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Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey blocked US move to put Pakistan on watchlist

Saudi Arabia joined Turkey and China in a move to block a US-led attempt this week to place Pakistan on an international terror-financing watchlist, according to officials involved in the process, in a rare disagreement between Riyadh and the Trump administration.

Saudi Arabia’s move on behalf of Pakistan came just days after Islamabad said it would send more than 1,000 troops to the Gulf kingdom, which has expanded its military posture in the region since its 2015 intervention in Yemen’s civil war, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration, angry with what it sees as inadequate efforts by Islamabad to combat terror groups, has sought to ratchet up pressure on Pakistan. Last month it said it was withholding $2 billion in security aid until it sees much stronger action against militants. US officials also accuse Pakistan’s military of supporting some militant groups as proxies against neighbouring India and Afghanistan. Pakistan denies those accusations and says there are no terrorist sanctuaries within its territory.

Saudi Arabia is a close US ally, with its crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, forming a personal bond with the family of President Donald Trump. It was Saudi Arabia’s surprise backing that secured the necessary opposing votes to block the US.

If US lobbying is successful and the task force does end up adding Pakistan to its list of countries deemed ‘high risk’ for doing too little to curb terror financing, banks, other lenders and international companies seeking to do business with the South Asian country could rethink financial ties, putting a damper on its already struggling economy.

The US was supported in its effort to put Pakistan on the watch list by the UK, France, Germany and other countries. The proposal was initiated at a working group, which is responsible for making recommendations to the 35 member nations and two regional groups that make up the FATF plenary.

Pakistan was supported by China and Turkey heading into the FATF working-group meeting earlier this week. Turkey and the US are allies as members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, though they are at odds with one another over actions in Syria.

The Trump administration has sought to work with Beijing to constrain North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program, but China has allied with Pakistan as a foil against India, where long-simmering tensions over the border have pitted Delhi and Islamabad against one another.

Pakistan had lobbied FATF member countries to keep it off the watchlist. It also took last-minute action against Pakistan-based militant group Jamaat-ud-Dawa, complying with 10-year-old United Nations sanctions against the group, which the international community holds responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 166 people.

“Our efforts paid,” said Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif on Twitter. “No consensus for nominating Pakistan,” he said, adding, “Grateful to friends who helped.”

Riyadh, which didn’t respond to requests for comment, was acting on behalf of the entire Gulf Cooperation Council, the Saudi-dominated bloc of six Persian Gulf nations which are collectively a member of the FATF, said officials from the countries on the task force.

A State Department official said Pakistan’s efforts appeared deficient. “We look forward to additional information on how Pakistan is meeting these obligations,” the official said. Even if the US fails to get Pakistan on the terror watchlist, Washington can request that the task force revisit the list at its next meeting in June.

Pakistan says it has seized some 200 properties of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. However, the group’s leader, Hafiz Saeed, remains at liberty and was able to give a speech in Lahore on last Friday. Arresting him doesn’t come under Pakistan’s obligations to the UN, Pakistani officials said.

While the US has had strategic relations with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan also has deep ties to the kingdom. Last week, Pakistan said it would send soldiers to Saudi Arabia on what it described as a training and advisory mission. Pakistan Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan told The Wall Street Journal that between 1,000 and 1,600 soldiers would be sent. That could double the existing contingent of 1,600 Pakistani soldiers there to train Saudis.

Pakistan didn’t tie the deployment to Saudi support on the watchlist question and it wasn’t clear whether the two moves were linked. Dastgir said the proposed listing of Pakistan at the FATF was an attempt to introduce politics into what was a technical organization.

“This does seem unduly punitive and intrusive,” Dastgir said, pointing to Pakistan’s counterterrorism operations in recent years. “There is no logical reason for the FATF nomination.”

He said that the Pakistani soldiers would be ‘spread quite widely around the kingdom’ under an agreement with the Saudis dating back to the 1980s. “The Saudis now have enhanced training needs,” he said. “Pakistan is acting to bolster the capacity of the Saudis.”

Courtesy: Daily Times

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