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Pakistan unlikely to shake-off FATF grey list tag

“Blacklist Pakistan!” Exiled dissidents in Paris protest outside FATF headquarter.(Source: South Asia Press)

Can Pakistan come out of the grey list of the list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) ? It seems unlikely as several european countries including France have made it plain  that Pakistan has not been able to fully implement all the points of an action plan set by the FATF–the Paris based watchdog for money laundering and terror financing.

The three day virtual FATF plenary meeting is being held in Paris from  February 22 to consider cases of various countries on the grey list, including Pakistan. Decisions on status category will be made at the conclusion of the meetings on February 25.

Pakistan requires about 15 votes to move out of the grey list and a minimum of three votes to avoid falling into the blacklist. The FATF currently has 39 full members.

Pakistan has reached out to member countries of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in an effort to garner their support for exiting from the grey list. Pakistan’s foreign minister  Shah Mahmood Qureshi sounded optimistic about the outcome of the FATF meeting. But officials admitted that Pakistan would remain in the grey list at least until June.

FATF had placed Pakistan on the grey list in June 2018. It had demanded that Islamabad must implement a plan of action to curb money laundering and terror financing by the end of 2019. However, the deadline was extended due to the Covid pandemic.

In the last plenary held in October 2020, FATF concluded that Pakistan will continue in its “grey list” till February 2021 as it has failed to fulfil six out of 27 obligations of the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog. The list  had included Pakistan’s failure to take action against two of India's most wanted terrorists, Jaish e Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar and Lashkar e Taiba head Hafiz Saeed.

Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports that background discussions with key officials and foreign diplomats suggest that the jury is divided  with the authorities claiming sufficient progress to be confident of a positive outcome but some diplomats suggesting that even in the best case scenario Pakistan would remain in the increased monitoring list (grey list) until June. Based on this update, the paper writes that  Pakistan has been shown improving compliance on two out of 40 recommendations of the FATF on effectiveness of anti-money laundering and combating financing terror (AML/CFT) systems.

It finds Pakistan’s progress non-compliant on four counts, partially compliant on 25 counts and largely compliant on nine recommendations. Pakistan’s evaluation at the plenary would be based on a 27-point action plan and not on these 40 recommendations. Diplomats said they had not seen this time the kind of aggressive diplomatic effort Islamabad had been making in the past, particularly before the October 2020 plenary review.

They said the plenary could discuss all options, including blacklisting Pakistan, keeping it in the grey list or removing it from the grey list but there is no chance that Pakistan could be put in the blacklist because it has at least three members of the FATF,  China, Turkey and Malaysia who will put all pressures against any downgrade.

Meanwhile Pakistani dissidents living in exile have been protesting outside the FATF headquarter in Paris, against China and Pakistan nexus in terror financing money laundering and financial corruption in Pakistan.

Dissidents of Baloch, Pashtun, Uyghur, Tibet and Hong Kong origin organized a protest outside the FATF headquarters urging the international monitoring body to blacklist Pakistan and deliver on its mandate of stopping terror financing and sponsoring from Pakistan.

While Pakistan has been repeatedly adopting the tactic of showcasing action against terror financing by placing senior terror group leaders under arrest ahead of FATF plenaries, these UN listed entities, like the Lashkar e Taiba (now rebranded as Jamat ud Dawa – JuD) and Jaish e Mohammad (JeM) continue to function freely in the country including collecting funds.

The charity front of JuD, the Falah e Insaniyat Foundation, has continued to collect funds. FeF chief Hafiz Abdur Rauf has remained active including openly delivering sermons. Similarly, Talha Saeed, son of Jamaat ud Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed and a designated terrorist by the US Treasury dept, has been active and addressed gatherings in recent months. Similarly, JuD offices including the Markaz Al Quds in Lahore are able to raise funds to meet their monthly expenditures. The JuD’s social media team functions unhindered advertising their fund collection drives.

Jaish e Muhammmad (JeM) has also been openly collecting funds, often to support families of ‘martyrs’ or jihadists killed during operations.

In order to avoid detection by FATF, Pakistan has moved JeM training camps and fighters to Afghanistan. The recent acquittal and orders of release of known terror operative Ahmed Omar Saeed Shiekh, who was sentenced for the abduction and killing of US journalist Daniel Pearl, is also an indication that the deep links between the terror groups and the Pakistani State remains in place.The US has also expressed concern over the acquittal the accused in American journalist Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder case.

Younus Khan, a senior Pakistani journalist based in Paris, told Dawn that France was not happy with the recent response of Islamabad on the cartoon issue. Pakistan has not even posted a regular ambassador in Paris, he said, adding that diplomatic and economic relations between the two countries were not up to the mark.

Pakistan always tries to show ahead of the FATF meetings that it is taking action against terrorists who are then allowed to go back to their old ways after the meeting is over. For instance, Lashkar e Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, involved in 26/11 Mumbai attacks has been sentenced to prison but is allowed to stay in his own home and lead a normal life. Pakistan’s duplicity  has been a regular pattern in which terrorists are put in jail in the run-up to the FATF meeting and then given bail, which allows them to roam free once the  meeting is concluded.