New Delhi, January 24 (India Today): There are certainly high chances of Pakistan “exiting” the ‘grey list’ of global terror watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) at its plenary to be held on February 16 this year.
Sources told India Today TV that after heavy lobbying by China and with the help of a private consultant who is an FATF veteran, there is “a 75 per cent chance of Pakistan exiting the ‘grey list’ now”.
The meeting of the Asia Pacific Joint Group, the FATF international cooperation review group, concluded in Beijing on Thursday where China did much of the heavy lifting to convince the 39-member grouping that Islamabad was making “great efforts” in the area of counter-terrorism.
On Thursday, while responding to a question on the proceedings, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said: “Pakistan has made great efforts to strengthen its domestic counter-terrorism financing system with visible progress. Its political will and active efforts should be recognised and encouraged by the international community. We hope that the FATF will continue to offer constructive support and assistance to Pakistan in its continued efforts to improve the counter-terrorism financing system and effectively fighting terrorist financing.”
“As FATF president and co-chair for Asia Pacific Joint Group, China will continue to uphold an objective, just and constructive attitude and participate in relevant discussions,” the spokesperson said.
Apart from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan requesting US President Donald Trump to help the country get off the ‘grey list’ during their meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Khan also interactions with the delegations and foreign offices of US, UK, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, among others, prior to the meeting, sources said.
Pakistan requires 12 votes out of total 39 in the plenary meeting of the FATF to land back in the safe white list from ‘grey list’.
To a question on reports of Pakistan likely to fare well in the upcoming plenary session of the FATF, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Raveesh Kumar said: “This is a confidential meeting. I don’t think it will be appropriate for me to speculate as to what the decisions could be out of the FATF meeting. Discussions within the FATF are confidential. You may recall that at the last plenary meeting in October in Paris, the body had expressed very serious concern with the overall lack of progress by Pakistan to address its terror financing risks including serious deficiencies in demonstrating understanding of its transnational terror financing risks emanating from areas under its control.”
India has always stressed on Pakistan’s inclusion in the ‘grey list’ saying that the country has only made cosmetic efforts in fighting terrorism and money laundering.
India had further said that Pakistan has taken no real action against any of the terror networks and terrorists, especially Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and the likes of Masood Azhar.
Earlier, Pakistan feared initiation of the blacklisting process in the next plenary since they were only found compliant in five of the 27-point action plan.
In order to avoid the blacklist, Pakistan required the support of three countries — China, Malaysia and Turkey. Now, Pakistan’s focus at the three-day (January 21 to 23) Asia-Pacific Group meet in Beijing was on garnering support to get off the ‘grey list’. Sources said that Pakistan has a chance in achieving that if 12 members agree to Pakistan being compliant.
In the October 2019 plenary of the FATF, Pakistan was given a clear warning of getting blacklisted under ‘Enhanced Monitoring Process” (Grey List).
FATF President Xiangmin Liu, at the concluding press briefing, had said: “Pakistan needs to do more and it needs to do it faster. Pakistan’s failure to fulfil FAFT global standards is an issue we take very seriously. As a result, the FATF is giving this very clear warning that if by February 2020 the country has not made significant progress, we would consider further actions which potentially includes placing the country on the public statement, also referred to as the blacklist.”
The summary of the Asia-Pacific Joint Group (APJG) meeting held in Bangkok, September 2019, stated: Of the 27 Action Plan items, Pakistan cleared only 6 with 21 items pending. The final outcome of the FATF says five, one less than before.
The MEA spokesperson said: “It is now for the members to decide whether Pakistan has fulfilled its commitments which it was asked to do. Only then maybe, we can react.”
M.K.Bhadrakumar Writes In Punchline:
Reports that in the Indian estimation there is “a 75 per cent chance” of Pakistan exiting the ‘grey list’ of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) at the plenary of the international body on February 16 in Paris are a significant upgrade of the earlier expectation in Delhi that Islamabad was hanging on the abyss, perilously close to being ‘black-listed’ for money laundering and terror financing.
