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FATF’s Firm Hand for Pakistan

In the wake of a stern warning from FATF urging Pakistan to swiftly complete the full action plan on prosecuting and penalising terror financing by June 2020, Pakistan’s cosmetic measures are fast becoming irrelevant By Asif Ullah Khan

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It was a foregone conclusion that Pakistan would remain on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as it needed just three votes to avoid the blacklist. With new equations emerging in the region and the Islamic world, China, Pakistan’s old ally, and its new partners—Turkey and Malaysia—came to its rescue at the Paris meeting.

Pakistan was hoping that positive signals emanating from Washington and other western capitals, and the “cosmetic sentencing” of the UN declared terrorist Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed might help it get off the hook but it was woefully short of implementing the 27-point FATF Action Plan.

The FATF acknowledged that Pakistan has made “notable improvements” and has “largely addressed” 14 out of 27 action items. However, it’s stern warning, strongly urging Pakistan to “swiftly complete” the full action plan by June 2020, which includes significant and sustainable progress especially in prosecuting and penalising terror financing, otherwise, it will be forced to take action, shows that the watchdog has serious concerns about the official intent and the judicial process.

At the Paris meeting, the biggest concern of the FATF was low conviction rate in terror-financing related cases. Till now, more than 2,000 people have been tried for terror-financing and other terror-related crimes but only 50 have been convicted with short-term jail sentences.

This lack of will or connivance on the part of the Pakistani military establishment and security agencies has been very much evident in the case of Saeed. The most visible face of terrorism has been arrested and tried on numerous occasions but has been let off by the courts based on weak evidence.

In early 2017, Pakistan launched a crackdown against the JuD, placing Saeed under house arrest. However, he was released in November 2017 after the Lahore High Court refused to extend the period of his confinement. As many as 23 first information reports (FIRs) had been registered against Saeed and other JuD leaders at police stations in various cities of Punjab. Saeed has been named accused in 29 cases about terror-financing, money laundering, and illegal land grabbing.

The same ploy can be seen in the Lahore anti-terrorism court’s verdict, which even the US has welcomed. Saeed and his close aide, Malik Zafar Iqbal, have been jailed for five and a half years each in two cases under various sections of the Anti-terrorism Act, which do not specifically deal with terror-financing.

The two convicts have got five-year jail term under Section 11-N of the Act, which deals with money laundering, illegal fundraising and buying properties from raised funds and another five-year term under 11-F (2) for being a member of a banned outfit, arranging activities of the organisation and extending support. The convicts can appeal against the decision in the Lahore High Court.

Mohammed Rizwan, Toronto-based journalist of Pakistani origin, and a fellow at Pragmora Institute, told India Legal: “From Pakistan’s side on the eve of the Paris plenary meeting they have again used their age-old playbook of making an arrest here and arranging a conviction there but surprisingly it’s working. Every time they take these cosmetic measures and FATF gives them temporary relief. So why would they change a policy that is working?”

Also, Pakistan thinks it has nothing to do with terror-financing and sponsoring and its all politics sponsored by India, Rizwan added “Now it’s the job of FATF countries to make them see beyond their politics mantra and do something about terror-financing. So basically, it’s coming down to whose resolve is stronger. Contrary to the belief that the US needs Pakistan in Afghanistan and that’s why it is not pushing Pakistan, I believe it is about making Pakistan fall in line with the US-India equation on the Indo-Pacific.”

“As a journalist working in Pakistan I saw on numerous occasions first-hand the state patronage of LeT, JuD and JeM and their ability to openly operate in Pakistan but times have changed now and the new buzzword is hiding them and showing to the world that they are not assets anymore. Maybe it’s true for a small number of people in the security establishment but by and large the assets are just on mute for the time being,” he said.

The recent so-called conviction of Saeed is another example of cosmetics. The prosecution made such a weak case that it was a surprise that judge under instructions still went ahead and convicted Saeed. This conviction can easily be thrown out on merit in appeal when the time is ripe, Rizwan told India Legal.

