FATF: Can Pakistan avoid global watchdog’s terror ‘black list?’

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Pakistan has taken some steps to avoid the Financial Action Task Force’s “black list,” but experts say the country lacks a long-term strategy to deal with the terrorism issue. Shamil Shams reports from Paris.

Earlier this month, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan urged Kashmiri protesters not to cross the border between Pakistan- and India-administered Kashmir, as it would strengthen New Delhi’s narrative that Islamabad supports Kashmiri militants.

He also said that any border violation would be damaging for the Kashmiris, who have been in a state of lockdown since August 5, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special, semiautonomous status.

Khan would not have issued the warning under normal circumstances. His caution, analysts say, is a result of Pakistan’s ongoing review by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body established in 1989 to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.

FATF put Pakistan on its “gray list” in June 2018, and gave Islamabad an October 2019 deadline to take action against home-grown militant Islamist groups and cut off their funding.

The international body is set to announce on Friday whether Pakistan has done enough to avoid the FATF “black list,” which includes only two countries — Iran and North Korea.

Being “blacklisted” by the 37-nation bloc could have serious implications for Pakistan’s already fragile economy, as possible sanctions would not allow the country from seeking the financial loans it needs on a regular basis.

FATF could also decide to keep the South Asian country on its “gray list,” which would mean that it believes that Pakistan’s financial system continues to pose a risk to the international financial system because of “strategic deficiencies” in its ability to prevent terror financing and money laundering.

The FATF “gray list” list also features Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu and Tunisia. Last year, Bosnia and Herzegovina were shifted to the “white list.”

Has Pakistan gone after terrorists?

In August, Hammad Azhar, Pakistan’s minister for economic affairs, said that Pakistan would “do everything to promote peace in the region,” adding that it was improbable that Pakistan would be placed on the FATF “black list.”

“We have explicitly told all the participants of the APG (FATF’s Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering) that Pakistan is working exactly per the requirements of FATF and would accomplish them soon,” he said.

Sources in Paris say Pakistan has completely or partly compiled with most of the 40 FATF demands, albeit some of them need more work.

Prime Minister Khan’s government did take some steps to allay the concerns of the international community. The authorities detained Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, and arrested four top officials of Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Taiba group on charges of terrorism financing.

Alice Wells, head of the US state department’s South and Central Asian Bureau, welcomed the measures, saying that “Pakistan, for its own future, must prevent militant groups from operating on its soil.”

India, however, is still unsatisfied with Pakistan’s counterterrorism measures, alleging they’re an eyewash and demanding FATF to blacklist the country.

“Islamabad has no other option but to act against militants. The international community is demanding Pakistan’s security establishment to put things in order,” Khalid Hameed Farooqi, a Brussels-based senior Pakistani journalist and diplomatic affairs analyst, told DW.

He added that former PM Nawaz Sharif’s government had taken several legislative actions to rein in Islamists, but the country’s powerful military continued to back some proxy jihadist groups.

“In 2017, the Pakistani government sent several top diplomats to Washington, Paris and Brussels, to highlight Indian atrocities in Kashmir. But the officials in these Western capitals clearly told them to act against Hafiz Saeed first,” said Farooqi, underlining the importance of Saeed’s arrest in avoiding the FATF black list.

But Amjad Shoaib, a retired military official and defense analyst, says that FATF is “an instrument in the hands of big powers.”

“India and the US have ganged up against Pakistan. We should not be blackmailed. There is no evidence against Hafiz Saeed. Still we arrested him. These are all pressure tactics,” Shoaib stressed.

No long-term strategy

Security analysts say that Pakistani authorities are only focused on avoiding FATF’s “black list” instead of tackling the issue on a long-term basis. They say the country’s longstanding security policies regarding India and Afghanistan have remained intact.

Islamabad’s ties with New Delhi and Kabul have only deteriorated in the past few years, with Afghan and Indian authorities accusing Pakistan of aiding militant groups.

Tensions between India and Pakistan have increased manifold this year due to an escalating Kashmir conflict. On the other hand, Pakistan’s efforts to broker a peace deal between the US and the Afghan Taliban have so far not yielded result.

“FATF is pressuring Pakistan so that it can bring the Taliban to a peace settlement. The ‘black list’ threat is being used to force Pakistan to serve American interests,” said Shoaib.

But Usman Kakar, a Pakistani senator, says shifting blame on others won’t help Pakistan. “It is unfortunate that Pakistan is still distinguishing between good and bad militants. We have not taken any concrete action against terrorist organizations,” he said.

“But I think Pakistan is still not going to be blacklisted by FATF because Washington needs Islamabad right now. I think the FATF will give more time to Pakistan,” said Kakar.

“But in the meantime, we must crack down on all extremist and terrorist outfits because it is in our own interest,” he added.

Sputnik

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