UNSC snub, FATF warning are positive signs but tackling Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail will require kinetic action

Islamabad escaped being blacklisted for now, but it has bought time only until May to clean up its act or risk getting downgraded further.

Sreemoy Talukdar February 23, 2019 08:37:29 IST
UNSC snub, FATF warning are positive signs but tackling Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail will require kinetic action
  • India's plan of ostracising Pakistan is not without merit

  • China will be mindful of the increasing costs of backing Pakistan

  • FATF sanctions can bite Pakistan's economy

The subcontinent is the latest geopolitical hotbed. Ever since the Cabinet Committee on Security met and decided to isolate Pakistan over its role in Pulwama terror attacks, Indian diplomatic corps have been hard at work. Urgency in Indian effort is visible. Some recent results have come by way of a scathing UNSC statement and a decision by the FATF the global terror-financing watchdog – to keep Pakistan boxed in the “grey list”. Islamabad has escaped being blacklisted for now but it has bought time only until May this year to clean up its act or risk getting downgraded further.

Statecraft is often invisible and largely unsexy. India fancies itself as an emerging power and looks to project at least a part of the power that it has accrued by way of being the world’s fastest-growing large economy. It hopes to mould opinion at international institutions such as the United Nations, Financial Action Task Force or the International Court of Justice. India is increasingly confident that it has a say in global matters, and the world deserves to take it seriously. Its plan, therefore, of globally ostracising Pakistan is not without merit even if it clashes with geopolitical realities.

UNSC snub FATF warning are positive signs but tackling Pakistans nuclear blackmail will require kinetic action

Representational image. Reuters

The larger point, however, remains unanswered. Is diplomatic pressure, snub at the United Nations or even choking of financing networks by global watchdogs enough to change the behaviour of a dysfunctional nation that uses nuclear blackmail to carry out jihad and asymmetric warfare? Can Pakistan, which has shown itself in the past to be quite shameless and unaffected by global opprobrium over its use of terror as a foreign policy tool, understand any other action except kinetic?

There should be no doubt that the UN statement, issued by the Security Council condemning unequivocally and unanimously the “heinous and cowardly” Pulwama attack, and naming Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad as the perpetrator is a diplomatic ‘win’ for India. The statement, in fact, is quite extraordinary in its lack of ambiguity on terror emanating from Pakistani soil and the need for financiers, perpetrators and sponsors of terror to be brought to book.

Though the UNSC statement was uploaded on the official UNSC website only on Friday night (IST), India’s ministry of external affairs had posted it on Twitter a day earlier.

The relevant paragraph in the UNSC media statement goes further and points to the work that must have gone on behind the scenes that made it possible for UNSC to deviate from its anodyne statements and reflect India’s position and language on Pulwama. Pakistan’s name wasn’t taken but the clear mention of JeM that operates out of Pakistani soil and targets Indian citizens – leaves hardly any space for doubt.

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in over 40 Indian paramilitary forces dead and dozens wounded on February 14, 2019, for which Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) has claimed responsibility,” the statement read.

It goes on to add: “The members of the Security Council underlined the need to hold perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice, and urged all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with the Government of India and all other relevant authorities in this regard.”

It is clear that the last few lines starting from “urged all States...” are a reference to China. Beijing is being asked rather plainly to “cooperate actively with India” and “all other relevant authorities” (read the United Nations Security Council) on holding the organizers and perpetrators accountable. In this specific context, it is an advice to China that it should revise its ‘technical hold’ strategy to help ‘iron brother’ Pakistan and let the UNSC designate JeM chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist under the 1267 Committee. Whether or not that move may translate into any real difference on the ground is debatable. But the symbolic value of Azhar being labelled and sanctioned by the UN should not be underestimated.

It is understandable that China wasn’t happy with the statement. This was hinted at by Syed Akbaruddin India’s Ambassador & Permanent Representative to the UN – and carried in media reports.

A report in The Times Times of India notes that though Pulwama happened on 14 February, the UNSC statement condemning the attack took a week because China was against the language used in the document. Beijing kept delaying its issuance even though 14 of the 15 permanent and non-permanent UNSC members were ready to release it by 15 February.

Pakistan also left no stone unturned to block the release of the UNSC condemnation of the attack. Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s letter to UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres on 18 February seeking UN intervention in the issue – and Pakistan Permanent Representative to the UN Maleeha Lodhi’s meeting with top UN delegates on Pulwama terror attack apparently went in vain.

It is no less important to note that despite its reluctance and delaying tactics, China eventually came on board to release the UNSC statement that stops just short of accusing Pakistan by name for its complicity in the terror attack. China may still be unwilling to back France’s attempt when Paris moves a proposal to ban JeM chief Masood Azhar, but it will be mindful of the increasing costs of backing the pariah nation.

On the FATF front, India’s attempt to get Pakistan blacklisted due to Pulwama terror strikes did not materialise but the tone and tenor of the statement released by the global terror financing watchdog indicates that Islamabad has little to celebrate. Pakistan was ‘grey listed’ in June last year and after two subsequent reviews, the FATF has decided that Islamabad has failed to satisfactorily implement the 27-point action plan. This means unless Pakistan ceases to serve as a conduit for global terror financing and money-laundering by May 2019, it will be demoted to the dreaded ‘blacklist’ that may make it difficult for Pakistan’s struggling economy to get financial bailout packages.

Though India’s immediate objective wasn’t served, it may note with satisfaction that the Paris-based FATF has noted “with grave concern” and condemned “the violent terrorist attack last week that killed 40 Indian security forces in Pulwama.” It stated that “such attacks cannot occur without money and the means to move funds between terrorist supporters...” and added that “Pakistan does not demonstrate a proper understanding of the terror financing risks posed by JuD, LeT, JeM, and persons affiliated with the Taliban... Pakistan should continue to work on implementing its action plan to address its strategic deficiencies.”

Prima facie and taken together, these developments hint at Pakistan moving slowly but inexorably towards the denouement. FATF sanctions can bite its economy and paralyse it even further, though some experts have noted that Pakistan has been blacklisted before (from 2012 to 2015) and it didn’t harm its ability “to get an IMF programme of $5 billion.” Its exports too remained “relatively stable”.

That’s where the rubber hits the road for India. It can get the world to condemn Pakistan and even choke its terror-sponsoring conduits but it is tough to change the behaviour of a country that negotiates with the world with a gun pointed at its own head.

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