Pakistan’s move to ban Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, and for the first time extend its Anti-Terrorism Act to include all UN-proscribed organisations and entities, is an important step, say officials. They however, added that Islamabad may just be “clutching at straws” to avoid being “grey-listed” at next week’s plenary session of the United Nation’s terror financing watchdog.
The External Affairs Ministry declined to comment formally on Islamabad’s latest actions.
However, its officials and those of the Home Ministry say the plenary session of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on February 21 and 23 will decide on a resolution sponsored by four countries — the U.S., the U.K., France and Germany — to name Pakistan in its public statement as a country that had not taken sufficient steps to counter money laundering and terror financing.
The officials said it was the “first time ever” four countries had nominated any country for censure.
A delegation of officials of the two Ministries will attend the preliminary meetings in Paris beginning February 18, while the decision will be adopted on the basis of a consensus during the plenary.
China, which has supported Pakistan in the past, may not be able to “block the consensus” unless it gets support from other countries, said External Affairs Ministry officials. Pakistan has lobbied strongly for support with Russia, Turkey and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the run-up to the FATF meeting.
A secretary-level delegation met Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Murgalov in Moscow on January 31 to discuss the FATF resolution, while Pakistan has received visits from the European Union’s Military Committee Chairman General Mikhail Kostarakos as well as Jordanian King Abdullah II. Jordan is not a member of the FATF, but is considered influential in the Gulf countries.
However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Gulf countries and Jordan is likely to weigh strongly with them as well, officials said.
When asked about the Moscow meeting, Russian Ambassador to India Nikolai Kudashev told The Hindu last week that Russia’s decision at the FATF would depend on “how weighty and substantiated the proof for Pakistan’s involvement in financing terrorism will be,” adding that “ to corner Pakistan” was not Russia’s policy.
EU ambassador to India Tomasz Kozlowski said that the EU was cooperating “actively” with India to designate terrorists and to stop terror financing, but would not make a specific comment on the FATF meeting.
The grey-listing request, that would put Pakistan back on the FATF list of “jurisdictions with deficient anti-money laundering regimes”, where it was last put from 2009-2015 will be a major setback for the Pakistani government’s efforts to deny its role in allowing a “safe haven” for terrorists.
At the November 2017 meeting of the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) in Argentina, India scored a big victory when its resolution calling attention to Pakistan’s support to the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e- Mohammad and affiliated groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa resulted in strong censure of the government and the State bank of Pakistan, with a demand for a full report ahead of the February plenary. Two UN-related teams, including from the UN Security Council’s 1267 Taliban/Al-Qaeda sanctions monitoring committee as well the FATF team have visited Pakistan.
“Out of fear of FATF, Pakistan’s government has taken several decisions since the November plenary session,” a government source, referring to Pakistan’s latest move as well as a previous move by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan on January 1 to ban funding to the LeT, JeM and JuD, adding that diplomatic teams had found that “action on the ground against these groups was absent.”
Later this year, Pakistan will face more scrutiny at the Asia-Pacific Group (APG) meeting in Kathmandu in July, and a full review, that takes place every decade, is expected to begin in October 2018, adding to concerted pressure from the international community to crack down on terror groups operating from its soil.