Western powers want action against terrorist Hafiz Saeed and his groups. Photo: Reuters / Mohsin Raza
Western powers want action against terrorist Hafiz Saeed and his groups. Photo: Reuters / Mohsin Raza

Pakistan looks set to end up on the global terror watchlist again after its diplomatic maneuvering ahead of last week’s Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Paris proved fruitless.

The United States called for an unprecedented second meeting to review Pakistan’s position, two days after Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif announced in a self-congratulatory tweet that Islamabad had received a ‘three-month reprieve’. Asif had claimed that Pakistan’s “efforts have paid (off)”.

Multiple diplomatic sources confirmed to Asia Times that the second meeting on Pakistan was called up after the minister ‘openly leaked’ details of the meetings. “The US officials were outraged by the clear breach, and decided to call up a follow-up meeting to discuss the matter to review Pakistan,” a senior diplomat told Asia Times.

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The biggest setback came through China and Saudi Arabia who, in their second vote, backed out from supporting Pakistan from being put on the ‘grey-list’.

Islamabad made several efforts to muster support from FATF member states in the lead-up to the meeting. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif made a trip to Moscow to meet his counterpart Sergey Lavrov during the Paris meeting. Sources confirmed that the two discussed support for Pakistan during the FATF meeting, apart from counter-terror cooperation and military deals.

Saudis persuaded to drop support

A similar request was also made to Saudi Arabia as Pakistan agreed to send military troops to the kingdom before the FATF meet. Saudi Arabia did vote against Pakistan being grey-listed, but was later talked out of it by US officials.

“The US officials went out of their way to convince the Saudis, while China backed out from supporting Pakistan afterwards because the Chinese vote wouldn’t have sufficed since three votes are needed to block the move and Pakistan only had Turkey’s,” a Foreign Office official told Asia Times.

Pakistan now risks being blacklisted unless it can present a convincing action plan which will be scrutinized at the next FATF meeting. Since Islamabad did not present its proposals at last week’s meetings, it temporarily avoided being placed on the grey-list, where it was placed from 2012 to 2015.

“The Asia Pacific group that takes action over the list has been kind to Pakistan [when the country was last on the list], but there is a lot more stringent scrutiny now,” Muhammad Amir Rana, a security analyst and director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), told Asia Times.

Big impact on relations with the EU

“The biggest impact on being grey-listed will be on Pakistan’s relations with the EU and the Euro Bonds that it has sold,” he added.

Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi, author of ‘Pakistan and the Geostrategic Environment: A Study of Foreign Policy’, told Asia Times that Pakistan managed to survive the grey-list between 2012 and 2015 because the US didn’t take any hard action.

“Pakistan survived back then because the US wasn’t as against Islamabad as it is now. The other Western powers didn’t express similar antagonism either. The US was actually giving aid to Pakistan back then,” Rizvi said.

“But now with the Western powers against Pakistan, any country can scrutinize economic relations with Pakistan. So, even things like expats sending remittances back home might be monitored more thoroughly than they might’ve been in the past.”

The Hafiz Saeed factor

Days before the meeting, in a bid to forestall the FATF verdict, Pakistan passed an Anti-Terrorism Order that labeled Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, and his groups, as terrorists. But this action — a repeat of last year’s move when Pakistan put Saeed under house arrest ahead of the FATF meeting — was clearly seen as insufficient.

Saeed managed to not only create a political party – the Milli Muslim League (MML) – while under house arrest. He even vowed to contest the general elections this year, after being released in November.

While the meeting was going on in Paris, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a news briefing that action would be taken against Pakistan for not doing enough to counter terrorism at home, and specifically mentioned Hafiz Saeed. Multiple sources have said the FATF wants action against Saeed and his groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jama’at-ud-Dawah.

Pakistan’s former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri has described the developments in Paris as a “diplomatic shambles”.

“Pakistan can no longer sell its narrative because the world is clearly watching us,” he said while talking to Asia Times. “Pakistan needs to start taking action against militant groups, not because there is international pressure to do so, but simply because it is in Pakistan’s own best interests.”

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