US pressed Pakistan on FATF compliance during Imran Khan’s visit

The United States had repeatedly pressed visiting Prime Minister Imran Khan and his delegation, which included the powerful army chief and the ISI boss, on compliance with counter-terrorism commitments that Pakistan has given to an international body that monitors and combats financing of terrorism.

Pakistan’s obligations to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Paris-based body, as part of an ongoing discussion, was raised with Khan and his delegation at their meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House and at a separate meeting with Secretary of States Mike Pompeo, a senior state department official told reporters Wednesday, revealing for the first time the depth and granular details of the counter-terrorism discussion.

Khan’s delegation included among others General Qamar Javed Bajwa, chief of army staff who is often considered the real power center in Pakistan, and Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, the newly appointed head of the Inter-Services Intelligence that has been long accused of running and supporting terrorist groups operating in India and Afghanistan.

“At the White House meeting, the two sides also discussed the Financial Action Task Force, which was the subject the secretary also discussed at length with Prime Minister Khan and the chief of staff Bajwa,” the official said, and added, when asked if everyone on the Pakistani delegation including the ISI chief was on board, the United States “heard a consistent common message from the Pakistan delegation”.

The 38-member FATF, which coordinates its work with the International Monetary Fund that recently agreed to advance another bailout package to Pakistan, has put Pakistan on a “grey list” of countries with “strategic deficiencies” to combat money laundering and terror financing and is working with them to address those issues, according to a plan endorsed by the Khan government. But its progress was found inadequate at the monitoring agency’s plenary in June, and it is in imminent danger of being relegated to the “black list” of more egregious offenders such as North Korea, if it is still non-compliant by October.

While the Afghan peace process and Pakistan’s potential role in advancing it using its leverage with the Taliban was the chief purpose of President Donald Trump inviting and meeting Prime Minister Khan, counter-terrorism was next, according to the order in which the official listed out the subjects discussed by the two sides. Bilateral trade, which stands at around a paltry $6 billion, and other aspects of their ties followed.

The United States has pressed Pakistan for “sustained”, “meaningful”, “verifiable” and “irreversible” action against terrorism for years. The Trump administration dialed it up considerably, backed by bipartisan congressional support, and suspended millions of dollars in security aid.

There was no discussion about the resumption of that aid at any of the meetings — and to Khan’s credit he did not ask for it, as he had promised to the diaspora the night before his White House meetings. But the underlying reason for it — Pakistan’s reluctance to get rid of its terrorists remains at the “crux” of its problem along borders with India and Afghanistan — was re-litigated by the US side, which made it clear they will be watching closely.

Compliance with the FATF commitment will be crucial. As part of the rectification plan, Pakistan has agreed to undertake certain measures to stop financing of terrorism, arrest and prosecute individuals involved in terrorism, and the Trump administration intends to hold Khan to it, invoking his own “stated commitment” that Pakistan for its own future will prevent the operation of “all militant groups on its territory”.

“It’s a fact-based checklist,” the official said of Pakistan’s undertakings to the FATF. “We will certainly be looking how Pakistan is able to implement those commitment.”

The official hastened to add that the FATF check-list was not a list of US demands and they were obligations given to the international community, but added, at the same time, that it was a “discrete, tangible and measurable” yardstick for Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts.