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EDITORIAL: Ordinarily, appreciation from the EU and US for Pakistan’s efforts to meet FATF (Financial Action Task Force) demands, that too within a week, would indeed signify progress. Perhaps that’s why the local press got so carried away. But read the fine print and it becomes clear that the messages from both sides were in fact warnings.

The US annual report on terrorism, for example, which acknowledged steps taken by Pakistan in 2020 to meet FATF conditions, also mentioned a number of alleged militants that Washington doesn’t like to see roaming free and operating from Pakistan. That’s why it also explained very clearly that while the US government maintains a civilian assistance portfolio on a focused set of priorities, it “continues to suspend most of its security assistance to Pakistan”. It also “urges Pakistan to dismantle terrorist groups within its territory”.

But didn’t these very irritants confound our efforts to get out of the FATF grey list, where we’ve already met all demands but one? And if all the things that the report appreciated couldn’t get us off the list, whereas the problems that have still anchored us there remain, then what efforts are really being appreciated here? It’s more likely a reminder that things are still as they were, and some more of the good work that got us this far is needed to make a clean break.

The joint communique issued after the conclusion of the sixth round of the EU-Pak Strategic Dialogue, too, welcomed Pakistan’s progress in implementing FATF action plans but also warned of issues that remain unsettled. It was all praise for the adoption of the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill by parliament, that the president later signed into law, but Josep Borrell, high representative for foreign affairs and security policy and vice president of the European Commission (EC), didn’t fail to mention to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi very clearly the problem being caused by the “misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan”. He also hoped that the anti-torture bill and human rights related legislation that is before parliament would be adopted soon.

These are very sensitive issues because not only have they kept us on the FATF grey list, they’ve also brought us perilously close to losing the Generalised System of Preferences-Plus (GSP+) trade facility with the EU. There are also rumours in the foreign press, not silenced by this praise, that the government’s recent negotiated capitulation before TLP’s (Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s) violent and murderous street protests, the terms of which were kept secret, and its subsequent decision to un-ban the outfit and release its arrested members, isn’t doing our chances any good whatsoever. Needless to say, of course, that the similarly secret talks with TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) and the shameful and embarrassing Sialkot lynching incident have only further harmed our image and our chances to get a clean chit.

Clearly, the time has come for the powers that run this country as well as its elite to finally decide what they really want for and from it. If, for instance, they do nothing at all to break our collective fall into this dark abyss of extremism and EC really axes GSP+ and we lose something between four and seven billion dollars in trade revenue a year, and the current account truly implodes, then their interests would also be harmed along with everybody else’s. Being on the right side of the FATFs and IMFs of this world is crucial for us because it gets us a precious 2-2.5pc discount on interest on the loans our country needs to function from day to day.

The problem with this government is that it’s very big on talking the talk but very small on walking the walk. And if the manner of its dealings with groups like TLP has been an outright disaster, its report card so far on economic policy hasn’t been much to write home about either. There’s an energy policy, a water policy, a trade policy, etc., but none is being implemented. Whatever has been achieved in terms of increasing exports has been well and truly dwarfed by the explosion in imports. The currency has collapsed. High inflation continues to eat into livelihoods as the monetary chokehold promises to cut growth and jobs even further. And to top it all, the state’s inability to protect its own writ is all but sure to cast us to the farthest corners of the international trading and borrowing regimes.

Suffice to say that we do not have much time in which to pull our socks up and start solving our own problems.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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