‘Whether name of Pakistan excluded from FATF’s grey list’

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The question put by Ms Shamim Ara Panhwar, a PPP backbencher, at the outset of Monday’s sitting of the National Assembly certainly deserved a comprehensive answer. She wanted to find out from the Minister of Finance and Revenue “whether the name of Pakistan had been excluded from FATF’s grey list or still therein?”

She felt forced to put the said question in writing, because many months ago the government had categorically told her that Pakistan was all set to get out the same list by “June 30, 2021.” Like her, most Pakistanis also preferred to trust the government.

After all, cutting across the party divide, the government and the opposition parties had rushed to pass a plethora of laws in unprecedented haste, almost a year ago. The consensus they quickly developed for passing these laws by a deeply polarised House surely surprised the majority of parliamentary reporters. But most of us soon found out that ultimate guardians of the national security had discreetly goaded both the government and opposition parties to pass those laws without much ado. They were persuaded to disregard the mutual hatred and acrimony in “supreme national interest.”

It is a different matter that while putting these laws before both the houses of parliament, the hawkish ministers kept insisting that Pakistan had to eventually end up in the watch list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF),primarily due to “corrupt practices” of previous rulers. Zardaris and Sharifs like politicians of our shad indulged in massive corruption while heading the elected governments since 2008.

The millions they grabbed, allegedly through audacious abuse of power, were then transferred abroad and after being laundered through dubious offshore companies, the “looted millions” were later used to buy high-end properties in leafy sectors of various world capitals. The global watchdog of financial transactions could simply not disregard the buying binge.

A handful of opposition legislators did dare to question the government promoted story related to FATF’s dealings with Pakistan. It obviously was spun to ruin the reputation of some top opposition leaders.

But the same leaders quietly asked the agitating legislators to behave and continue helping the government in fast passage of the proposed laws. The government was still not willing to act being thankful after the smooth and speedy passage of those laws. “Slaves,” was rather the term, hawkish loyalists of Imran Khan kept using with utmost contempt for that set of opposition legislators, who had attempted to put up a fight to defend their leaders.

The hasty passage of FATF-pleasing laws had radically transformed many established practices of doing business in Pakistan. It also compelled our banking sector to act more vigilant while clearing deposits and withdrawals of the huge amounts of cash. This surely helped documentation of the informal economy, but also empowered the government to constantly watch over our business activities. In the name of satisfying the FATF, the government also acquired almost draconian powers to catch and punish the alleged tax evaders and money launderers. But after conceding much more than what the FATF had actually desired, Pakistan is yet not out of its grey list.

If our National Assembly genuinely savored the clout and powers of a legit and authentic parliament, the Finance Minister would have been personally present to furnish satisfactory answers to validly put questions of Ms Shamim Ara Panhwar. But Shaukat Fayyaz Tarin is a technocrat. He considers it below his stature to attend the assembly sittings. After presenting his first budget in June this year, he seldom took his chair in the house to attentively listen to the speeches “our representatives” kept delivering on budgetary proposals.

In the absence of Tarin, the junior minister of parliamentary affairs, Ali Mohammad Khan, was deputed to deal with questions related to the Ministry of Finance. Khan is usually humble and accommodating. But on Monday he switched to dealing with all questions put to him with condescending arrogance. Instead of focusing on articulating a comprehensive answer, Ali Mohammad Khan started with reminding the House that the FATF had put Pakistan on its grey list during the government of Nawaz Sharif and he did nothing to get us out of it. He was wrong there, but who cares fact checking in either/or season of mudslinging.

Then he proudly went on to proudly claim that the task-driven government of Imran Khan had already met 26, out of a total of 27, demands of the FATF. The problem remains stuck regarding a “technical point.” The minister made no attempt to elaborate the same to educate mortals like you and I. Yet, he seemed to loudly suggest that the FATF wanted the government of Pakistan to “prosecute” some persons, a group of global agencies and organisations had named for being allegedly involved in terror financing.

Pakistan, he firmly asserted, is not a banana republic. We are a sovereign country functioning under a constitution and huge set of well-defined laws. We can’t be dictated to arrest and prosecute people named by ‘others.’ Like the previous governments, he went on, the Imran government was simply not willing to dance to the tunes, emanating from some powerful foreign countries.

Drumming the patriotic zeal of the current government, Ali Mohammad Khan also implied that the FATF continued to keep us on its grey list, “on technical grounds,” simply because “our brave leader, Imran Khan,” resolutely replied with “absolutely not.” He clearly referred to a story that kept claiming that the US had desperately been seeking “facilities (military base)” on the soil of Pakistan to watch over Afghanistan after withdrawing its forces from that country. Prime Minister Imran Khan is believed to have replied with “absolutely not” to this wish.

The opposition legislators visibly looked overwhelmed with the tough posturing of Ali Ahmad Khan. They failed to make him tell the whole truth and name the names, the FATF presumably seem adamant to get prosecuted by the government of Pakistan for allegedly indulging in terror financing.

Ali Mohammad Khan and the rest of ministers have certainly snatched all the vigour and energy from an otherwise number-strong opposition of these days. Most of their top-ranking leaders are facing grave charges of corruption and money laundering. Many of them also served many months in jail and finally came out on bails. After switching to self-protecting mode, they had lost the will to push the government to a tight corner by actively participating in parliamentary proceedings.

No wonder, the Imran government continues relishing enviable upper hand during these proceedings and significant questions related to its performance remain unanswered.