Climbing out of Pakistan’s FATF debacle

Climbing out of Pakistan’s FATF debacle

Salman Rafi Sheikh,

Last week’s developments with regard to Pakistan’s role in the global ‘war on terror’ have exposed how the general expectation of Pakistan’s anti-terror policies have already gone beyond the normal expectation of simply implementing the UNSCR resolution 1267 that stipulates strict monitoring and screening of financial transactions that are specifically made to support ‘terror outfits’, some of which continue to be seen, at least at local level, as ‘positive assets’, and even ‘national heroes.’

But being ‘gray listed’ isn’t something that Pakistan is having to face for the first time. In fact, Pakistan has a history, which was recently narrated by the country’s interior minister, Ahsan Iqbal, himself in his tweet.

While his tweet was aimed at reducing all the fuss over being ‘gray listed’ and play down its significance, it also showed how Pakistan had failed time and again during last one decade or so in taking right measures against terror outfits and how it has failed to implement a clearly defined anti-terror policy.

According to the tweet, Pakistan had been blacklisted in 2008, and in 2010 it was again put on the gray list. In 2012, Pakistan was against blacklisted, and in 2014 it was put back on the gray list, and in 2015 it was removed from the gray list. In 2018, it has again been put on the gray list, and is facing a possible placement on the blacklist in next few months.

The crucial question here is: if Pakistan has such a long history of FATF’s lists, why has the current scenario gained so much importance?

While some people have argued that such listing could place Pakistan in a difficult financial position, making it harder for the country to tap into global financial market and face a lower rank in debt ratings, none of this happened in the past when Pakistan was graylisted or blacklisted. Why?

Its primary reason is that in the scenario existing a decade ago, Pakistan was more intimately allied with the US. There was no CPEC and Pakistan wasn’t cozying up to the Russians as well. Therefore, no financial and economic sanctions had followed FATF’s blacklisting of Pakistan.

Today, the regional and global scenario is entirely changed. With Pakistan making a gradual shift away from the West and moving steadily to the East, and with the US having completely failed to achieve its targets in Afghanistan despite spending trillions of dollars, the regional scenario puts Pakistan in a position wherein a clash of interests with its otherwise ‘allies’ is inevitable.

The concern that Pakistan’s political circles have shown over being graylisted is against this regional and global scenario whereby financial and economic sanctions can be imposed on Pakistan.

Certainly, Pakistan cannot afford such sanctions. Not only will it have a strangulating impact on Pakistan’s economy but also directly affect the CPEC.

Sensing this, Pakistan was already trying to put its ‘house in order’ before the last week FATF meeting in Paris. Pakistani President issued an ordinance that amended the country’s 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act and placed Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) on the country’s list of banned organizations. It was followed by the government taking over both organizations’ assets, including thousands of staff and volunteers and dozens of schools and clinics.

It is equally worth noting here that it took Pakistan almost 10 years – JuD had been declared a terrorist front group by the United Nations Security Council in 2008 – to act against these organizations and that, too, at a time when Pakistan’s most trusted ally, China, too had started to become slightly uncomfortable with Pakistan’s loosely defined and ‘open-ended’ anti-terror policy.

However, regardless of the US’ underlying reasons for putting Pakistan under pressure and regardless of the steps Pakistan took recently to clamp down on the home-grown outfits, nothing perhaps could be more alarming for Pakistan’s policy making circles than the glimpse of isolation it had to face when China and Russia, too, had to slightly backtrack on their previous support for and acknowledgement of Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war on terror.

This is truly alarming for a country which is highly deficient in having a diversified foreign policy circle. That some of Pakistan’s noted allies held off any resistance meant that there was consensus among them to let some pressure be put on Pakistan and also show the world that they themselves were not going to extend an unconditional support.

Although China has ever since FATF meeting been clearing its position vis-à-vis Pakistan, there is no gainsaying that Pakistan is being left with no options but to develop an indiscriminate policy vis-à-vis terror outfits.

Considering that both China and Russia are deeply sensitive to the spread of militant Islamist outfits in China and Central Asia, the imperative of implementing the UNSCR resolution 1267 in letter and spirit becomes all the more significant.

These steps will help repair the damage done to Pakistan’s relations with China but also place them in a much better position to develop a common regional policy.

This is especially true of Afghanistan, which is nowhere nearing an end, not just because of what the US calls ‘regional support for the Taliban’ but also because of the long-term, countervailing and contingent geo-strategic objectives the US itself is pursuing.

And putting an end to the Afghan war requires a strong regional position, which Pakistan cannot achieve unless it has powerful allies on its side of the table—and to make sure that Pakistan has those allies, it needs to show some sensitivity to their interests as well. Only then can Pakistan climb out of the FATF quagmire.