Beyond FATF

01 Aug 2020

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HAVING further tightened its anti-terror financing laws, Pakistan appears to be much better placed for its next assessment by the Financial Action Task Force. In February, the global watchdog on money laundering and terror financing had informed Pakistan that it had accomplished only 14 items of the 27-point action plan it had committed itself to in order to be taken off FATF’s ‘grey list’ on which it was placed in June 2018. On Thursday, both houses of parliament passed two time-bound FATF bills, the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2020, and the United Nations (Security Council) Amendment Bill 2020. Coming off the grey list would considerably enhance Pakistan’s standing in the world and defuse the threat that has hung like a sword over its economy were it unsuccessful in its endeavours.

However, the manner in which the laws were passed is a matter of concern. The bills and amendments to them suggested by a Senate panel were discussed in a behind-the-scenes meeting by the government, the PML-N and the PPP. The National Assembly then promptly rubber-stamped what was placed before it — its usual response to FATF-related bills. Such quiescence is jarring. The legislation pertains to national security, and the people’s representatives would be expected to have robust opinions on it. It is also alarming, and highly unethical, for the government to have attempted to sneak in a draconian ‘economic terrorism’ bill under the umbrella of the FATF-related legislation. The proposed law would have allowed any citizen to be detained for up to 180 days, on instructions by committees manned by intelligence agency personnel. Fortunately, the opposition shot it down.

While FATF can be said to have forced Pakistan’s hand and compelled it to crack down on the violent extremist groups that had long insinuated themselves into the warp and weft of society, this is the only viable path ahead for this country. The notion that such outfits can be ‘managed’ is flawed and myopic; ultimately, all of them devour their ‘host’ nation by corrupting its youth and destroying their future. Moreover, they do not operate in silos. At some level, even those that do not carry out attacks within Pakistan enable each other, if indirectly; all of them thus pose a security risk for the country. Since FATF first flagged the “strategic deficiencies” in Pakistan’s financial system, the country has taken several measures to squeeze the space in which ultra right-wing groups can operate. In March last year, for instance, provincial administrations took control of hundreds of madressahs, schools, mosques, etc run by the Jamaatud Dawa and Jaish-e-Mohammed. On July 17, 2019, the JuD chief, Hafiz Saeed — on whom the US has a $10m bounty — was arrested on charges of terror financing. In February this year, he was sentenced for five years for the crime. There is a long road ahead, but Pakistan is on the right path.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2020