A very tall order, indeed!

Whether we stay on the grey list or are transferred to the black list the incoming government after elections will have to face a lot of noisy, irritating music on the socio-economic front

The next three months are going to be politically too chaotic for Pakistan. We have already entered the election phase. A caretaker government with a tenure of three months and a limited mandate is expected to be installed by end May. And meanwhile in the couple of months left in its tenure the outgoing government would be overly preoccupied tying up any loose ends on the development front and preparing a short-or full-term annual budget.

Conversion of the PMLN candidates for the Senate seats into ‘independents’ by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has given rise to the suspicion that some powerful quarters do not want to see the Party in power return to Islamabad after the next general polls.

This is causing political uncertainty to further deepen. Horse trading seems to be at its peak. Electables, especially in the Punjab are being wooed by both the contesting political parties as well as by ‘you-know-who’ attempting as usual to design the election results to fit its usual scheme of things.

In addition clandestine militant groups passing off as charitable organisations or religious factions are being politically mainstreamed by hidden hands to undercut the vote banks of major political parties.

It is in such highly strung political circumstances that FATF expects Islamabad to come up with a mutually satisfactory action plan that would enable Pakistan to stay in the grey list until we have carried out all the related preconditions enabling the country finally to exit from the watch list in the shortest possible time-frame.

If those who have formulated and managed our defence and foreign policies had listened to the sane voices , we would not be this isolated today

A very tall order, indeed, under the circumstances. More so, because in the three months allowed to Pakistan by the FATF for preparing an action plan, there would be two governments in Islamabad — the incoming caretaker government succeeding the outgoing PMLN government. In such a situation it would be like asking for the Moon itself to expect that the two would own the exercise giving their fullest and their responsible best in preparing an action plan in consultation with the FATF.

But failure is no option because in that case we fall into the black list which carries heavy sanctions like the ones from which Iran and North Korea are suffering. In either case, whether we stay on the grey list or are transferred to the black list the incoming government after elections or any government for that matter, even one packed with the so-called (unelected) technocrats or perhaps even a military one will have to face a lot of noisy, irritating music on the socio-economic front.

Inclusion on the watch-list this time is likely to be harsher and not like the one we had experienced during 2012-2015. Potential foreign investors and banks operating in Pakistan would be too wary about engaging with a nation deemed to be not doing enough to crack down on terrorist financing. And the multilateral aid agencies too would stay away from Pakistan this time as all the four major financial contributors to these agencies — the US, the UK, France and Germany — seem to be more interested in further squeezing Islamabad rather than easing the pre-conditions. But we need not have been in this situation — isolated and suspected of being too soft on terror financing and terrorism …, if those who have been making and managing our defence and foreign policies since 1980s had listened to the sane voices of those who could read the writings on the wall well in time.

Following is what those who could have done what had to be done at the right time were told in plain terms in October 2016 (paraphrased excerpts from Dawn’s October 6, 2016 front page exclusive by Cyril Almeida — Act against militants or face international isolation): They were informed of a growing international isolation of Pakistan and sought consensus on several key actions by the state. They were told not to interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups that are banned or until now considered off-limits for civilian action. Fresh attempts were asked to be made to conclude the Pathankot investigation and restart the stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi antiterrorism court. They were also told that while China has reiterated its support for Pakistan, it too had indicated a preference for a change in course by Pakistan. Specifically, while Chinese authorities have conveyed their willingness to keep putting on technical hold a UN ban on Jaish-i-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar, they have questioned the logic of doing so repeatedly.

However, instead of taking the advice in the spirit in which it was being proffered, those who were to make the required moves kicked up an unnecessary controversy over the newspaper story terming it as a plant and forcing the government to seek resignations from one federal minister, one special assistance to the PM and dismissal from service of one senior information officer for no fault of theirs.

Also, three former foreign secretaries — Riaz Mohammad Khan, Riaz Hussain Khokar and Inamul Haq — in a piece published in the same newspaper on September 21, 2016 (Responding to a dangerous time) had warned that the perception of Pakistan`s erstwhile support to extremist militancy in Kashmir in the 1990s and our association with the Taliban have hurt Pakistan’s international image.

“Of late, the delay in prosecuting especially those implicated in the Mumbai terrorist incident has been misconstrued as weak Pakistani commitment to fighting terrorism, the nemesis of all modern societies. This undermines Pakistan’s ability to forcefully advocate the Kashmir cause.”

But FATF’s grey list is not going to be the only challenge that would be awaiting the new government after the elections, if at all they are held on the due date.

Past June 2018 whoever is in the saddle in Islamabad would be greeted by an economy in a shambles. Quantum of foreign debt has broken all past records. Imports are sky rocketing as never before. The current account deficit is expanding at break-neck speed. Foreign exchange reserves are tumbling like nine-pins. Interest rates are rising after staying put for four years. And finally Pakistan’s benchmark stock index has dropped by a big margin with foreigners selling shares as if in panic.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. He served as the Executive Editor Express Tribune until 2014

Published in Daily Times, March 1st 2018.