Hanging sword of FATF on Pakistan

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

The coming days will likely be difficult for Pakistan due to action by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and in this connection a delegation of the Asia-Pacific Group (APG) — a regional affiliate of the FATF was in Islamabad last week to hold talks and to assess Pakistan’s progress in curbing money laundering and terror financing. Pakistan has been on the grey list for over a year now, and had received directives from the FATF to take stricter action against money laundering last month. In early March, taskforce had also pointed out 8,707 suspicious transactions that had reportedly taken place in the country in 2018.

December 16, 2014 was one of the darkest days in our history secondly only to fall of Dhaka. On this day, 150 including school going children of Army Public School were mowed down by terrorists in cold blood. Though draconian action was promised, and punishment guaranteed through a National Action Plan. It has been three years now parents of the massacred children are still waiting to see government fulfil its promise. The irony is that the spokesman of the Pakistan Taliban who carried out the mayhem, Ehsanullah Ehsan for some reasons surrendered himself to the law enforcers in Pakistan. It was expected that after extracting vital information from him about his gang of killers, he would be tried by a military court for speedy justice. Unfortunately, nothing has happened, he is believed to be enjoying Pakistan’s hospitality-in best of health and kicking while the parents of the children they killed continue to pass their time in agony.

National Action Plan was projected by the former government as panacea to our ills of terrorism. There was, however, too much talk and not much of action. The then Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan spoke a lot but most of it was hot air. Though we claim to have eliminated the scourge from most of the country especially in the North and South Waziristan, one is sadly witness to uninterrupted terrorist strikes, suicide bombings and other acts of subversion especially and rampantly targeted killing of the members of the minority communities-a cause of concern internationally.

With delegation of Asia-Pacific Group (AGP)-a regional affiliate of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blowing hot down our necks, US President Trump having mellowed down his anger, however, continues to demand to do more against terrorist groups allegedly operating from Pakistani territory. Now AGP is in Pakistan to review its rating. India has lobbied intensely for blacklisting of Pakistan. Where would the talks with AGP lead us to is difficult to tell.

AGP would present its assessment of Pakistan’s progress in curbing money laundering and terror financing. And should it be not satisfied with the progress made after meeting with officials from the State Bank, Ministry of Finance, Federal Investigation Agency and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan; Pakistan’s name shall remain on the grey list to be made to follow a new action plan against terror financing and money laundering. It would also review other reports related to continuing terrorist activities despite grey list for over a year now. It may be mentioned here that ever since it was rated grey it had received directives from the FATF to take stricter action against money laundering last month. In early March, taskforce had also pointed out 8,707 suspicious transactions that had taken place in the country in 2018.

With the sword of Damocles hanging on our head, PTI government despite its fuddle headed attitude towards religious extremism and extremist groups, has woken up from its deep slumber and has initiated a crackdown on extremist organisations and militant outfits blacklisted by the United Nations. More than 100 suspects have been taken into administrative detention or protective custody. Besides at least 200 schools, seminaries and hospitals have been seized by the government in an operation that was launched on March 4. This includes the assets of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a so-called charitable organisation long known to be a front for the militant Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). The JuD has also had its Lahore office sealed. LeT and JuD leader Hafiz Saeed is free but has been banned from leading Friday prayers.

Unfortunately, despite what government claims to be its sincere anti-terrorist efforts, the perception persists that it is much more of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Organisations that are known to be active in neighbouring countries with their subversive activities seem to be carrying on effectively their game of hide, seek and strike. And the way they have been carrying on shows that they have some support from somewhere within the government and its security apparatus. This assertion must be looked into when former President and Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf does not mince his words in repeating that these groups were deployed by him in cross border terrorism. Even now as PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari pointed out, three federal ministers in IK government are in cahoots with killer gangs.

The element of duplicity in treatment of extremist groups must come to an end since their role as non-state actors is becoming lethal for the honourable existence of the country in the comity of peaceful nations, our economic progress and well-being of the people. An impartial inquiry be held in the Indian allegation of the involvement of JeM and Maulana Masood Azhar in Pulwama killing of Indian soldiers. So should Pakistan thoroughly probe Mumbai and Pathan Kot terrorist attacks as well.

One believes that the way forward towards peaceful co-existence is the only way Pakistan can make its frontiers secure. It shall have to remove the albatross of being known as exporter of terrorism by cleansing itself of elements like Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar, Ludhyanvi and Mulana Burka (Aziz of Red Mosque).

Just imagine the space being still enjoyed by Maulana Abdul Aziz who was found delivering a volatile sermon on a recent Friday after hoodwinking the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Administration and the police-right next to the headquarter of the apex intelligence network at Aabpara. “Democracy is un-Islamic. I am ready to challenge any cleric who claims that the democratic system is allowed under Islam,” said Maulana Aziz. Aziz believes that under Imran Khan “things are getting closer and there will be a change in the system soon”.

Strangely popularly known as Maulana Burka, the cleric was allowed to deliver his anti-democratic sermon after many years when he was sacked from the post on the orders of the court in 2004 following a fatwa he had issued against the army and the operation against terrorists in Waziristan. He was released from prison in 2009 and restored his position in Jama-e-Hafza only to ignite another controversy in 2014 after he assured support to the perpetrators of the Army Public School massacre in Peshawar by calling it a reaction by the terrorists. His hold on Lal Masjid a state-owned mosque shows his pelf and power.

(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)