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Pakistan embraces another thankless war

[Featured map: Courtesy BBC]

During difficult hours Saudi Arabia, as indeed other Middle East countries, have been looking up to Pakistan for security cover. Bilateral agreements are in place with most of these countries that bind Pakistan to provide necessary support when asked for. Most of these agreements carry a clause that Pakistani troops shall not take part in war on behalf of requisitioning states. Mostly such military assistance by Pakistan has been in the training role, and sparingly, in domestic law enforcement role. As an exception, small number of Pakistani military personnel participated in purely defensive operations during Yum Kippur war—that too only on the soil and within the air space of hosts. Pakistani troops have never fought offensively against a third country on behalf of any country to which they have been deputed. Pakistan has in the past provided military assistance to Saudi Arabia, notably during taking over of Holy Mosque of Ka’aba by radicals in 1979, and when Iraq captured Kuwait and adopted threatening gestures towards Saudi Arabia. In both these occasions, activities of Pakistani military personnel remained confined within Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is a population scarce country with very low density of people to area ratio. This limitation does not permit availability of enough of personnel to raise adequate ‘son of the soil centred’ standing armed forces. Personnel from neighbouring countries form a substantial portion of Saudi National Guards; nearly 40 percent Guards are of Yemeni origin. This composition of National Guards is the underlying reason for current Saudi nervousness.

Within Pakistan, there is an overwhelming support—almost national consensus— to align with Saudi Arabia during all sort of crisis, including providing military assistance, with a caveat that such force is not used against any other country—especially Iran. Another concern is that such military deployment may embroil Pakistan in the sectarian wars going on in entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. If the government of Pakistan is able to address these concerns, a national consensus is likely to evolve, barring some sectarian outfits. As the time is passing major political parties are withdrawing their reservations against sending of troops to Saudi Arabia and are aligning with government’s point of view.

Unraveling of Middle East has thrown up precarious situations. The fissures in MENA are threatening the security of the Arab world as a whole. This landscape is in its most dire hour, Since World War I. Realizing the enormity of the situation, Arab leaders at their summit in Sharm el Sheikh on March 29-30 have voiced their support to the Saudi led operation against Houthi rebels, saying the overthrow of the government in Yemen is a threat not only to the security of the Gulf Cooperation Council but also to the Arab world and to international peace. Arab league also decided to raise a joint force comprising 40,000 troops drawn from member states; it is indeed too little too late. A months-long Houthi rebellion has escalated into a regional conflict that threatens to tear apart the state of Yemen. Previous decades have seen decimation of one Muslim country after the other; now Yemen has thrown up the latest open-ended conflict after Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has assured an all-out support to Saudi Arabia in the operation ‘determination storm’ reiterating that any threat to the territorial integrity of the kingdom would evoke strong response from Pakistan. King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz had telephoned the prime minister on March 28. Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemen conflict, and the subsequent Saudi announcement of a coalition against Houthi rebels, involving Pakistan, has drawn a mixed reaction at home. Though official stance is that decision to participate is still under discussion; the decision, in all probability, has already been taken—Pakistan’s military contingent would proceed to Saudi Arabia

However the point of concern is that it is a different thing to rush to the aid of a valued ally who is in danger than facilitating an ally in playing its regional big-man-ship in another country. Are Houthis really posing a territorial threat to Saudi Arabia? It is difficult to sell the proposition to Pakistani public at this point and time that they do. Houthis are Shite citizens of the areas that comprised former North Yemen, and as of now their struggle may have only intra-Yemen objectives. So while a political consensus may emerge in Pakistan to send the troops , public opinion would stay divided—especially with regard to necessity and ownership of war.

Much more important is the socio-political fallout of such an action. Saudi Arabia and Iran are painting this conflict as a Sunni-Shia one. If the government of Pakistan rushes to the aid of a Sunni state against Shia rebels in a third country, it would exacerbate the already serious sectarian violence in the country. Even if Pakistan decides to participate in the war, considering it to be a remote activity at a far out distance, it would deepen a sectarian fault lines back home. Unlike the operation against the Taliban which remains a domestic law enforcement operation, military action in Yemen, in support of Saudi Arabia would have regional and global connotations.

