No matter what spin it puts around the week-long plenary meet of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that concluded in Paris on February 23, Pakistan will find it difficult to mislead the world about its close links with terror groups. The noose of virtual financial isolation awaits Pakistan if it fails to convince the world by June this year that it has severed its ties with all terror groups which have long been nurtured by itsArmy, and its intelligence wing,ISI, with tacit backing ofsuccessive civilian governments.
FATF’s ‘grey list’ of nations financing terror will not be something new for Pakistan though. It was in that dubious honours list for three years from 2012. It was taken off after Pakistan was reportedly found to be observing the code that bars terror financing. That it soon proved to be an illusion is a testimony to its perfidious nature.
The FATF meet had hardly begun when a Pakistani minister, sitting in freezing Moscow, triumphantly declared via Twitter that Pakistan with the help of ‘friends’ had ‘defeated’ a US-sponsored motion, supported by the UK, Germany and France, to put Pakistan in the ‘grey list’ of countries that not only launder money but also finance terror networks.
That the Pakistani minister could tell in advance the outcome of an international gathering took the members of FATF by surprise. No less baffling was the minister’s claim that Pakistan had humbled the US with the help of ‘friends’ who were led by, of course, China, and included the Islamic countries of the Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, and, somewhat surprisingly Russia.
When the meet ended it must have come as a great shock to the GHQ Shura in Rawalpindi that ‘all weather friend’ China had ditched Pakistan.Saudi Arabia, also retreated though Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi only this very month of February tried to please Riyadh by sending Pakistan troops for duty in the Saudi’s Middle East war against terrorism. That left Pakistan with just one ally, Turkey, which has junked its secularism to emerge as a die-hard anti-US member of NATO.
The change in the Chinese stance must have had a sobering influence on Pakistan, as would the fact that it has been counting chickens before they hatch in regard to its growing ties with Russia. What is now clear is that almost the entire world, including Pakistan’s Islamic ‘bothers’ and ‘all weather friend’ believe that the Land of the Pure is sold out on terrorism and exporting it to its eastern and western neighbours.
China’s Xinjinag province is also a victim of this export. So are the Chinese expatriates working on telecom and other projects taken up under the multi-billion dollar, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The die was cast on the very first day of the year 2018. US President Donald Trump opened his New Year tweets by accusing Pakistan of practicing a policy of ‘lies and deceit’ on terror. He announced firmly that his administration would no more help Pakistan with cash and military hardware but the Pakistanis had responded with the typical bravado mistaking Trumpism to be another usual White House rant.
‘We don’t need US money’, said Pakistani politicians and military brass in unison. They didn’t need US arms either. With loud chest thumping they declared that China was there to meet all their needs for cash and arms. Pakistan didn’t care for US friendship, they said with ‘pride’, when it has an ‘all weather’ friend in China which is expected to replace the US as the world’s foremost superpower.
The anti-America rhetoric was stepped up inside Pakistan to make the people believe that Pakistan was capable of rebuffing the US and could live without its support. As if to buttress these assertions, China offered a cash loan of $ 1000 million, in two tranches of $ 500 million each,to bail out cash strapped Islamabad.
All that bluff and bluster proved to be just that, though the Pakistan leadership may not like to admit it. The civilian leaders are talking of ‘working’ with the US as prospects of sanctions loom large. The army brass is no more firing verbal salvos at Washington and boasting about its nuclear bombs.
After hurried meetings of corps commanders, the army is instead talking about resumption of old ties with Washington. Nobody in Pakistan is saying anymore that the country will be better off and be able to uphold its ‘dignity’ and sovereignty if the US withdraws its patronage.
Why this humiliating turnaround of Pakistani establishment—top military brass with civilian leadership in tow? Well, it is economics, stupid.
It has been necessitated by the realisation that by being termed as a sponsor of terror and terror financing, Pakistan will be facing an unprecedented economic crisis.And by the realisation in the wake of muddled trade talks with China that there is no free lunch from Beijing.
Suddenly Pakistan finds itself face-to-face with the spectre of what a former Pakistan minister, Hafiz Pasha, terms as ‘financial emergency’ since the country is facinga huge drop in forex reserves, and exports.
Foreign reserves are falling on an average of $200-250 million per week since the dawn of New Year; and at this speed, within three months, the country would fall below critical level of $10 billion which is just two months of import cover. Total external debt and liabilities as of December 2017 stood at $88.9 billion, higher by $5.8 billion or 6.9% over six months ago. The Current Account deficit is galloping. It touched 4.10 percent of the country’s GDP in 2017, and is showing no signs of a roll back journey.
According to Hafiz Pasha, Pakistan’s balance of payment problem began soon after it completed the three-year $6.67 billion Extended Fund Facility of the IMF. Should Pakistan be included in the ‘grey list’ now it will have problems in seeking help from the Brettonwoods twins –IMF and World Bank as also other financial institutions. The country will attract even lesser investment.
Without remedial measures that will require help from nations which Pakistan has been abusing passionately the country is bound to face an economic crisis with serious consequences.
Loud mouthed Pakistani officials have to eat the crow to beseech the US and its Western allies to avert disaster. But to regain Western trust, Pakistan will have to demonstrate that it is indeed sincere in taking steps that aim at chocking terror financing. Will that be possible?
It does not look very likely.
In anticipation of trouble at FATF meet, Pakistan had hurriedly promulgated an ordinance to ban ‘charity’ and ‘religious’ outfits run by Jama-u-Dawa ( JuD), and its affiliate, Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF). JuD isthe new name for the banned Lashkar-e-Toiba, (LeT), a terror group that had planned and executed the 2008 Mumbai terror attack that took 166 lives- many of them American, British and Israeli.
The Pakistaniban on terror groups has always been a sham because these groups and their leaders have had no difficulty in carrying out their nefarious and sinister activities right under the nose of the authorities. “Pakistani Militant Leader Gives Fiery Friday Sermon Despite Government Crackdown on Group”, the Wall St Journal reported on Feb 15 in a dispatch from Islamabad on the activities of JuD chief, Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head.
“Our rulers are making this country an American colony (but) we want to make Pakistan a country of true Islam,” he said delivering a blistering attack on Washington at Friday prayers.
Given the cult status he is allowed to enjoy with official patronage, HafizSaeedhopes to get the ban and freeze orders revoked by knocking at the doors of courts. He may succeed in the venture, like he did in the past. Whether the West likes or not and whether the West is willing to acknowledge or not, the likes of Hafiz Seeds and Haqqani Networks are valuable ‘assets’ of the all-powerful Pakistani army in carrying out a proxy war against India, and Afghanistan, and in helping the Islamists usher in the caliphate.
So much so, it is hard to imagine that the Pakistani generals will allow any meaningful action against ‘good terrorists’ like Saeed. Like in the past, this time also the generals will search for new ways to hoodwink the world. Already a foreign lobbyist –firm has been engaged to get an image makeover for Pakistan.
Even for someone who is far removed from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington, Pakistan appears to be living Alnaskar’s dreams with its drive for cosmetic changes. TV host – businessman turned President may be maverick to the core but there can be no underestimating Donald Trump’s resolve to end Pakistani game in the landlocked Afghanistan.
If still in doubt revisit his New Year Day “lies and deceit” tweet, and take a relook at his taunt: “They (Pakistan) give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”