The bumbling and incompetence that surrounds the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) decision-making process and the grey-listing of Pakistan is well documented elsewhere, and instead this column will look at the human and perceptual issues that produced this debacle. This is not going to be pretty.
Pakistan went into the plea-bargaining stage with no leverage. It had nothing to sell. The goods that were in the basket were a belated and half-hearted attempt at diversionary action, the taking over of a vast network of charitable resources run by a banned organisation led by a man who has considerable public support — as do his good works. It is rich, well run and effective both as a serial provider and as a first responder in the event of natural disasters. Beyond this there was very little. Money continues to flow into extremist groups nationwide. They operate openly secure in the knowledge that their narrative has no effective counter. Going to the negotiating table with all this on display for the sceptical members of the FATF was never going to fly or move any hearts and minds.
Size matters. It really does. And with America in hammer-down mode vis-a-vis Pakistan it was able to twist arms and pull something from its own basket. The Chinese were effectively bribed with a promise of a senior FATF position — something they have long sought — and other supporters of Pakistan were nudged into line leaving Turkey as the hold-out. Saudi Arabia, our dearest brother, stuck the knife in to order. Game over.
Then there were the players. In real terms the Pakistan side was made up of small-time semi-pros that lacked clout and some of whom were relatively inexperienced, and certainly not up to playing at a table with poker-faced thugs that eat babies for breakfast. They may be big boys at home, ministers even, but they are small fry outside these borders.
Now let us consider the poisoned tweet, and this really did get right up the collective noses of the FATF. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif was in Moscow at the time of the FATF meetings, and he delivered a monster gaffe by announcing that Pakistan had escaped being placed on the grey list days before any such decision was made — or not made as it happened. The FATF proceedings are all in camera, with the understanding that the substance of the meetings and the internal manoeuverings remain out of the public eye. The FM’s tweet drove a coach and horses through those protocols and Pakistan in that unguarded moment suddenly became (even more) untrustworthy, unreliable and one to be cautious with when it comes to doing business.
That tiny tweet also illustrates a systemic weakness in the diplomatic, ministerial and governmental fabric — a lack of statesmanship. None of the party leaders currently on the field display an ounce of this quality. Again outside the safety of the home bubble there is none that have the gravitas and stature that would mark them as statesmanlike. That command attention and a listening ear, a head inclined in their direction around a table ringed with big guys. Paradoxically the only statesmen we have are women and none are currently in play beyond bit-part roles.
So here is the pain. Pakistan is a small country that is perceived as an irritation and potentially a proliferator of global terrorism. If not now, today, then certainly in the past. It plays the victim card at every opportunity and is a slippery customer, ducking and diving as it negotiates a world that plays by Big Boys Rules. Our boys in the FO are not big. Those that get sent to carry the messages of the Land of the Pure are political cyphers, few schooled in the wiles of geopolitics. They are led by intellectual pygmies and are little better than patrolling feudals hoping that when push comes to shove they are going to be able to punch above their weight. The FATF delivered a thrashing. The government is to conduct an internal review. I expect no change.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2018.
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