THE FATF verdict is out. And there are no surprises. After its three-day plenary, the Paris-based global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog announced on Friday that Pakistan would be retained on its list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring, ie the grey list.
This was, of course, a disappointment to some who desperately wanted to see the FATF blacklist the country for not completing in time the 27 actions recommended for strengthening and removing the deficiencies in the AML/ATF regime. At the other end, those who thought the FATF would show more leniency and acknowledge the progress made in the last several months were too optimistic.
Although the FATF conceded that Pakistan has made significant progress and addressed 21 of the 27 items while partially addressing the remaining six, it decided to not change the country’s status. Instead, it gave Islamabad another four months to complete work on the remaining items, while strongly urging Pakistan to “swiftly complete its full action plan by February 2021 as all action plan deadlines have expired”. This is fair enough.
Ever since Pakistan was put on the so-called grey list in June 2018 for the second time in six years, few had imagined it would have been able to make so much progress. But the fact that the country has shown its political commitment and is able to satisfy the global watchdog in 21 areas in such a short time is no mean achievement. Rather, it should be celebrated as a victory. Yet, the real test starts now.
We have been given a very narrow window of time to achieve the rest of the targets — tougher ones pertaining to law enforcement’s capacity to identify and investigate the “widest range of terrorist-financing activity”. It wants “the investigation and prosecution [to] target designated persons and entities, and those acting on behalf or at the direction of the designated persons or entities”. Further, Pakistan has to demonstrate that terrorist-financing prosecutions result in effective and dissuasive sanctions. We also need to show the world that the provincial and federal authorities are on the same page on enforcing measures.
Indeed, this is a big ask from a country like Pakistan where large parts of the economy operate in the shadows and where law enforcers have little or no training in identifying, investigating and prosecuting financial crimes. But do we have a choice? It is, after all, in our own interest to remove weaknesses in our AML/ATF regime and strengthen our investigators and prosecutors not just because the FATF requires us to do so.
The fact that the government chose not to avail the option given by the FATF to not report at its meeting owing to the pandemic shows that we are confident that we can meet the next deadline with a bit of effort and political will. And we should — for our own sake.
Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2020