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Intricacies of spying via third country

Use of neighbouring soils as launching pad for hostile intelligence agencies for disruptive and subversive purposes is not uncommon. The cardinal question is whether it is in the know of the government of the neighbouring country. In Pakistan’s setting India has been using Iranian and Afghan territories for such purposes. Successive Afghan governments have been in the know of this activity, and at times, active partner in some activities of Indian intelligence outfits. While in case of Iran, in all probability, Indian intelligence agencies have been operating without the knowledge of Iranian government. In this context the message by Pakistan’s Army Chief to visiting Iranian President: “Sometimes [RAW] also uses the soil of our brother country, Iran. I request they should be told to stop these activities and allow Pakistan to achieve stability,” was appropriate.

However, this message should have originated from the foreign office in the form of an ambassador level Demarche. It could have either been made public or handled discreetly. In case it was necessary to originate such signalling from Army Chief’s office, then confidentiality should have been discreetly guarded. A step back was in order after denial of discussion on this point by Iranian President. Judging by diplomatic norms, the message was strongly worded. And the standard diplomatic practice is that the text of any press statement meant to be released after such meetings is usually agreed to by both sides and then made public. Sometimes, the issues discussed are not made public due to the sensitivities involved. It was quite embarrassing for the government of Pakistan, it further strengthened the notion of much talked about parallel centre of power in Pakistan.

The militarised version of diplomacy was indeed a faux pas, giving God sent opportunity to vested interests to unleash a spree of comments maligning Iran and its leadership. The issue of detained Indian spy-cum-terrorist operative Commander Kulbhushan Yadav is not linked with Iran. It has to do with India. It however does not mean that Pakistan-Iran relations are free of fault lines—mainly ethno-sectarian— that provoke violence at societal level. However, both countries have a history of prudently managing the trouble spots. Since the Islamic revolution in Iran, Pakistan is in the cross fire of sectarian based global cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Notwithstanding, whenever Saudi-Iran tensions spike, Pakistan takes upon itself to cool the tempers. Pakistan resisted from being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian conflict in Yemen, earlier sectarian crisis in Bahrain and recent crisis after the execution of a Saudi Shia religious scholar by Saudi Arabia. Pakistan as a nation does not believe in sectarianism. All the proxies against Pakistan aimed at creating sectarian divide have failed. Pakistan’s effort to settle crises in Yemen and Syria is testimony of its stance on such issues which has been appreciated by international community. However, Pakistan’s joining of 34 country Saudi led alliance has not gone down well with Iran. Pakistan will have to watch out its steps with regard to role and task of this alliance, especially in the context of Iran.

Kulbhushan Yadav, was arrested in a raid near the Pak-Afghan border town of Chaman, in Balochistan. He was in contact with Baloch separatists and terrorists fuelling sectarian violence and subversion. Yadav was deployed in Iran’s Chabahar port before crossing into Balochistan. Indian has invested heavily in the development of this port and is also investing billions of rupees in the Special Economic Zone in Chabahar. Chabahar port gives India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. Though the two ports are not substitute for each other, as each belongs to different category, both Iran and India view Gawadar as rival port of Chabahar. However, recently an MOU has been signed between Iran and Pakistan declaring these as sister ports.

Notwithstanding the spy issue, Iran has always proved itself as a confident partner and neighbour for Pakistan and the western borders of Pakistan have never been militarised. Iran considers its borders with Pakistan as borders of peace and friendship. “Security of Iran is security of Pakistan and security of Pakistan is security of Iran,” Iranian President said during his visit.

Iran has conveyed to Pakistan that it is investigating whether an Indian spy arrested last month in Balochistan crossed the border illegally or was picked up from its soil. India has already claimed that Yadav was picked up from the Iranian soil. India putting pressure on Iran to register a case against Pakistani agencies. India is also seeking to enlist support of the United States, the United Kingdom and France to convince Iran to go by its claim that Yadav was kidnapped from the Iranian soil. New Delhi has even threatened Tehran to choose between Pakistan and India, leaving Iran in a quandary.

Pakistan has irrefutable evidence of Yadav crossing over into Balochistan from Iran. Pakistan would present the evidence to the world, if Iran decided to follow the Indian version. Pakistan has already handed over evidence regarding Yadav’s arrest to key world powers, including the US and UK, they have not yet responded; these powers had quickly responded when India approached them over the January 2 attack on Pathankot airbase, which in all probability was a false flag operation by Indian intelligence agencies.

Iran was the first country to recognise Pakistan after its independence. The two countries were members of Cento. Along with Turkey, the trio formed the RCD, which later evolved into ECO. The warmth and depth of ties between the two countries can be judged by the fact that during the 1965 war with India, Iran sided with Pakistan. It also helped quash the insurgency in Balochistan. During 2010 floods in Pakistan while appealing to Iranian public for helping flood effected people, Supreme leader broke-down into tears. Over the years Iran’s stance on Kashmir has become more favourable to Pakistan. Visit by Iranian President was very significant because of the emerging geopolitical situation in the region.

Imposition of sanctions on Iran because of the nuclear issue had limited the scope of trade between the two countries. The Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline also became a casualty of tensions between the US and Iran, and India withdrew from the project. Pakistan could not construct the much-needed portion of the pipeline on its side due to the UN sanctions. Pakistan kept the project alive under difficult circumstances. Iran has urged Pakistan to build the IP gas pipeline section on its side as soon as possible. Pakistan needs gas from Iran and the lifting of the sanctions on Iran by the UN has also removed the hurdles in its way. China has also indicated its willingness to contribute to the construction of the pipeline. Pakistan should avail the opportunity.

In the backdrop of lifting of sanctions against Iran, the visit of the Iranian president provided a unique opportunity to transform relations between the two countries into a partnership of business and trade. The two countries signed six MoUs, which would boost their bilateral trade to $5billion within the next five years, from the current $1 billion mark. Iran must look forward to the removal of non-tariff barriers and Pakistan must set mechanism to purchase oil from Iran as well.

Both countries must understand each other’s importance. Pakistan and Iran are both intertwined and interdependent, sharing common grounds with similar strategic prospects and challenges. There are amazing opportunities existing between Pakistan and Iran, need is to exploit them for common good. Pakistan Iran relations are certainly not hinged on Yadav issue. As investigations by Pakistan and Iran conclude, both countries would soon come to a close on this matter. They would obviously put this behind and move forward on a path of enduring partnership.

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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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