Saudi Arabia’s state run news agency SPA has reported that five Muslim countries including Egypt and Pakistan want to participate in the Gulf-led military coalition.

Courtesy Reuters
Courtesy Reuters

Another Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel said that Egypt and Pakistan would dispatch jet fighters and warships to take part in the campaign. CNN erratically reported that 15 Pakistani jets are already engaged in operations in Yemen. The kingdom’s ambassador to the United States has announced from Washington that a coalition of 10 countries, including the five Gulf monarchies, had been set up to protect the Yemeni government. The United States said it would provide “logistical and intelligence support” to the operation. Britain’s Foreign Office has said that Britain supports Saudi Arabia’s decision to intervene militarily in Yemen. All ingredients of a prolonged stalemated conflict are in place—the death dance is poised to continue for quite some time.

Saudi Arabia and Iran, are vying for influence in countries across the region. Iran has condemned Saudi Arabia for launching air strikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen, saying it was “a dangerous step” that violated “international responsibilities and national sovereignty.” It is interesting that Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting on the same side in Syrian theatre while dealing with IS; they could now be pitchedagainst each other in Yemeni theatre. Iran, a long-standing Saudi contender for ideological influence in the Middle East, is stepping up support for the Houthis, their fellow Shiites.

As of now Pakistan continues to bleed— proverbially through thousand wounds—due to fallout of Afghan conflict. Pakistan is not prepared to take part in any conflict that could divide the Muslim world on sectarian lines. Pakistan should, however, assist and be a part of the peace process rather than being a participant in military alliance. An intriguing mosaic of sectarian strife, topped off by the presence of ISIS and AQAP, with their real and mythical connotations, points towards an open ended conflict with a potential to spread to South Asia.
Pakistan’s involvement in Afghan conflict brought home terrorism, and Pakistan’s involvement in Yemen would accentuated the sectarian violence which is already on boiling point. Pakistan is already in the cross fire, feeling the heat of Saudi-Iran proxy war, on Pakistani soil, in the form of sectarian violence stressing the societal fabric at its seams.
People of Pakistan deserve better, they need a break from war fatigue— especially from others’ wars. At this point and time, Pakistan must not be on the wrong side of history.

