Pakistan on FATF grey list: The Sheer Diplomatic brilliance of Modi-Trump

Pakistan FATF

As the threat of being re-listed as an economy which in part was a sponsor of terror loomed over Pakistan, Pakistan had put into motion the wheels of its usual double game in an effort to wriggle out of the well-deserved tag. After two months of dropping the sham of house arrest on Hafeez Saeed, it moved to ban his venomous terror funding charities Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) with an eye towards appearing to act against terror on its soil. The chutzpah of using Hafiz Saeed as symbol of acting against terror in context of FATF was particularly ironical since events to the steps being taken at financial action task force (FATF) ran parallel to an attempt to bring Hafeez Saeed into the political mainstream.

As the review of meeting of International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) was deliberating on Pakistan’s case in Argentina, Pakistan was on its way towards dispensing with façade of restrictions on Hafeez Saeed. This was in turn preceded by allowing JuD to form a political party the Milli Muslim League, which in September fielded its first candidate in a by-election in Lahore. Interestingly even their candidate, Yaqoob Shaikh, was on a US government list of sanctioned individuals for their connections to terrorism. Predictably the review meeting ended with a resolution calling attention to Pakistan’s support for to Pakistan’s support to the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e- Mohammad and affiliated groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

Further the international community chastised Pakistani government and its central bank for their role is supporting terror funding and asked for a full report at the FATF meeting in February. Having encouraged and allowed a free run to Hafeez Saeed in particular amongst the many terrorists it breeds on its soil even as the international community was calling out Pakistan on multiple counts, to offer the same individual as a symbolic sacrificial lamb without really touching him demands a level of incredible barefaced shameless duplicity only Pakistanis are capable of.

Of course, the pretensions of Pakistani state have not fooled anyone, shortly after Pakistan’s statement claiming to act against terror charities was announced, India called them out as mere eyewash. It would of course know about it, having seen Pakistani perfidy first hand for decades. In the last such exercise in 2014, while Pakistan had ostensibly banned JuD and Haqqani network following the Peshawar school attacks, there was no action taken on ground whatsoever to back the paper ban called only for public consumption. The names never even made it to their National Counter Terrorism Agency website, let alone as a directive to the police, paramilitary and army to act on any of these entities.

The same events continue to play out even in the recent charade. The ramshackle page even now does not carry a single working link let alone a reference to actions against the terrorists. The counter terror wing (CTW) page of Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) seems to think that it’s still 2014 going by the current updates on the page. On ground the facilities which are supposedly taken over by government may or may not have even a single government representative monitoring the 200-acre campuses with thousands of staff and students. And these are firsthand accounts of well-known larger ones in and around Lahore.

Pakistani government claims to still working to obtain data about the total scale and distribution of these entities, let alone even a feeble attempt to take them over. Donations to the charities continue unabated and no one in the seminaries seem to have even noticed that they are now banned. The incredibly laughable joke of the ban has unfortunately not resulted in an as widespread laughter the world over such a brilliant farce should deserve. Instead, Washington grimly pointed out to ”ongoing deficiencies in Pakistan’s implementation of its anti-money laundering/counterterrorism finance regime”.

Specifically, as long as Hafeez Saeed remains unpunished any of Pakistan’s protestations towards her innocence cannot even begin to be taken seriously. What needs to be done, as correctly articulated by US Under Secretary of State John Sullivan during a Senate hearing recently, is for Pakistan to take ”decisive and sustained actions to address our concerns, including targeting all terrorist groups operating within its territory, without distinction”. Of course, this strategy whose expectations have been made clear to Pakistan would in turn mean turning entire idea of Pakistan on its head, including its deep-seated hate for Kafir Hindu Indians and thus is unlikely to materialize any time soon.

It is here that Pakistan has put its left-handed game in high gear to squirm out of international sanctions. It appears that Pakistan has managed to line up three countries towards its cause within the FATF, reports suggest they are China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. While not being outright surprises, the list certainly is interesting.

China of course was expected to be in Pakistan’s corner throughout, with its deep economic interests in Pakistan being jeopardized by such a move, not to mention the overall strategic alignment it has with that country. The names which raise eyebrows are Saudi Arabia and Turkey. For Mohamed Bin Salman’s SA, trying its own hand at moderate pretense, to support Pakistan on the issue of terror is perplexing. Neither was Turkey expected to stick its neck out for a known terror supporting country given the current state of heightened animosity its running into with both Russia and U.S. on the issue of support of anti-government IS factions in Syria. Yet both these countries have gone against a determined push by United States carrying out Donald Trump’s agenda of punishing Pakistan for not falling in line with its demands.

