By Ghulam Haider
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global money laundering and terrorism financing watchdog, on Friday removed Pakistan from a list of countries under “increased monitoring”, also known as the “grey list”.
The decision, which provides a boost to the reputation of the crisis-ridden South Asian nation, was taken at the end of a two-day meeting in Paris, Financial Action Task Force (FATF) president T Raja Kumar told a news conference on Friday.
“After a lot of work by the Pakistani authorities, they have worked through two separate action plans and completed a combined 34 action items to address deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing systems,” FATF president T Raja Kumar told.
Kumar said a FATF team had visited Pakistan and was satisfied with the implementation of the programme.
“It has two concurrent action plans. After a lot of work by Pakistani authorities, they have largely addressed all of the action plan items,” he said.
Even though the country had been removed from list, “there is work to be done,” Raja said, adding that the FATF encouraged Pakistan to strengthen its monitoring mechanisms.
With its removal from the list, Pakistan would essentially receive a reputational boost and get a clean bill of health from the international community on terrorist financing.
It would also improve sentiment, important from a foreign direct investment perspective.
Recent widespread floods in Pakistan have further weakened the country’s economy, already in turmoil with a rising current account deficit, inflation above 20% and a sharp depreciation of the rupee currency.
In a meeting in June, the FATF had said it was keeping Pakistan on the so-called “grey list”, but said it might be removed after an on-site visit to verify progress.
He stated that the task force had conducted an onsite visit at the end of August. The onsite team verified that there is a high-level of commitment from the Pakistani leadership, sustainability of reforms and commitment to make improvements in the future, he said.
“As a result of these action plans, Pakistan has made significant improvements to strengthen the effectiveness of this framework for combating terrorism financing.”
Kumar said steps had also been taken to strengthen risk-based supervision of financial and non-financial institutions, improve asset confiscation outcomes, and investigate and prosecute money laundering.
“As a result of this, Pakistan has been removed from the increased monitoring list,” he said.
In its handout, the FATF stated that it welcomed Pakistan’s “significant progress” in improving its anti-money laundering and combating financing terror (AML/CFT) regime.
“Pakistan has strengthened the effectiveness of its AML/CFT regime and addressed technical deficiencies to meet the commitments of its action plans regarding strategic deficiencies that the FATF identified in June 2018 and June 2021, the latter of which was completed in advance of the deadlines, encompassing 34 action items in total.
“Pakistan is, therefore, no longer subject to the FATF’s increased monitoring process,” the handout said, adding that the country would continue to work with the Asia-Pacific Group to further improve its AML/CFT system.
‘Exiting grey list vindication of our efforts’
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was quick to congratulate the country on the development moments before the FATF press conference began.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said Pakistan’s exiting the FATF grey list was a “vindication of our determined and sustained efforts over the years”.
He congratulated the civil and military leadership as well as all institutions whose hard work led to today’s success. “Aap sab ko bohat bohat Mubarak,” the premier said, following up with a text smiley.
PM Shehbaz particularly commended the role and efforts of FM Bilawal, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, their teams and all political parties for putting up a united front to get Pakistan out of the grey list.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said the efforts of the civil-military team, under the leadership of PM Shehbaz, in achieving this goal were “highly commendable”.
PPP’s Farhatullah Babar said Pakistan’s inclusion in the list was “largely because of the perception of running with hare and hunting with the hound in fighting militants”.
“Hope lingering perception indeed is corrected and lessons learnt. Congratulations,” he said.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar said this “long and arduous journey” had only been made possible through strong political ownership across the political spectrum.
“It shows Pakistan can achieve much when we work together for Pakistan’s interest,” she said.
“There are many people who consistently worked through the four years to achieve success today. A few of them are here in Paris who were part of the final lap, but many others in a wide array of ministries/organisations/institutions are in Pakistan. I particularly want to congratulate them also,” she said.
PTI claims credit
Meanwhile, PTI leaders claimed credit for Pakistan’s exit from the grey list. Ex-minister Hammad Azhar said that from October 2018 till March 2022, Pakistan completed all action items related to FATF dual scrutiny.
“The credit goes to our fantastic team of officers in the Centre and provinces from an array of government divisions,” he said.
PTI leader Imran Ismail said that the credit for the achievement goes to the PTI government and the team led by former premier Imran Khan, which worked tirelessly.
PTI’s Babar Awan shared a picture of the National Assembly in session, stating that this was taken on the day he presented bills related to Pakistan’s removal from grey list.
“The imported prime minister and his courtiers stood up and opposed these bills. Pakistanis, do not forget,” he exclaimed.
Grey list saga
Pakistan was included among jurisdictions under increased monitoring list in June 2018 for deficiencies in its legal, financial, regulatory, investigations, prosecution, judicial and non-government sector to fight money laundering and combat terror financing considered serious threat to global financial system.
Islamabad made high-level political commitments to address these deficiencies under a 27-point action plan. But later the number of action points was enhanced to 34.
The country had since been vigorously working with FATF and its affiliates to strengthen its legal and financial systems against money laundering and terror financing to meet international standards in line with 40-recommendations of the FATF.
A 15-member joint delegation of the FATF and its Sydney-based regional affiliate — Asia Pacific Group — paid an onsite visit to Pakistan from Aug 29 to Sept 2 to verify the country’s compliance with the 34-point action plan committed with the FATF.
The authorities that had kept the countrywide visit of the delegation low profile later termed it “a smooth and successful visit”. The delegation had detailed discussions with relevant agencies pursuant to the authorisation of onsite Visit by FATF Plenary in June 2022.
According to the Foreign Office, the focus of the visit was to validate on ground Pakistan’s high-level commitment and sustainability of reforms in AML/CFT regime and [it] looked forward to logical conclusion to the evaluation process. The report of FATF Onsite team will be discussed in FATF’s International Cooperation Review Group and plenary meetings.
Pakistan believed that as a result of strenuous and consistent efforts over the past four years, it has not only achieved a high degree of technical compliance with FATF standards but also ensured high level of effectiveness through implementation of two comprehensive FATF action plans.
In June this year, FATF had found Pakistan “compliant or largely compliant” on all the 34 points and had decided to field an onsite mission to verify it on ground before formally announcing the country’s exit from the grey list that finally took place in August and September.
In terms of technical compliance with FATF standards, Pakistan has been rated by APG as “compliant or largely compliant” in 38 out of 40 FATF recommendations in August this year, which placed the country among the top compliant countries in the world.
Last month, the Foreign Office said a FATF technical team had conducted a “successful” visit and Islamabad was expecting a “logical conclusion” of the evaluation process in October.