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Complexities of Afghan conflict

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Mr Nicholas Haysom, has emphasised that the Afghan Government must manage its difficult transition, as the Security Council extended the UN mission there for another year, on March 18, 2016. He highlighted five major hurdles including a contracting economy, an intensifying insurgency, an increasingly divided political environment, significant medium-term financial demand, and the need to achieve progress towards a sustainable peace. “For 2016, survival will be an achievement” for the Government, he said. “Some may criticize this benchmark as being low, but survival does not mean inaction, or merely ‘treading water,’ but it means active engagement in confronting the five challenges,” he added.

On the economic front, there had been an assumption in 2012 that the economy will continue eight per cent annual growth and the exploitation of Afghanistan’s abundant mineral resources would drive economic development. “It is now clear however that neither would occur,” Mr. Haysom said. The World Bank now expects low economic growth, off a low base, which in turn has resulted in high unemployment, with hundreds of thousands of young people entering the work force each year finding no jobs.

Taliban’s growing military might is posing a thorny strategic question for President Barack Obama: Either Keep the stringent rules limiting the numbers of strikes in place and risk seeing the militants continue to gain ground, or allow American pilots to bomb a broader array of targets at the risk of deepening Washington’s combat role in Afghanistan; and as a result, further diminish the chances of any progress in the evasive peace process.

On domestic side, leading problem is that diverse non-state security providers – warlords, tribal leaders and local strongmen – diminish the state authority in Afghanistan. The support of international actors has allowed non-state security actors to operate without the consent of communities, and radiate a sense of impunity. This has increasingly made the Afghan central government irrelevant in country’s peripheries.

On political side, President Ashraf Ghani is not taking any bold initiative, his outreach to Taliban factions is limited to small entities having little military capacity. Militarily significant Taliban outfits continue to reject calls for any possible end to the war. Peace is preconditioned by them with full withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan. Taliban are able to carry out high-profile attacks in all parts of the country, more than ever before; such ground realities make it hard for the Afghan people to swallow the idea that US troops are present to continue the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. Growing strength of the Taliban and the failure of US military strategies to counter their attacks supports the notion that there could be no military solution to the war in Afghanistan. Over the past 15 years. No lessons have been learnt by the Afghan- US side; and there is insistence on repeating the mistakes.

Positive momentum was generated by the successful meeting of the Heart of Asia process hosted by Islamabad and jointly inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani. This led to the decision by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China to create a Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) to provide decisive impetus to Afghanistan’s peace efforts. Success of this new mechanism was predicated on the shared commitment and shared responsibility of each of its four members.

Task ahead for QCG is complex and arduous and prudence demands that expectations be kept realistic and strategic patience should be exercised. It is essential now to create an enabling environment to operationalize and sustain a peace process that is, at least notionally, Afghan-led. A number of factors are critical to establishing such an environment. There should be consistent and unified positions and declarations from the Afghan government affirming its commitment to work for a negotiated peace. In this regard recent statements by the Afghan leadership and the revamping of the High Peace Council are steps in the right direction. Also, there must be a demonstrated capacity by the Afghan security forces to hold territory on their own. This would help create conditions for the Taliban to return to the negotiating table.
Pakistan is playing its due part by offering to host direct talks between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban. Limitation of Pakistan’s influence got exposed recently. Reportedly, Pakistani officials threatened to expel Afghanistan’s Taliban from bases in Pakistan if they did not join peace talks, but the militants rebuffed the notion. Taliban have won new zones of influence and control from Afghan security forces. They no longer need their Pakistan bases in the same way as they did in 2014 and before, so if Pakistan threatens to expel them, it does not have the same effect. Taliban’s Supreme Council has voted to reject the talks scheduled for March. Taliban are now pouring into potential combat zones for what they say will be a fierce spring offensive to be launched soon.

Earlier on March 07, The United States renewed its appeal to the Taliban to join peace talks and said Afghan and the US forces would have to prepare themselves for the prospect of increased violence in the spring and summer if the insurgent group did not agree to negotiations. Taliban leadership responded by asking its fighters to hide in the mountains to avoid any losses due to stepped-up American bombing.

State Department spokesman John Kirby has said that the United States backed a call by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the Taliban to join talks with the Kabul government. “They have a choice. Rather than continuing to fight their fellow Afghans and destabilizing their country, they should engage in a peace process and ultimately become a legitimate part of the political system of a sovereign united Afghanistan… There is and should be a sense of urgency around getting these talks up and running,” he added.

Heavy fighting has continued over the winter from Helmand in the south to Jowzjan province in the north, while suicide attacks have been launched in the capital and other urban centres. In a rare exception this time Taliban continued their tactical attacks even during harsh winters; earlier, each year they used to take a break from fighting from November to March. Taliban’s recent success on the battlefield inside Afghanistan has changed the equation. They have little incentive to step off the battlefield now, given recent gains and those likely to come in the next few months.

A member of the Taliban’s leadership council, recently said that rebel representatives met in Islamabad with Pakistani officials a little more than two weeks ago. “They have asked our representatives to bring more decision-making people to the next meeting … to the meeting with US and Afghan officials. This is their dream, but they will not be able to see our senior commanders,” the Taliban council member said. A senior Pakistani security official with knowledge of the talks said: “I don’t think the talks are dead, but they are definitely plagued by a serious illness…The ones who are in Pakistan…We have told them repeatedly that they will have to leave if they don’t participate in the process…We have done what we can … but influence does not mean control. Those days are long gone.”

War in Afghanistan was a willful creation, albeit a wrong one. Afghans are urging an end to this needless war. For the well-being of future afghan generations, comity of nations owes to Afghans a responsible end to this war.

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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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