ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Wednesday said it is optimistic that the country will be removed from the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list this week, but experts argue it is unlikely to happen during the watchdog's ongoing plenary session.
The FATF is reviewing Pakistan’s progress in countering money-laundering and terrorism financing in a virtual plenary session from Wednesday to Friday.
"We are quite hopeful to be removed from the grey list as we have worked hard to comply with the action plan,” Mohsin Mushtaq Chandna, special secretary at the Ministry of Finance, told Arab News.
He added that the government’s team was "fully prepared" to represent the country in the virtual meeting from Wednesday to Friday.
Experts argue, however, that while Pakistan has made progress in implementing 21 points of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) 27-point action plan, many issues remain and the best outcome of the session would be a deadline extension for Islamabad to address them.
“A lot of issues are still pending which need to be fixed like procedures regarding money transfer and banks compliance to certain protocols,” academic and columnist Umair Javed told Arab News.
“The best-case scenario for Pakistan is that it gets an extension to implement the remaining action points while staying on the grey list.”
He added that since some countries may try to push Pakistan to the FATF’s black list, it will matter how Islamabad handles its diplomacy during the watchdog's session.
According to Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center, blacklisting will not happen. "Pakistan has made considerable progress on a number of its items and its action plan, and unless Pakistan were to experience significant backsliding in these areas, there's really no way that they could be blacklisted," Kugelman told Arab News.
He expressed doubt, however, over Pakistan's chance to exit the grey list, as despite progress many institutions exploited for terrorism financing still have not been dealt with. "There are concerns over new laws, new initiatives not being properly enforced, no indication that there is a clear blueprint, or how these initiatives will be enforced."
In political terms what may be significant, he said, is that "China no longer holds the presidency within the FATF and that means that it's not going to have an ally at the very top to try to help it."
Pakistan was placed on the FATF’s grey list in June 2018, after the 39-member global organization found deficiencies in the country’s legal framework to counter terrorism financing and money-laundering. Islamabad was then handed a 27-point action plan to initiate adequate measures to be removed from the grey list.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the FATF extended Pakistan’s deadline to meet the action plan from June to October.
The move to place Pakistan on the grey list was spearheaded by the United States over inaction against proscribed outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Jamatud Dawa, both of which were accused of cross-border terrorism. Islamabad has since seized assets of the groups and imprisoned their leaders. It has also recently adopted legislation that strengthens its banking channels against money-laundering to the FATF action plan's requirements.
“I’m sure the member countries of the FATF will appreciate the will of the current government and in such a short span the way Pakistan has implemented these 21 points, it is very appreciable,” Muzzammil Aslam, a Karachi-based senior economist, told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan required support of at least three FATF members to avoid blacklisting, and eight to 12 members to exit the grey list, but the US decision would be decisive.
"Pakistan has already engaged one of the lobbyists for this (in the US) and if not in October, then definitely we’ll be out of the grey list next year in June,” Aslam said.
Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, a former adviser to the Ministry of Finance, said that Pakistan has strengthened its anti-money laundering and terrorism financing regime in compliance with the FATF’s action plan.
“Considering the sincere effort since 2018 and more than satisfactory progress, Pakistan would be taken off the grey list of the FATF sooner than later,” he told Arab News.