paving the way for the regime to bulldoze their way through a joint session of parliament.

The opposition had previously defeated several bills in the Senate, where it has a numerical majority. But by herding together the Senate with the National Assembly in a joint session, and forcing some three dozen Opposition parliamentarians to stay away from the vote, the regime managed to get a majority to piggyback clauses that go way beyond the FATF requirements.

But Khan's troubles are by far not over. He is facing a mounting challenge to his leadership by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an 11-party grand alliance which is going to start nationwide rallies against Imran Khan from October 16. His arch-rival Nawaz Sharif , addressing a Pakistani Opposition parties conference last month via a video link from London, said, "Now, Pakistan has to deal with the shame of trying to meet targets set by platforms like the FATF."

Sharif's statement comes at a time when Pakistan is desperately trying to avoid being blacklisted by the FATF at a meeting scheduled for October21-23. In the FATF meeting in February, Pakistan had gained an extra four months to comply with international anti-terrorism financing norms but was warned that if it failed to fall in line it would be blacklisted. The FATF said it was concerned that Islamabad had again failed to complete an internationally agreed action plan. If Pakistan fails to comply with the FATF directive by October, there is every possibility of getting blacklisted. It will join the company of North Korea and Iran.

In an interview to a news channel last month, Imran Khan said that the situation is "grave." He warned about the perils of blacklisting: "People talk about inflation now. If we are placed on the blacklist, we will experience inflation that would ruin our economy."

So, Imran Khan and his Foreign Minister Shah Mohammad Quereshi are in touch with the leaders of several FATF states including China. According to the Pakistani media, last week Qureshi telephoned his Saudi, Turkish and Malaysian counterparts to brief them about Pakistan's progress to implement the FATF plan of action. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Malaysia are members of the 39-member FATF and their support is crucial for Pakistan to avert any adverse decision during the plenary.

Pakistan had been making frantic efforts to ensure that it is removed from "grey list"; for that, it needs the support of 12 countries out of 39 FATF members. Pakistan approached the friendly countries including Saudi Arabia to inform them that Islamabad's case needed to be reviewed objectively.

"We are telling our friends that Pakistan's progress on the 27-point action plan needs an acknowledgment," Quereshi said yesterday. He hoped that Pakistan would be on the white list of the FATF soon. He said America and some other countries would support Pakistan on FATF.

Pakistan has hired a Houston-based lobbying firm Linden Strategies to push its case with the Trump administration. The lobbying firm describes itself as a "government relations and business development firm providing strategic analysis and advisory to domestic and international clients, including sovereign nations."

Pakistan has been under pressure to prove action taken against the UN-designated terrorists like Maulana Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed, and Zakir ur Rehman Lakhvi as well as international terror organizations like Al Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Haqqani Network.

The US had earlier dismissed Pakistan's claims of acting against these individuals and organizations. The US State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2019 had punched holes in a claim that Pakistan made to the FATF earlier this year: that terrorist Masood Azhar was "missing."

A report in Hindustan Times said that Pakistan was keen to impress upon the Trump administration about the action taken against these terrorists. According to the report, Islamabad wants to establish that there is no hand of Pakistan's "deep state" in Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Afghanistan, that LeT is a defunct organization whose leaders have been charged with terror financing, that JeM's key leaders are not in Pakistan, and that the country has successfully convicted four designated persons and two other senior leaders, along with terror financing cases against 11 designated persons and eight others.

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