FATF guidelines are in Pakistan’s interests

The challenge for Pakistan is to convince global powers and terror watchdogs that the military leadership has taken a step back from its support of jihadist groups, writes KK Shahid

FATF guidelines are in Pakistan’s interests
In last week’s plenary meeting in Paris, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) put Pakistan on its grey list for counter-terror monitoring, sparking belated and superfluous alarm bells. The decision to grey-list Pakistan had already been taken in February’s FATF meet, and if anything, Islamabad only managed to dodge the blacklist, even if the chances of that had been remote.

The Pakistani delegation, spearheaded by Finance Minister Shamshad Akhtar, was to bring forth a plan of action based on which the FATF was to formalise Pakistan’s status. Diplomatic sources and insiders have confirmed that instead of Pakistan actually providing anything constructive, what actually happened was that the 10-point action plan was largely devised by the FATF officials.

Former Senate Chairperson Raza Rabbani epitomised the backlash dedicated to a caretaker setup having taken ‘such a major step’.

“Such a major step, which has financial, political and repercussions on national security should have been left to the new Parliament. This issue will be raised in the upcoming session of the Senate,” he said.

Even so, not only is there absolutely nothing wrong with the caretaker setup finalising guidelines that were largely going to be dictated to Pakistan anyway – because of Islamabad’s own historic duplicitous failures than any imperial tendencies of global powers – the delegation itself featured officials from Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) and the finance ministry.

Pakistan’s lack of seriousness with regards to the “40 plus 9” FATF recommendations can be seen in the last ditch policy announcements before the meetings, ranging from the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance 2018 in February to the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan’s (SECP) Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Regulations, 2018 last month.

However, regardless of where the action plan has come from, the 10-point objectives for Islamabad, which are available on the official FATF website, serve Pakistan’s interests more than anyone else.

The action plan demands curbs in terror financing and on movement of illegal money in any shape or form. It asks for improved federal-provincial coordination between relevant authorities and strict imposition of sanctions against the groups that are designated as terrorists by the United Nations – this, of course, is precisely what the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance 2018 signifies on paper.

Pakistan faces two major challenges if it wishes to comply with the FATF objectives: ability and intent. The former centers around the challenges in curbing monetary transactions in the undocumented economy, with large financial exchanges taking place in cash, which the state doesn’t have the machinery or the mechanism to document.

The second, and indeed more ominous, is the actual intent to take action against terror groups by curtailing their militant and financial setups. This is depicted by the ongoing election campaigning which is witnessing the likes of Tehrik-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) contesting with an Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) approved election symbol, despite having held Islamabad hostage last year and calling for the massacre of Ahmadis and anyone they deem to be a ‘blasphemer’.

Similarly, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) affiliated Ahmed Ludhianvi, Masroor Jhangvi and Muawia Azam are all contesting the upcoming elections. Ludhianvi, the chief of the banned ASWJ, has had his assets released and passport returned, and is set to participate in the elections under the banner of the Rah-i-Haq party.

Another banned outfit that continues to reemerge under new names is the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), with the Milli Muslim League (MML) being its latest political offshoot. And while the chief Hafiz Saeed has reconsidered his plan to contest the elections, and the ECP hasn’t given MML an election symbol, many an independent candidate paying allegiance to this militant conglomerate will be participating in the polls.

This has been touted as Pakistan’s version of the mainstreaming of militants, which indeed has taken place in other parts of the world as well. But the crucial difference here seems to be that there is no Parliamentary support for this mainstreaming and it happens to be a large and proud military project.

What that means is that not only does one not know for sure if it’s genuine mainstreaming or a continuation of the decades old ‘Good Taliban/Bad Taliban’ policy, Islamabad simply has no foot to stand on when it tries to convince the global powers and terror watchdogs that the military leadership has actually taken a step back from its support of selective jihadist groups.

That, in a nutshell, is the major issue facing Pakistan in the lead up to the elections: global isolation looming owing to policies dictated by the military which the civilians are asked to defend internationally.

This is what Dawn Leaks was all about. This is what is prompting political engineering in the upcoming elections. And it is overcoming this, which is Pakistan’s single greatest national interest.