It also appears that Saudi Arabia is speaking not only for itself but has the support of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in its pro-Pakistan position at FATF. So then how has Pakistan managed to pull a rabbit out the hat? Knowing full well that its faking news variety efforts are no longer gaining traction, it is now falling back on the time-tested tactic that has served it well, of being a rentier state in conjugation with the Islamist cause. After long parceling out its land in return of geo-political favors it’s now made its army available for hire. Saudi Arabia had not taken kindly to Pakistan’s refusal to send its troops to fight its war in Yemen and had not been supportive of Pakistan since Pakistan quailed from getting involved in the sectarian West Asian conflict. The price for regaining Saudi support in international arena was then to make Pakistani army available to Prince Mohamed Bin Salman for his use as he thinks fit. At the moment it is not confirmed what brought about Turkey’s support, but it does appear that Pakistan’s support for the anti-Shia anti-Iran initiative in terms of falling in with Saudi Arabian plans have purchased the support of anti-Alawite Turkey, which is rapidly moving back to its extreme Sunni roots.

The emergent China-Pakistan-SA-Turkey axis arrayed against U.S. did seem to get initial success at least. There were jubilant reports from Pakistan on Wednesday that FATF had agreed to give it a three month breather in order to provide consolidated reports of actions taken by it towards limiting terror financing. This reprieve was on the back of lack of agreement within member countries as the pro-Pakistan axis resisted attempts at U.S. led proposals to grey list Pakistan once again. Even as celebrations echoed in Islamabad on the account of the three month breather, U.S. had already started moving to counter the reverse.

An indication towards the same came when US state department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters “The final decision on that was due later this week, so I don’t want to get ahead of what that final decision would be”. U.S. of course is not alone in bringing diplomatic pressure to bear on Pakistan. Narendra Modi had already been leading Indian efforts towards building global consensus on the same in the run up to FATF review, visiting the Gulf countries in January as a part of his outreach.

The agenda for PM’s visit to Gulf countries was seen as somewhat less than clear, unless we link it with the parallel moves that Indian officials had in reaching out to Moscow, Germany, France and EU as a whole in the run up to the FATF. Neither India nor US appears to be about to give up the great game on the diplomatic front on which they are clearly investing significant time and effort. Even if the expectations of having a clear censure of Pakistan before the week ends in Paris did not come to be, it was very clear that India and U.S. were going to use the three months that Pakistan might get to negate the axis that Pakistan has built up.

The issue of calling out of Pakistani terror financing has turned out to be much, much bigger game than a simple diplomatic demarche stating the obvious. What we are seeing play out has within it the potential for changing the entire set of geo-political alignments. As the events play out, if MBS were to antagonize Trump in return for Pakistani troops this would be a choice of far reaching terms of how MBS wants to position SA in years to come. How far Turkey is willing to be seen as antagonizing Europe and Russia would let us know about limits of Turkey’s power. If indeed these countries continue their support for Pakistan in the teeth of international pressure, the world would see a de-facto Sunni coalition come to being for the first time.

If the world sees this in a clear form, blowback would certainly happen, especially if Iran is willing to reconsider its inveterate anti-Israel stand. We could very well see a US-Russia-Iran-India agreement emerge. On the other hand, of course, if SA and Turkey are not ready or do not want to make the international order into Sunni Islam vs the rest of the world, they would be circumspect in how much obviously they support Pakistan. In which case MBS will buckle down to Trump and the world would get to see Pakistan branded as a terror sponsor that it is.

That outcome too tells us about the what power equations are coming to play. This outcome means a solidification of US-India partnership and establishes primacy of India in the Indian subcontinent and Indian Ocean Region in terms of being able to outmaneuver China-Pakistan axis. Of course this would have longer term blowbacks of their own, especially in terms of how China reacts to being shown up. In any case, as the WWI was triggered by a simple assassination, what we are seeing is setting the stage of great changes in worlds geo-polity, being decided by discussions on a relatively simple issue of banking sanctions on the terror state of Pakistan.

As the complex set of movements and counters played out, the final act played on Friday, where the sustained thrust on the issue by India and Pakistan across multiple diplomatic spectrums finally trumped Pakistani efforts to wriggle out. News has emerged that FATF has agreed to put Pakistan on terror financing grey list. While a full picture of the impact would emerge as the entire set of sanctions is formally announced by the committee, it would be at the very least a very heavy blow to already fragile Pakistani economy. This also cements the perception of India having arrived on the world stage, where it can influence global bodies while acting with it partners to get favorable geo-political outcomes. Post Doklam, this would a very significant marker in terms of India’s ability to stare down adversarial powers at global stage.

While we do live in interesting times, the drama on show does make up for it.