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Updated February 25, 2018


ALL through the day on Friday, as one news outlet after another from outside the country broke the news that things had not gone well for Pakistan at the plenary meetings of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) being held in Paris, the government here maintained an awkward silence.

On Tuesday the motion advanced by the United States to ‘grey list’ Pakistan had been discussed, and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted triumphantly that it was blocked due to opposition from “friends”.

Later we heard that three countries in particular — Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, China and Turkey — were among those “friends” who had opposed the motion.

Then suddenly on Friday morning, we heard things had changed on Thursday night. The motion had been put up for discussion one more time, in an unusual move, and this time our “friends” — specifically China and Saudi Arabia — withdrew their objections, allowing it to pass. All this we heard from international media while the government remained silent.

The signs that something had gone wrong were evident in the manifest absence of triumphant rhetoric from the returning members of the delegation, who slunk back into the country on Friday and disappeared behind a veil of silence.

When the FATF official statement was released later that evening, and Pakistan’s name was not on it, speculation intensified that perhaps all the news from the international media was wrong. But it turned out to be otherwise.

The news was correct, and confirmation finally arrived in the form of an interview given by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Miftah Ismail on a TV channel more than two hours after the FATF statement was uploaded on their website.

If the news that things had gone wrong in Paris could be shared on a TV channel, why could a press release not be issued to clear up the confusion? Why wait till the end of the day, by when the matter has turned into an international story with the only people not in the know being the people of Pakistan?

This was the great FATF fumble. The first fumble was the foreign minister’s premature triumphalism, announcing to the world that the motion to grey list Pakistan had been blocked with a little help from our friends.

The same international media that broke the story of the great reversal on the motion also claimed that it was precisely this tweet which triggered the second round of discussions because it violated the commitment to keep the details of the proceedings at the plenary confidential until they are released formally by the organisation itself.

The second fumble was the bad handling of messaging upon return, which made the country look foolish and clueless, even as stories of the great disappointment in Paris swirled all around us.

But the biggest fumble of them all is the reason why Pakistan has been in trouble at all international forums to start off with: for trying to use terrorist groups as instruments of foreign policy, while denying their presence or their involvement in terrorist acts even as the United Nations designates them as terrorist entities.

This foreign policy, which relies on vain attempts to pull little fast ones, and some crude rhetorical gimmickry worthy of a TV talk show to sustain itself, is now pushing the country towards growing isolation.

A number of questions need to be asked now. How did the sponsors of the motion get China and Saudi Arabia to change their minds? Clearly both of these countries seem confident that they can manage whatever animus their change of heart will earn for them in Islamabad.

Whatever was on the plate before them mattered more to them than what they are getting from Pakistan.

But this question is largely academic in nature. If pursuing it helps divest our policymakers of the immature assumption that there is such a thing as “brotherly relations” in international affairs, then it will serve a useful purpose.

The only meaningful question to ask now is: how far is this tightening of the screws going to impact? And at what time will the message sink in that using militant groups as a tool of foreign policy is turning into a quagmire, sucking the country into a quicksand of extremism, violence, stagnation, isolation and confusion, while yielding no tangible or measurable benefits?

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2018