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Dynamics of FATF listing

Pakistan Focus Analysis. Indo-US anti-Pakistan nexus is so very obvious, both have in-chorus expressed their joy on Pakistan’s placement on grey list. Indian Express has reported that “India, US are one in saying Pakistan deserved to be demoted to anti-terror funding group's 'grey list’”. "India welcomes the decision of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to place Pakistan in its Compliance Document (grey list) for ICRG [International Cooperation review Group] monitoring," said India's ministry of external affairs. And; "outstanding counterterrorism deficiencies consistently raised by the Financial Action Task Force and [Pakistan] needs to take actions, including on the raising and moving of funds of UN-designated terrorist groups, a top US official said to news agency PTI”. Decision is politically motivated and is part of American strategy to pressurise Pakistan to settle some other scores. Pakistan has been placed among the jurisdictions (states) with strategic deficiencies: Ethiopia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and Yemen. FATF has called upon these states to complete implementation of the action plans expeditiously and within the proposed timeframes, vowing to closely monitor the implementation. It was also agreed in February Plenary that an Action Plan would be negotiated between Pakistan and FATF members by June. This has been done. The FATF has formally placed Pakistan on the grey list due to ‘strategic deficiencies’ in its anti-money laundering and terrorism financing regime. The decision came despite Pakistan had demonstrated reasonable progress in three out of four major areas of FATF concerns. Pakistan’s team led by Finance Minister apprised the plenary about measures that Pakistan had taken to stop money laundering and strangling the terror financing. In prevailing World Order, nothing works better than American pressures. During February plenary, the US and the UK went out of their way to by-pass the standard FATF procedures and jointly arm twist the FATF for nominating Pakistan for the grey list in June, regardless of its February-June period effort and progress; they were also joined by France and Germany. Pakistan has undertaken to work towards effective implementation of the Action Plan, while staying in the grey list. A similar situation took place in 2011 when Pakistan was included in the grey list and was taken out in 2015 after it successfully implemented the Action Plan. There were tall claims that Pakistan was unlikely to be placed on the grey list of the global financial watchdog as the country had made enough progress to meet international anti-money laundering and terror financing standards, such euphoric environment had been created before and during the previous FATF plenary meeting as well. There is a need to float realistic expectations before such international events. FATF identifies jurisdictions with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies in its two public documents: FATF Public Statement (call for action)– commonly known as black list—and Improving Global AML/CFT Compliance— nick named as grey list. It is an on-going process; these lists are updated three times a year. Interestingly, FATF does not use grey list/blacklist terminologies. The ICRG of the APG had identified four key areas of concerns: deficiencies in the supervision of Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Counter Terrorism Financing regimes; cross-border illicit movement of currency by terrorist groups; progress on terrorism financing investigation and prosecution; and implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions 1267 and 1373, for curbing terror financing. ICRG report has shown that Pakistan did show progress on three out of four major areas of concerns. Cross-border smuggling of cash was the only major area where Pakistan admitted deficiencies. Maximum number of conditions – nine to be precise – take into account the concerns of the UNSC resolutions, followed by eight commitments to address concerns regarding terrorism financing prosecution, four are about curbing currency movement across the border and five recommendations relate to improvement in the supervision mechanisms of banks and companies. Pakistan has undertaken to demonstrate that authorities are identifying cash couriers and enforcing controls on illicit movement of currency and understanding the risk of cash couriers being used for terrorism financing. Remember Ayan Ali case? And who protected her? Carrier is enjoying quality life abroad. Pakistan has made a “high-level political commitment to work with the FATF and APG to strengthen its Anti-money Laundering (AML)/Countering Financing of Terrorism (CFT) regime and to address its strategic counter-terrorist financing-related deficiencies,” according to FATF announcement. The FATF said Pakistan will also be demonstrating that remedial actions and sanctions are applied in cases of AML/CFT violations, and that these actions have an effect on AML/CFT compliance by financial institutions. “It will be demonstrating that competent authorities are cooperating and taking action to identify and take enforcement action against illegal money or value transfer services.” During the intervening period Pakistan government did strenuous hard work to plug the gaps. Ambitious laws were enacted. Finance ministry improved institutional mechanisms for handling anti-money laundering and countering financing terrorism issues. Coordination between the State Bank, Banking institutions and law enforcement agencies had also been strengthened to curb money laundering and terror financing. Pakistan has recently addressed issues raised by the FATF through a tax amnesty scheme, while Securities and Exchange Commission has issued Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Regulations (2018). National Security Committee has also reaffirmed its commitment to cooperate with the FATF. Through its Action Plan, Pakistan has demonstrated to the world that it was ready to go an extra mile to curb money laundering. Pakistan will have to deliver on the first goal by January next year and complete all the 26 actions by September 2019,” it is indeed a tight schedule. One wonders whether Pakistan has requisite mechanisms in place to implement and steer such an ambitious plan. An expert assessment has it that though Pakistan’s inclusion in the grey list may hurt its image in the international landscape, its economic impact will not be as severe as being portrayed. This is because when Pakistan was part of the grey list/blacklist (2008-2015), it successfully approached multilateral bodies, floated international bonds and had international trades. Hopefully Pakistan will be able to come out or grey list in September 2019, however it must follow consistent economic policies to remain out of such trouble spots. Caretaker government would do a great service by forming a national commission to identify and punish all those responsible for letting the things reverse back after Pakistan’s previous journey to blacklist was over.

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  1. Interesting article. in middle east there is no permanent interest but enemies.

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