AN unexpected development has given Pakistan an additional two months in which to complete the action plan steps that were going to be reviewed in June. The Financial Action Task Force told the government of Pakistan that the June meeting will not be held due to the ongoing coronavirus situation and Pakistan’s progress on its action plan will be evaluated in August instead. No doubt this comes as a relief to some in the government, since much work remained to be done by June. But it would be a grave mistake to treat the additional time that has unexpectedly been granted as some sort of ‘relief’. Sitting this time out would be in keeping with the reflexes that usually guide work in the government, but those reflexes would be a disservice.
Pakistan was already working under an extension, and in the last February meeting, was allowed six more months to complete 13 of the 27 items in its action plan that had been missed for the February review. Some action had indeed been taken in February, specifically the conviction of Hafiz Saeed in a terror-financing case, which was one of the biggest sticking points in the implementation of the action plan. But this was not the first time that we saw a spurt of action right when the taskforce was either meeting or getting ready to meet, creating the impression that all measures were simply being taken to have something to show for at the meeting. The extended time that has been granted can be used to help dispel this impression by advancing more terror-financing inquiries and tightening up the country’s prosecution and conviction rate further in this crucial area.
What is more likely, however, is that the government authorities will show limited progress on the 13 points, where action is now required, and invoke the lockdowns as an excuse for asking for yet another extension. It would be better to use the time granted to us to try and push for full compliance, though, and given the window created by the lockdowns, of diminished economic activity, to hunt down all other avenues through which terror financing takes place. Instead of an excuse, the present conditions, in fact, grant an opportunity to the government. The priority now is not simply getting through the review meeting without falling into the so-called blacklist. The clear priority is to get off the grey list altogether. No matter how well the stars are aligned for us on the geopolitical table where Pakistan is seeking to draw linkages from, there is no better reason to aim for an expeditious end to the grey listing status than the country’s own economic interests. In the perception of outside observers, a pattern has emerged of Pakistan taking cosmetic action and asking for extensions. This is a good moment to lay this view to rest.
Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2020