Last week, Pakistan submitted its progress report to the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) recommended action plan in a bid to escape the forum’s blacklist. The report submitted by Pakistan answers 22 questions that the FATF highlighted in its October meeting, when it asked for verifiable action from Islamabad in the next few months.
Reportedly, Pakistan’s response features the country’s actions against several extremist groups including those that have been listed as terrorist organizations by the United Nations (UN). However, the FATF doesn’t only want Pakistan to take action against the UN-designated militant groups, but also wants Islamabad to convict their members.
It’s important to note that the majority of the action points deal either directly with terror financing or proscribed organizations’ ability to use various channels to keep their campaigns running. During the last hearing, one of the key criticisms of Pakistan’s efforts focused on the country’s inability to choke off extremist groups’ financial operations. So far, Islamabad’s actions have remained concentrated on taking such groups away from the media’s attention and containing their PR campaigns. However, there has been plausible achievement when it comes to uprooting these groups completely.
As of now, it’s unclear whether the problem remains with the country’s ability or unwillingness to take out such groups. Arguably, it’s a combination of both: If Pakistan’s government decides to go after these groups in terms of shutting down their seminaries and completely banning and indicting their leaders, a serious security and political crisis might emerge. For instance, groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) run a chain of seminaries that satisfy the needs of thousands of lower-middle-class families. Arguably, the support of groups like LeT comes from the students and families that have remained associated with the group. Going after the group’s seminaries will not only create political instability domestically, but may also strain the state’s long-standing relationship with it.
This is an area that the government is reluctant to touch. However, for the FATF, the comprehensive shutdown of groups such as LeT is the plausible way to meet the forum’s recommended action plan. While the upcoming plenary review is expected to take place in February 2020, it’s unlikely that Pakistan can completely satisfy the forum. The compliance report Pakistan has submitted is more of an apprise aimed at showing the country’s commitment to the process on the legislative side rather than an improvement to contain extremist groups’ financing in its entirety.
Last week, an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Pakistan’s Punjab province announced that it would indict the head of LeT, Hafiz Saeed, for offenses related to terror financing. However, the expected indictment of Saeed and others has been delayed now for unknown reasons. Regardless, the incoming indictment is not going to be the first time that a leader of a major proscribed organization is being paraded before the courts. Saeed has been placed under house arrest many times. However, his arrest has not impacted the operations or financial strength of his organization. This is surely a concern that has been highlighted by the FATF and it’s unclear how Islamabad is expected to cover this aspect of the recommended action plan.
This is what the forum had told Pakistan in October:
Should significant and sustainable progress not be made across the full range of its action plan by the next plenary, the FATF will take action, which could include the FATF calling on its members and urging all jurisdictions to advise their FI (financial institutions) to give special attention to business relations and transactions with Pakistan.
For Islamabad, a possible way forward remains with the neutralization of domestic proscribed organizations’ radical visions and by presenting the evidence of having done so before the FATF. However, achieving this goal is going to be difficult for the country: ensuring compliance to a level where domestic groups labeled as extremists by the UN are completely disarmed is not something that can be achieved through a bargain or negotiations. Going to a point where such groups are neutralized in all their aspects, including their autonomy to manage their seminaries, is expected to lead to confrontation. Moreover, it’s unclear whether Islamabad wants to go that far anyway, as some of these groups have remained a core part of Pakistan’s regional security policy. Perhaps Pakistan has neither the time nor the disposition to fulfill the FATF’s key action points. The FATF is calling for the shutdown of these groups (or bringing them into the country’s constitutional ambit) when the latter are not even content with Pakistan’s response to the ongoing situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
Only time will tell if Pakistan does anything significant to satisfy the FATF regarding the country’s progress against proscribed organizations. Unless the country presents a solid plan against the proscribed groups’ future and is offered more time to carry out a comprehensive operation in this regard, Pakistan’s chances to win favors at the FATF’s next hearing seem improbable.