Another Pakistani journalist, who does not want to be named, concurs with this view. He told India Legal a general impression was created in the country that the arrest and conviction of such a high-prized target like Saeed would be enough to convince FATF. However, it did not cut much ice at the Paris meeting as it (FATF) wants an across-the-board crackdown on terror-financing and dismantling of the terror infrastructure.

Apart from Saeed and Azhar Masood of Jaish-e-Mohammad, it wants all other terror groups which are under its radar to be targeted. “That is why FATF has made it clear that it does want Pakistan to strictly complete the remaining tasks and it will observe and monitor the government’s action. It has also added to Pakistan’s worries by offering to train Pakistanis and provide a mechanism for it. If this happens, it will expose a lot of things,” he added.

He told India Legal it is time for Pakistan to rethink on the policy of using non-State actors to achieve political and strategic aims.

“Of late, JuD rebranded itself as a charity organisation to deflect the attention of international agencies.  The military-controlled media continuously tries to project it as a charity organisation and not a terrorist group. Saeed regularly appears on TV talk shows and no one dares probe him about JuD’s other activities when the whole world knows that LeT and JuD are two faces of the same coin. That is why FATF did not even mention Saeed’s name in its press statement,” he adds.

The sudden and mysterious escape of Ehsanullah Ehsan, a former spokesman of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and later Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, clearly indicates how the security agencies play footsie with terrorists. The man involved in the attack on Malala Yusufzai and numerous killings surrendered after negotiating a deal with the military establishment and there is complete silence on the government’s part on how such a high-prized terrorist can escape from under the nose of the security agencies.

On condition of anonymity, the journalist added, “People believe Ehsanullah’s escape is a part of the US-Taliban deal in Afghanistan. Pakistan is hoping that by helping the US it might get some relief from the FATF. However, it sends a very wrong signal about the intent of Pakistan’s seriousness in dealing with terrorists. It shows that the state has no qualms in striking deals with terrorists rather than bringing them to justice.” He further states that the issue of Ehsanullah’s escape may come up in the next FATF hearing.

Dr Adil Rasheed, research fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, wonders how long Pakistan will keep playing hide and seek with the international community.

Dr Rasheed said: “FATF’s growing frustration with Pakistan’s lies on the supposedly ‘missing’ Masood Azhar and its ‘failure to complete its action plan in line with the agreed timelines’ has again exposed Islamabad’s ruse on terror-financing. Even as its economy teeters on the brink, does Islamabad seriously believe it can hoodwink the world with its ‘fake arrests’ and money laundering shenanigans? If it thinks so, then sadly it is only deceiving itself.”

Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the US, says Pakistan’s promises of shutting down terror training camps and choking terror-financing has to be taken with a pinch of salt as there is little change in its attitude towards militancy, particularly the one directed against Afghanistan and India.

However, for the first time Pakistan is facing real pressure from the international community as the FATF action plan on compliance with the terror-financing regime presents a real danger to the country, which has been on and off the FATF’s grey list for more than a decade.

The FATF decision not to blacklist Pakistan, which would have delivered a severe blow to its already weak economy, has given another breather to turn around things. But the question is how long Pakistan will continue to define terrorism in its terms. Even China, its trusted ally, which has helped it at international forums, too seems to have run out of patience.

It has been more than 18 months since Imran Khan, propped up by the military, came to power. The economic mess he inherited forced him to seek a $6 billion IMF bailout and bilateral loans of billions of dollars from friendly countries like China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The strict IMF terms, instead of reviving the economy, have choked it. New taxes and hikes in power, gas, and water tariffs as part of the IMF plan to increase revenue, has hit the middle class, the main supporters of Imran.

The Pakistani army knows that not fulfilling the FATF action plan can lead to problems in getting development funds from international agencies like IMF, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank. Will the Pakistani military establishment change its 30-year narrative of using terrorist proxies as the national security imperative or will the cycle of international warnings and Pakistani denials continue? Let’s wait for the June meeting of the FATF.

Lead picture : twitter/FATFNews

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