WASHINGTON: Two days before an international watchdog takes up Pakistan’s request to remove it from a non-compliant list, a senior US diplomat acknowledged that Islamabad has moved closer to meeting its commitments to combat terrorist financing.

On Wednesday, a court in Pakistan convicted Jamaatud Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed and his aide Malik Zafar Iqbal in two terrorist financing cases and sentenced each to five and a half years of imprisonment.

On Thursday, Alice G. Wells, the chief US diplomat for South Asian affairs, called the sentence “an important step forward” towards meeting Pakistan’s commitment to combat terrorist financing.

The watchdog, known as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), will meet in Paris on Feb 16 to decide on Pakistan’s request to be taken off its gray list of non-compliant states.

In a tweet posted on the official site of the US State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Ms Wells wrote: “Conviction of Hafiz Saeed and his associate is an important step forward — both toward holding Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) accountable for its crimes, and for Pakistan in meeting its international commitments to combat terrorist financing.”

In a subsequent tweet, Ms Wells noted that “as Prime Minister Imran Khan has said, it is in the interest of Pakistan’s future that it (does) not allow non-state actors to operate from its soil”.

In Islamabad, Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui told reporters earlier on Thursday that Pakistan was hopeful that the five-day (Feb 16-21) FATF meeting in Paris would positively review the country’s current status. “Our international partners are standing with us,” she added.

The FATF is an inter-governmental body that combats money laundering, terrorist financing and threats to the international financial system. Pakistan was placed on the FATF grey list in June 2018 and was given a plan of action to complete it by October 2019 or face the risk of being placed on the blacklist along with Iran and North Korea.

In October 2019, the FATF decided to keep Pakistan on its grey list till February, giving it time to implement a 27-point action plan. The FATF met again in January this year in Beijing where Pakistan provided a list of actions taken to implement the action plan.

China, the current president of the FATF, has hailed Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate terrorist financing.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2020