FATF decision on Pakistan: It’s too early to celebrate, cautions Hina Rabbani Khar

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar Saturday expressed the confidence that Pakistan would formally get out of the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) soon, but cautioned that it was too early to celebrate the development.

Addressing a press conference here, she said: “It’s too early to celebrate because I genuinely believe that you can’t prejudge anything. We have an on-site visit, but we have started the process.” She expressed the hope that subsequently a white-listed Pakistan will “never again” make the mistakes it made in the past on its response to terrorism.

Responding to a question by a journalist on whether a “blind eye” would be turned to certain religious groups operating freely in the country and promoting “hate mongering” and whether this was considered an internal issue, Khar said: “Nothing remains an internal issue when it has problematic repercussions. The lesson learnt is never again. Not for the sake of others, but for [our own sake].”

The state minister said that the outcome announced by the FATF on Friday was enabled through “the comprehensive reforms that had been carried out in Pakistan in the Anti-Money Laundering/ Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML-CFT) domain and the sustained momentum of our efforts and the results of those efforts”.

“Because as you can see, the first action plan took us much longer while this one was completed before the set timeline and this was something which was very well recognised throughout the plenary by all the members,” she said. “Pakistan’s positive and speedy progress was greatly appreciated and welcomed by FATF members,” the state minister for foreign affairs added. Khar said that FATF has acknowledged the completion of both action plans, the progress made and recognised Pakistan’s commitment to improve its AML-CFT position.

Sharing details of the discussions held during the plenary meeting, the minister said that the watchdog had decided, “by consensus” that Pakistan had addressed all technical benchmarks and had completed all requirements of both action plans — 2018 and 2021.

“As a result of this, what we consider to be no less than a herculean feat and a remarkable achievement, FATF has now authorised an on-site visit of its technical team to Pakistan to validate the process of the implementation of the reforms,” she said.

Elaborating on the nitty-gritty of the entire procedure, the state minister emphasised that the on-site visit is “part of the procedure” of taking Pakistan out of the grey list. “When you authorise a country’s removal from the grey list, the first step is you authorise an on-site technical evaluation which has been done in this plenary,” she stressed.

“The successful completion of the FATF action plan and its formal endorsement by the [watchdog] means that Pakistan is one step away from exiting the grey list, InshaAllah,” she added.

“It marks the beginning of the end process that will eventually culminate in the exit of Pakistan from the FATF’s grey list, hopefully forever,” she said.

Regarding the dates of the on-site evaluation, Khar said that the authorities concerned were closely working with the FATF to arrange their team’s visit at “mutually-convenient dates” with a view to conclude the entire process before the October plenary.

“During our interactions on the sideline of the FATF plenary, we stressed Pakistan’s high-level political commitment to strengthen our AML-CFT regime and bring it at par with the global standards,” she said, adding that the Pakistani authorities had been highlighting complete national consensus.

Taking the opportunity, she stressed that Pakistan’s cooperation with the FATF and the international community was grounded in “our own strategic objective” of strengthening our economy and improving its integration with the international financial system.

“I am confident that with this good news from FATF, it will restore confidence in our economy and will give us a much-needed boost, improve the investment climate and robust AML-CFT compliance systems,” she said, highlighting the several benefits of coming out of the grey list.

“I also want to acknowledge, in fact, really want to emphasise the tireless efforts of teams who have done a tremendous job […] in achieving these strenuous, difficult and complicated targets.”

She added: “This is indeed the [whole country’s] response and I think that is something to celebrate.”

The state minister said that multiple departments, and agencies both at the federal and provincial levels had contributed to this national cause and “it also demonstrates that when we work together, all of the country, we can achieve sometimes what is considered to be impossible.”

“This is going to be a cross-government effort,” she emphasised.

“I really want to talk about this as this is an effort [by] the state of Pakistan; governments will come and go but Pakistan’s consensus and efforts on this, I hope, will continue in stride,” she said.

The minister said that Pakistan was now in a position to not only sustain the trajectory of reforms but also to provide guidance and technical support to other countries on the list. “We are quite a bit ahead of the curve”, she added.

“I know we are [not only] far ahead regarding the financial regulations system — CFT and AML legislation — within the region, but we are also doing good when you compare us to international benchmarks.

“I am sure we will be fully prepared for the on-site visit and will exit the grey list at the earliest,” she said.

“I want to emphasise one thing that we as a nation must remember and respect and that is related to the issues regarding the confidentiality requirements,” she said, recalling that in the past, the urge to share news had harmed the country.

The state minister highlighted that this time people would have noticed the authorities were very careful in allowing the announcement of the decision. “Any time you try to pre-judge and speak before your time, it will always come back to hurt you,” she said, stressing that this as a nation, not only the government, is something we need to do well in order to complete the start of the end.

Advising against proclamation of “a lot has been done”, the state minister said: “This, however, will not be the end because this will be a new beginning where Pakistan is looking towards strengthening its own systems according to its own requirements and to get out of the requirements to report to others.”

Responding to a question, Khar acknowledged that Pakistan was the only country “in the history of FATF” which simultaneously implemented two action plans. “It was quite unprecedented. We were, in fact, the only country that had two simultaneous action plans to implement. It was tedious, arduous, it was difficult … there was legal framework to take care of, there were amendments to do and then there was institutionalisation of new laws, the building of structures and the system.”

Replying to another question regarding why it took a long time for the achievement, the state minister said the process was very intensive and the action plan had minute details that required the country to take action at many different levels, which was why it was “time consuming”. The process strengthened Pakistan’s system and enabled it to appear as a responsible country, Khar said.

“We have always emphasised that the FATF must remain apolitical, technical and impartial,” she said, in response to whether a particular country was behind the long process. “I feel you should be prepared for the worst and hope for the best,” she said, highlighting that this was reflective on how this government raised this issue.

Khar acknowledged that this preparation was in the works for the last many years and the incumbent government was “willing to share credit with whoever wants a piece of the pie” because this is a “battle for Pakistan”.

Emphasising that Pakistan should be forward-looking and shouldn’t engage in debates, but rather let bygones be bygones, Khar said: “If I will give credit to anyone, it will be my team, and by that, I mean Pakistan’s team, because we are representing the state of Pakistan right now. I will give credit to every member of the team who is visible and in the background.”

Khar reiterated: “Let’s not be overly celebratory right now. The process has started and the on-site visit is due, and even after that our journey will continue, the strengthening of legislation and administration will continue.”

The minister was also asked whether there had been a political intention for keeping Pakistan on the “grey list” to which she replied that while the country had always emphasised the FATF should remain apolitical, certain countries were involved in trying to maintain Pakistan’s status on the list.

“A certain, singular country, at least that we all can name and emphasise, has always tried to make this process a political one and been a spanner in the wheels, and to realise that we got this through consensus in the presence of that certain country is an important point … We have to be more white than others but it shows how much we have achieved,” Khar said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Saturday congratulated Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa after Pakistan completed FATF action plans.

During a telephonic conversation, the PM appreciated the Core Cell established in the General Headquarters (GHQ) for its efforts in completion of the anti-money laundering watchdog’s item list. “I applaud the civil and military leadership that worked with the core cell,” the prime minister said.

Separately, in telephonic conversations, the prime minister also appreciated Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Finance Minister Miftah Ismail for their efforts in this regard. He said the return of Pakistan to the white list of FATF was a big success. He also felicitated the nation and welcomed the announcement of the FATF that Pakistan had met all its conditions for exclusion from the grey list. He vowed to steer the country out of state of despondency and financial crisis and putting it on the road to development and prosperity.

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