Huzaima Bukhari, Dr. Ikramul Haq & Abdul Rauf Shakoori
The journey which started from the signing of a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against actors, aiders, and abettors of the 9/11 attacks is expected to come to an end as global powers withdraw their forces by the end of August. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that president Biden acknowledged the difficulty of getting out troops from Afghanistan and said that his administration may extend the August 31,2021 deadline. It is further reported that the Pentagon enlisted the help of U.S. airlines to evacuate Americans and its partners from Afghan soil. As discussion is going on regarding extension of deadline for withdrawal of troops, Kabul has fallen to the Taliban, who now, after 20 years of war with United States (US) and allied forces have announced themselves as victorious and new rulers of Afghanistan
Taliban are considered as the main threat to world peace. Additionally, considering their links with Al-Qaeda the United Nations Security Council through resolution 1267 imposed sanctions on both organizations. This resolution requires freezing of assets, travel ban, an arms embargo, and defining the actions and activities that need to be sanctioned such as participating in financing and planning including facilitation, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities. Similarly supplying, selling, or transferring arms and related material as well as recruiting of or supporting acts or activities of ISIL, Al Qaeda, or any cell affiliate, splinter group, or derivative thereof are also banned through this resolution.
The 9/11 attack on the U.S was the triggering event that led to US operation in Afghanistan, undertaken to eliminate those elements involved in this brutality. In this war on terror, NATO forces participated along with the US, and Pakistan also joined the war as a non-NATO ally. Shortly after the US operation, which started in October 2001, the Taliban government collapsed, and interim government was formed to run the affairs of Afghanistan. The main battle was Presidential elections which took place in 2004, and Mr. Hamid Karzai assumed office as President. He completed two consecutive terms and the mace was handed over to President Ashraf Ghani in 2014, who continued to be President till the fall of Kabul in August 2021. During this time the U.S and allied forced conducted various airstrikes and ground operations against the Taliban. US drones were used to attack targets, leaders of Al Qaeda and Taliban, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The commitment of Obama to dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and its refuge in Pakistan and eventually the killing of Osama bin Laden on the soil of Pakistan was considered as the last nail in the coffin of both Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in close vicinity of the most important military sites of Pakistan i.e. Abbottabad City adversely impacted the image of Pakistan. Osama’s death was considered a big achievement of the USA and Pakistan also lauded the same. However, presence of the world’s most wanted terrorist in Pakistan also created trust issues between Pakistan & the United States and since the second term of President Obama, Pakistan is having difficulty in mending its terms with USA.
During the “War on Terror” Pakistan was always acknowledged as an important player in matters related to Afghanistan but in the recent Afghan peace talks, subsequent withdrawal of U.S troops and finally handing over power back to Taliban, Pakistan was conveniently ignored. Apparently, Pakistan’s foreign ministry and agencies were not cognizant of the evolving situations, and were never taken into confidence by international powers. Even the Prime Minister of Pakistan was not sure till the last day about power transfer formula and remained unaware of the final arrangements between US and Taliban. He was expecting that USA might request for airbases to complete its evacuation plan, therefore, in reply to a question posed by the anchor in “Axios on HBO” about the provision of bases, he said Pakistan would “absolutely not” allow CIA to use bases on its soil for cross-border counter-terrorism missions after withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, later, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on national security and strategic policy planning, Moeed Yousaf, stated that no US official or lawmaker asked for a military base in Pakistan. This sheer disconnect reflects confusion in Pakistan’s establishment vis-à-vis Afghan situation. Again, we are not aware of the future set-up of Afghanistan though it seems that some in corridors of power are happy about the return of Taliban despite their ignorance about the future of Afghanistan.
Amid these developments, relationship with US is getting further deteriorated as our foreign policy has failed to produce desired results and realise the sensitivity of the situation—distrust between the countries would create problems for Pakistan. The editorial of Wall Street Journal, “A Reckoning for Pakistan”, was published on August 16, 2021, highlighting reasons for the collapse of Afghan security forces. “American strategists will be studying for some time how Afghanistan’s U.S.-trained security forces crumbled so quickly before what appeared to be an inferior Taliban militia. One place they should look for answers is Pakistan, whose leader openly “cheered the Taliban’s takeover of its northwestern neighbor.”
Question arises, how Pakistan will justify its position? What is the way forward to assure US and its allies that keep on claiming that Pakistan supports Taliban? Since Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, what role is our foreign ministry playing? What will be the new basis for our relationship with the US? On the other hand, would US ignore opinions of its think tanks and people? Would US continue to treat us as friends? In the next few months, these questions would be answered.
Other than Afghanistan, Pakistan is struggling to address concerns of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). In the last meeting, Pakistan was given an additional six-point agenda to implement by June 2022. This plan requires international cooperation and implementation of United Nations’ Resolution 1373. It further demands addressing risks associated with Designated Non-Financial Business and Professions (DNFBPs) and applying sanctions against them. The most important point which can be used against us in the future is the monitoring of DNFBPs concerning proliferation financing (PF) and implementation of sanctions thereof.
The new guidelines on Proliferation Financing Risk Assessment and Mitigation require risk-based approach to address threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences. In contrast, the role Pakistan is aspiring to play in Afghanistan and its tilt towards Taliban are in sheer conflict with FATF agenda.
Given the global concerns reported in various publications re support of Taliban and provision of arms, Pakistan needs to improve its image by implementing the action plan items related to PF and perform national risk assessments addressing concerns raised in the Mutual Evaluation Report 2019. The role of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is important in educating the financial institutions related to PF risks so that they can identify potential risks in the products and services they offer to their customers. The guidelines issued by SBP regarding countering PF risks are incomplete and need revision in the light of FATF guidelines on this issue. Financial institutions need to be vigilant about PF risks when dealing with transactions related to Trade Finance and Correspondent Banking. All kinds of financial institutions are required to comprehend the nature, source, and likelihood of the consequences of risks identified in the light of new guidelines.
Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies/personnel need to be fully trained to identify the potential PF risks so that in case of any breach, non-compliance, or avoidance of proliferation of financing requirements including terrorist financing can be detected.
Due to our relations with Afghanistan governments and treatment with Taliban leadership in the past, few circles in Taliban as well as the Afghan political leadership do not trust Pakistan. We have witnessed this cold behavior during the tenure of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani. Moreover, current players who are negotiating power-sharing formula with Taliban have an antagonistic approach towards Pakistan. The summersaults on foreign policy have already brought much shame for us, we have been shifting posts and partners after every regime change therefore, idealistically, Pakistan should focus on addressing its own internal and external challenges showing restraint from interfering in the internal politics of Afghanistan and divert all its energies in rationalizing its issues to avoid future complications, both on the domestic and international levels.
Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq, lawyers and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), members Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellows of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). Abdul Rauf Shakoori is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in ‘White Collar Crimes and Sanctions Compliance’. They have recently coauthored a book, Pakistan Tackling FATF: Challenges and Solutions