The United States has again asked Pakistan to “do more” to tackle terrorism, especially money laundering and funding of terror outfits, within a time frame and has, significantly, linked it to bilateral trade.
A visiting US delegation asked Pakistan to show tangible and satisfactory actions against banned militant organisations and their leaderships.
It also placed the onus on Pakistan to pacify more countries towards supporting its case to move out of the grey list of Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The linking of curbing terror with bilateral trade comes two weeks after Prime Minister Imran khan’s visit to Washington and his meetings with President Donald Trump and key officials in the rump administration.
It is clear that while Trump himself talked of augmenting bilateral trade, the terror angle is not being ignored.
Even on trade, American officials and some Pakistani experts termed as a move to the US seeking larger Pakistani market, since the tiny Pakistan export basket has little to offer to the Americans.
The American team’s focus was on terror, not so much on trade.
Dawn newspaper quoted an unnamed senior Pakistan government official that a US delegation was in Islamabad to have “an independent assessment” of steps, actions and measures identified during the Florida meetings of the FATF in June this year and the progress made by Pakistan since then.
The FATF is considered an America-backed initiative to curb money laundering and Pakistan, already on the grey list, runs the risk of being placed on the black list. Serious economic sanctions could follow and they would include whatever little economic aid Imran Khan managed during his Washington visit.
The US delegation comprising Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Ambassador Alice G. Wells, US Treasury officials Scott Rembrandt, Grant Vickers, David Galbraith and others also met Adviser to the Pakistn Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh on August 7.
“The adviser briefed the visiting delegation on the measures pertaining to economic reforms being undertaken by the Government of Pakistan to ensure economic discipline, efforts being made towards implementation of FATF Action Plan and the key challenges being faced,” said an official statement.
The official, who has been part of Pakistan’s team interacting with the FATF and Asia Pacific Group (APG) over the past year, said Islamabad had sought to impress upon the visiting team that it had taken significant steps since the FATF meetings in June.
He said foreign consultants had been engaged to support and prepare key Pakistani stakeholders such as Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to take actions and formulate reports keeping in view the international perspective.
The Pakistani side claimed that it had made significant progress during the past one year, particularly over the past couple of months, but adfmitted that the international perspective in various presentations and reports to the APG and FATF was missing.
The US delegation was assured that the National Assembly’s standing committee on finance had cleared two critical bills relating to amendments in Foreign Exchange Regulations and anti-money laundering law.
However, the visiting delegation made it clear that was “more interested in a time frame when they would become laws, properly passed by the parliament and signed by the President of Pakistan,” the Dawn report said.
The US delegation took a “rather strong position” on Pakistan taking actions against banned outfits, their activities and movements of their leaderships and key operatives and wanted some visible progress by the authorities to address adverse opinions from majority of FATF members.
Ambassador Wells-led team’s assessment would be shared with the APG simultaneously with a report to be prepared by Pakistan for discussions in September and then become the basis of FATF meeting due from Oct 13 to 18 in Paris to decide Islamabad’s compliance with requirements of the global financial watchdog relating to anti-money laundering (AML) and to counter terror financing (CFT).
Dr Shaikh briefed the delegation regarding implementation of FATF Action Plan and said the “government is putting in all-out efforts to complete the Action Plan, involving all relevant authorities at the federal and provincial levels, supported by capacity building through international partners”.
The adviser expressed Pakistan’s commitment to enhance the effectiveness of its AML/CFT framework being undertaken by the government, with the objective to ensure that all the actions that were being taken to curb terror financing were irreversible and sustainable.
Amb Wells appreciated the briefings and expressed that the US would continue to remain engaged with Pakistan in its economic reforms efforts and “help build an environment that facilitates business development between the two countries,” the statement said.
Sheikh emphasized the importance of bilateral engagement with the US and told the delegation that over the past three months, the government had taken significant steps to bring financial discipline that include reduction in current account deficit, focus on increasing revenue generation, measures to reduce fiscal expenditures, reduce fiscal borrowings, efforts to enhance foreign exchange reserves through bilateral and multilateral support, arrangement of petroleum credit facility.
He was reassuring the US team as its assessment would be seen by the IMF that has pledged Pakistan USD six billion loan to tide over its foreign exchange holdings and foreign debt servicing.
The IMF, negotiating for several months now, has remain unimpressed with Pakistan, either on curbing terror funding or on managing its economy better to make it more viable, (Ends)