Quite obviously, it can no longer be kept from public view that the ground beneath the feet of Indian diplomacy has been shifting in the recent months, largely due to the US-Pakistan rapprochement. Delhi is grudgingly making adjustments to the compelling reality.
True to form, Indian media would prefer to attribute to China all good things that may happen to Pakistan — and, of course, to the US all good things that happen to India. Thus, Delhi says the vast improvement in Pakistan’s FATF standing is due to ‘heavy lobbying by China and with the help of a private consultant who is an FATF veteran’.
There is a mental block in acknowledging that Pakistan might indeed have made efforts to improve its FATF standing. The FATF is a technical body and comprises countries that have a mind of their own.
Greater realism is needed on the part of Delhi to admit that Pakistan’s standing has been steadily improving in the 39-member grouping since the FATF’s 2015 statement which identified it as having made significant progress in improving its regime and had noted that Islamabad had established the legal and regulatory framework to meet its commitments in its action plan regarding the strategic deficiencies that the FATF had previously identified.
The 2015 report decided to exempt Pakistan from the FATF’s monitoring process. According to Pakistani media reports, in February 2018, the FATF had found serious deficiencies in the country’s anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism regimes and gave Pakistan a 27-point action plan to exit the grey list. And in October last year, Pakistan was given another warning to show full compliance by the forthcoming plenary meeting in Paris in February.
The Pakistani reports claim that the sticking points have significantly narrowed down to two areas, namely, cash couriers and convictions in terror financing cases where Pakistan could still be deemed non-compliant, necessitating its continuance in the so-called ‘grey list’ for yet another 3-6 months. Significantly, PM Imran Khan personally took up the matter with President Trump at their meeting in Davos this week.
This cautious optimism was also reflected in the meeting on Monday in Islamabad between the Minister for Interior Ijaz Shah and the visiting the US delegation led by Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State where the latter “applauded the progress” made by Pakistan “despite the scarcity of resources.”
The sea change in the situation around Pakistan has policy implications for India. If the FATF lets Pakistan off the hook, which is to be expected, it would signify a big boost to Pakistan’s standing in the fight against terrorism. Delhi, on the other hand, loses the propaganda advantage.
The mellowing in the US attitude has already removed the cutting edge of the FATF pressure on Pakistan. The Indian officials had thought that the FATF was like a Damocles’ sword hanging on Pakistan’s neck. But now it dawns on them that chopping off the Pakistani head was not on the American mind.
It may or may not be a coincidence that the softening of the US posture is taking place in the backdrop of the successful Afghan peace negotiations where Pakistani help was of critical importance. Clearly, a full-fledged resumption of US aid and investment in the Pakistani economy in the period ahead cannot be held hostage by the FATF affair. A clearing of the deck is becoming necessary. In President Trump’s evaluation, US has never been as close to Pakistan as it is today.
All this once again highlights that India and the US have never really been on the same page in regard of terrorism. The US stance is pragmatic while the Indian stance is dogmatic. The US is realistic in making assessments regarding Pakistan’s record on terrorism while India focuses on coercive diplomacy.
India’s position on dialogue with Pakistan is becoming increasingly untenable. Pakistan’s FTAF moment highlights the Indian predicament. Delhi is rejecting third-party mediation in Kashmir but in the same breath also vows not to bilaterally engage with Pakistan to resolve differences peacefully through dialogue. At this rate, India’s gripe about terrorism will be seen by the international community increasingly as a matter of irritable bowel syndrome on account of its own body ailments.
However, the present government is perfectly pleased with the perpetuation of the enemy image of Pakistan, which helps it to derive advantages in domestic politics especially during election time. Pakistan is the favourite whipping boy of the ruling elite. Equally, to borrow the famous line from President Trump, the ‘swamp’ won’t allow a policy rethink either — the swamp in Indraprastha is a protected wetland; the Deep State breeds in it, spawns in it.
(The picture at the top shows US Acting Assistant Secretary Alice Wells and Pakistan Home Minister Ijaz Shah in Islamabad)