- Citizens’ rights have to be protected
The joint sitting of Parliament on Thursday night passed the Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matters) Bill 2020 only after two days of consultations between government and opposition. With this, the third of the eight acts the Financial Action Task Force wants Pakistan to pass, if it is to comply with the FATF Action Plan, has become a law and the laws are finally beginning to cut close to the bone, as the new statute provides for Pakistan to provide mutual assistance to other countries for criminals, including handing them over, even if there is no mutual extradition agreement. One of the concerns of the opposition, which insisted on having over two dozen amendments it proposed being included, was that the Act should not be misused, either by foreign powers, or the home governments, to obtain the handover of Pakistani citizens without reason. Religious parties were also against the bill, because those religious leaders who accepted donations from abroad could well fall within the mischief of the bill.
A salutary reminder was given to the House by PPP co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto, who said that the goal was to get Pakistan moved off the grey list onto the white list, and apart from passing legislation, having Prime Minister Imran Khan call Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden a martyr was no help, as was not also the escape from custody of Tehrik Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. He might not have mentioned it, but past precedent does indicate that both are developments which alone would cause the FATF to become uneasy about Pakistan’s bona fides, let alone their coming together.
Pakistan’s government is apparently not taking the FATF issue seriously enough. The goal of getting onto the white list is being downgraded to staying on the grey list. However, it should not be forgotten that archrival India will do its best to make sure that even this greylisting has consequences on the international financial markets, access to which are the reason why blacklisting is supposed to be such a great fear. Pakistan must act carefully, and decide how far its interests involve its being whitelisted. It must not forget that FATF will not be fobbed off with half-measures, nor will it show any regard for hidden corners.