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Axis of Fragility!

[Featured Picture: Courtesy Pakistan Today] Taliban attacked a guest house near the Spanish embassy in a heavily protected part of Kabul, close to several embassies and government buildings, on December 11, and took a large number of people as hostage. Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, taunting Kabul of not being able to prevent an attack in the heart of capital. “The presence of our Mujahideen with weapons and a car loaded with explosives in such a high security area shows God’s support and the cooperation of the poor and Muslim people,” spokesman Zabihulla Mujahid said in a statement. Though, since July this year, Taliban leadership is caught-up in internal power struggles of its own, that has not hampered their capacity of conducting a string of successful attacks.

Fifth ministerial conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process (HOA) was an interesting event; it could be termed as a success. Process envisages an agenda for regional cooperation in the ‘Heart of Asia’ by placing Afghanistan at its centre and engaging its member states in sincere and result oriented cooperation for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, alongside a secure and prosperous region. Also in the spotlight was Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, who participated in important bilateral discussions in addition to the conference proceedings.

Joint inauguration of the Conference by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani as well as high-level participation of several important countries and international organizations, made the event focus of world attention. It also raised Pakistan’s profile as an important player and a factor of stability in international affairs.

While President Ghani was roaring in Islamabad, Taliban were calling the shots back home in Kandhar. They logged over fifty fatalities during a high profile attack on well-defended joint user airport. Afghanistan is in turmoil, the situation is rather complicated and good offices of every one and any one need to be mobilized if a lasting peace and development is to be achieved.

Prime Minister Nawaz assured that Pakistan considers Afghanistan as more than a neighbour and has always stood by the democratically elected legitimate government in Kabul and fully supports its sovereignty. And that massive movement of Afghan refugees across the common border constitute a security risk, and tangible steps would be required to stop it. Afghan government agreed to restart dialogue with ‘reconcilable’ Taliban with the help of Pakistan, the United States and China. The development came after a series of bilateral and trilateral meetings involving the four countries on the sidelines of the conference.
Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani said: “At the trilateral and bilateral meetings, the main discussion item has been the peace process in Afghanistan”. The US deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken said: “The governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and US held a series of meetings to reaffirm our collective commitment to enabling an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation and cessation of violence.” Initial agreement between the US and Pakistan on expediting the resumption of Afghan peace talks was forged during General Raheel Sharif’s visit to the US in November.

Afghan President and Army Chief discussed the roadmap and it was agreed to put in place specific measures to deny terrorists’ access to financial and material resources, dismantle their sanctuaries and curtail their ability to recruit and train new terrorists. During the meeting two sides discussed “meaningful steps” that could bring enduring peace and ensure that the gains made in this regard are irreversible. The Murree process shall resume from where it broke off in July. Mr Blinken said that all stakeholders were determined to move forward and “get the right people around the table”.

Prime Minister Nawaz described the enemies of Afghanistan as enemies of Pakistan, adding that: “We are convinced that terrorism and extremism is the common enemy of all. In our view, the finalization of border management SOPs at the earliest will be helpful in containing the movement of terrorists across borders,” he said. President Ghani lauded Pakistan’s decision to launch military operations against militants and also spoke about the ‘unintended consequences’ of these operations. “Unfortunately, recent events in Pakistan have forced us to host close to 350,000 to 500,000 Pakistani refugees on our soil… Until now, we have launched 40 operations against them through our forces.”

The outcome of the conference was the unanimously adopted “Islamabad Declaration,” reaffirming commitment of the Heart of Asia countries for long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan. Towards this end, the declaration stipulated measures for deepening cooperation and collaboration in political, security, economic development and regional connectivity areas, within the HOA region. Recognizing that emerging security challenges have the potential of expanding to the entire region, if timely measures are not taken, the conference agreed on the need to evolve a collective approach to deal with such challenges. It also agreed to continue cooperation in the following Confidence Building Measures (CBMs): disaster management; counter-terrorism; counter-narcotics; trade, commercial and investment opportunities; regional infrastructure; and education.

Heart of Asia Ministerial meeting also provided an opportunity to hold important bilateral meetings. The most important subject in these sideline meetings was to explore ways and means of improving Afghanistan-Pakistan relations and facilitating the resumption of stalled Afghan reconciliation process. Key elements of this consensus were: peace in Afghanistan is vital for the peace in the region and beyond; closer collaboration and coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan is essential for promoting peace in Afghanistan and for effectively combating terrorism; and reconciliation through a politically negotiated settlement is the only viable option for promoting long-term peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s role and commitment for facilitating peace talks was recognized.

Pakistan and India have agreed to restart the dialogue process, Sushma Swaraj disclosed at a joint press conference with Sartaj Aziz: “Instead of composite dialogues now comprehensive dialogues will be held in which all outstanding issues will be discussed”. All eight sectors of the composite dialogue would be part of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue and more things could be added to it. Comprehensive dialogue will include discussions on peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, confidence building measures, the Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, economic and commercial cooperation, counterterrorism, narcotics control and humanitarian issues. It will also address people to people exchanges and religious tourism. Shushma confirmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Pakistan next year for the SAARC summit expected to be held in coming September.

Shushma set out India’s desire for a new trade corridor to be opened into Central Asia through Afghanistan. Indian agreement of a new dialogue with Pakistan reflected an acceptance that Indian ambition of regional trade will never be realized without its better relationship with Pakistan. The new engagement between the two countries has raised hopes of a broader reconciliation.

Pakistan’s troubled neighbourhood—both in the east and west present a treacherous playground in terms of diplomacy and peace process. Fist immediate causality was resignation of pro-India head of Afghanistan’s Directorate of National Security— Rahmatullah Nabi— who does not want his country to engage with Pakistan for joint and cooperative effort for solving the problems these two countries face, despite the fact that none of the countries could resolve these issues without the help of other. Likewise, Modi has a compulsion to please his hardline power base—terrorist outfit Shiv Sena—through Pakistan bashing. His anti-Pakistan rhetoric of electoral campaign has turned out as a bone in the throat which is neither easy to swallow nor viable to vomit. Pakistan is poised to tread a difficult path with both these neighbours.

Though substantial gains were made during the event— both in Pakistan-Afghanistan and Pakistan-India context, track record indicates these are not without the likelihood of their quick meltdown on slightest pretext.

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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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