If international terror watchdog Financial Action Task Force [FATF] had thought that the tweet in which it “strongly urges Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by Feb 2021,” would galvanize a reticent Islamabad into action, then it’s sadly mistaken. Similarly, if the people of Pakistan really share Foreign Minister [FM] Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s optimism that the FATF, would in its February 2021 plenary meeting, give a decision “in favour of Pakistan,” then they are in for a really rude shock. Because despite exuding confidence on exiting FATF’s grey list, Islamabad has subtly conceded that this may not happen soon.
Readers may recall that after New Delhi abrogated Article 370, Pakistan’s UN envoy Ms Maleeha Lodhi had during the 2018 United Nations General Assembly [UNGA] session argued that this move was “in flagrant violation of multiple Security Council resolutions.” Coming from a person with impressive qualifications and vast experience, many of her countrymen and the pro-Pakistan lobby in Kashmir took Ms Lodhi’s assertion as gospel truth. However, there were others who weren’t at all convinced since she gave no logical or robust reasons in support of her contention. Moreover, since it’s common knowledge that elected governments can, through provisions of existing laws, amend the constitution of their own country, Ms Lodhi’s argument simply made no sense.
Absence of any meaningful opposition to Article 370 abrogation was in itself an unambiguous indication that Islamabad’s narrative of this act being a “flagrant violation of multiple Security Council resolutions” didn’t find many takers. Furthermore, UNSC President Joanna Wronecka’s refusal to comment on Pakistan’s letter to UN Secretary General seeking revocation of Article 370 abrogation should have set the alarm bells ringing in Pakistan’s FO. However, even though it was abundantly clear that nothing would come out of its attempt to seek UNSC’s intervention on this issue as it was unquestionably India’s internal matter, Islamabad with its characteristic obduracy, chose to go ahead.
The most surprising part was that while on the one hand Islamabad was brimming with unbounded confidence of succeeding in getting UNSC to agree with its viewpoint, FM Qureshi on the other hand was warning his countrymen that “They [UNSC members] are not waiting for you with garlands in their hands.” He also made a seminal observation on the futility of Islamabad’s decision to contest Article 370 abrogation by saying “Giving vent to emotions is easy and raising objections is much easier. However, it is difficult to understand the issue and move forward.” Most importantly, by not fulfilling its much-hyped pledge of taking the Article 370 abrogation issue to International Court of Justice, Islamabad itself sent out a clear message to the world that its case lacked substance.
Pakistan has yet once again displayed its propensity for promising its people a bright and pleasant day while simultaneously advising them that it may be still worthwhile to carry an umbrella- just in case! So, while the FM is sanguine that FATF will a decision “in favour of Pakistan” when FATF holds its February 2021 plenary meeting, ‘The Express Tribune’ has quoted a “senior Pakistani official” dealing with FATF as saying “If [it] agrees, the FATF on-site visit will help Pakistan come out of the grey list by June this year,” [Emphasis added]. Hence, it’s clear that FM Qureshi’s optimism on this issue is highly misplaced and misleading. What must be even more frustrating for the people of Pakistan is that even the assessment of their country getting out of FATF’s grey list is contingent to the international terror financing watchdog agreeing for an “on-site” visit.
Islamabad hasn’t specified as to what exactly does it have in mind while talking about an “on-site” visit. Being shrouded in secrecy, terror financing is a covert business that doesn’t follow the rules of classic bookkeeping. Hence, the “on-site” visit suggestion makes no sense whatsoever and in all probability is nothing more than just a red herring- and this raises the question that if Islamabad genuinely has ‘zero tolerance’ for terrorism as it claims, then why has it not been able to curb terror financing even after more than two and a half years? Surely, there’s much more than what meets the eye and Islamabad dragging its feet in fulfilling its international responsibility to choke terror funding that’s endangering the entire world, is what should be a matter of grave concern for FATF.
The FATF needs to realise that on the issue of ensuring that terrorist groups are denied financial support, giving defaulter states that continuously fail to curb terror financing a loose rope sets a very wrong precedent and makes the international terror financing watchdog a toothless tiger. Lastly, for the sake of protecting its own fair image, FATF needs dispel the canard being spread by Islamabad that the terror financing watchdog’s decisions are influenced by extraneous considerations like lobbying by member states. It also needs to caution Pakistan against casting unfounded aspersions on the integrity of member nations since FATF evaluations are derived from an object assessment of ground realities and are hence ‘technical’ and not ‘political’ in nature.