Alone at FATF

Updated 21 Feb 2020


NOW that the news from the just-concluded round of meetings of the Financial Action Task Force held in Paris has been digested, it is important to focus on the fact that two countries that we are repeatedly told to think of in brotherly terms — China and Saudi Arabia — both abandoned Pakistan during the proceedings, opening the way for the motion advanced by the United States to grey list the country’s financial system.

If there is one thing to learn from this episode, it must be this: in ties between countries, there are no ‘friends’ and no ‘brothers’. There are only interests and bargaining positions.

There is nothing wrong in speaking of friendly relations between countries, but behind closed doors, when the real bargaining gets going, only interests should be in the driving seat.

It is now becoming increasingly clear that Pakistan is drifting towards international isolation mainly due to its policy of using groups designated by the world community as terrorist outfits as instruments of foreign policy.

This was the main issue at the Paris meetings. And this is the reason why Pakistan could find no ‘friends’ there.

This is precisely the state of affairs that the civilian government has been trying to warn the security establishment about for a number of years now, including in a series of meetings in late 2016 — but evidently, these conversations did not lead to the desired actions.

FATF has been seeking one thing primarily from Pakistan: “fully implement UNSCR 1267” ever since the country was taken out of the so-called ‘grey list’ back in 2015. The last grey listing happened due to a failure to pass the Anti Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act.

Once that act was passed in 2015, the next step was action against those groups and individuals that had been designated as terrorists by the United Nations.

The years since then have been witness to a powerful, behind-the-scenes tussle over the pursuit of precisely this objective. The stop-and-go manner in which this objective has been pursued, ie taking limited action one day and then allowing matters to once again deteriorate, has now come to the end of the line as FATF prepares to grey list Pakistan’s financial system one more time in June.

The world, which includes our brotherly friends whom the foreign minister thanked in a prematurely triumphant tweet on Tuesday, is not impressed with what they see as this country’s continued intransigence.

There may well be an element of geopolitics at play here too. But the opportunities that have been made available to them to tighten the screws on Pakistan are the products of a deeply problematic foreign policy.

The warnings are now pouring in continuously: act against militant groups, or risk international isolation. Pakistan would do well to heed them for its own sake.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2018