Afghanistan is at a “crucial moment” in its history as it marks 100 years of independence, the head of the UN Mission there said on Monday, following a series of terror attacks in recent days.
In a statement on Monday, Tadamichi Yamamoto, who heads the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that despite decades of conflict, Afghans remain committed to a nation that is stable, peaceful and prosperous, and that upholds the human rights of women and men alike.
Mr. Yamamoto also expressed hope that elections due to take place next month would give voice to the people, while also maintaining that there was “a real possibility for breakthroughs in peace” after so many years of war – a reference to on-going negotiations between Taliban leaders and the United States, that it is hoped will lead to a lasting ceasefire and talks involving the Afghan Government.
The UNAMA chief’s comments come amid numerous recent terror attacks on civilians, including a suicide bombing towards the end of a large wedding party on Saturday, that claimed the lives of 63 people and injured over 180.
In a statement released on Sunday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres “strongly condemned” the “horrific” attack, and expressed his “deepest sympathies to the families of the victims, and the Government and people of Afghanistan.”
The attack took place in the Shahr-e-Dubai Wedding Hall in West Kabul where approximately 1,000 people were gathered for a Shia wedding ceremony, said UNAMA in a statement, adding that the mission’s human rights team would investigate the incident.
According to news reports, a local affiliate of the ISIL terrorist group claimed responsibility for the suicide attack.
“An attack deliberately targeting civilians is an outrage, and deeply troubling, as it can only be described as a cowardly act of terror,” said Mr. Yamamoto. “I condemn these deliberate attacks on civilians that signal a deliberate intent to spread fear among the population, which has already suffered too much.”
The wedding hall where the attack took place is situated in an area of the city heavily populated by Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim minority. UNAMA has documented several previous attacks deliberately carried out against this community.
“The pace of such atrocious attacks indicates that current measures in place to protect must be strengthened, and that those who have organized and enabled such attacks must be brought to justice and held to account,” said the UNAMA chief. “The United Nations stands with all Afghans in solidarity and remains committed to an Afghan-led peace process that will end the war and bring about a lasting peace.”
FATF and Pakistan: The Impact of Being in the ‘Grey’
The recently concluded Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Paris has come out with an expected outcome. It has continued to put Pakistan on the Grey List, demanding compliance again on at least three of the remaining 27-point action plan that was given to the country in June 2018 when it was placed on the list for the second time.
The country’s ‘selected’ Prime Minister Imran Khan, along with a host of intellectuals and media professionals, alleged Indian role behind the decision. Imran Khan went on to suggest that the FATF is acting on political cues and purpose and that will not be helpful for developing countries.
The 39-member FATF is an influential inter-governmental body that formulates and monitors the role of financial mechanisms in the growth and promotion of money-laundering and terror-financing activities worldwide. It has the Black List that leads to direct economic sanctions and creates severe economic difficulties for the nation. Currently only two countries, Iran and North Korea are on the list and that has resulted in a massive financial stress for both of them.
Since Pakistan has been globally acknowledged as a hub of terrorism and a good number of terror activities across the world, have had their genesis or linked someway to it, one cannot forget the Osama Bin Laden’s link and his subsequent elimination there, it has the dubious distinction of being on the Grey List, thrice. It was on this list for three-years 2012-2015 and again has been there since June, 2018.
Now the very basic objective behind grey listing by the FATF is to change the behaviour of some of the nations, involved in using terrorism as a means of promoting foreign policy goals. It aims to strengthen money-laundering and financing mechanisms so as to alleviate sources of financing to the terrorists, operating in any part of the world. Based on Pakistan’s activities for a long period of time, it has been put on the list twice.
When it was put on the list for second time in 2018, the country negotiated a 26-point plan with the FATF to work on and show meaningful improvement at the earliest. One interesting point is that since Imran Khan has become the PM, the country has remained on the list. In spite of tremendous financial complications, Pakistan has been ‘deliberately’ slow to work on these measures.
While there have been talks of Pakistani economy and diplomacy being hugely affected on account of being in the list for such a long time, the previous experience in 2012 however, had not been that difficult. It was able to secure loans from the IMF and other multilateral financial institutions. It was also able to bank upon its Arabian allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and secured their financial backing on a bilateral basis. Hence, it did not face much problems during that period.
However, situation has changed now. Its political relations with both major Arabian powerhouses is abysmal and that has reasons for its increasing bonhomie with the Turkish Erdogan. While Erdogan is pursuing his personal agenda and using Pakistan as a tool in his scheme of things, Imran Khan has suddenly created a catch-22 situation for his country. By getting too close to Erdogan, he has virtually alienated the Arabs and consequently, his financial support base has eroded.
It has been evident in the two countries, stopping their line of credit to Pakistan and asking for return of loans, before the schedule. Turkey is no financial powerhouse and its President Erdogan has his own personal and diplomatic agendas, very little of them are in common with Pakistan’s geo-political interests. China, the only other country it can bank upon, is more interested in promoting its own brand of debt-diplomacy for which Pakistan, currently is a prime candidate.
An Islamabad-based think-tank has recently come up with a research paper that suggested the country has lost about US$ 38 Billion on account of its listing thrice in the FATF Grey List since 2008-2021 period. Tabadlab, the think-tank worked out the losses on the basis of a decrease in the national domestic consumption, foreign direct investment (FDI) and exports. A large part of the losses has been attributed to a significant reduction in household and government consumption and expenditure.
While an accurate economic analysis on this basis will be difficult and might well be hypothetical. Politically and diplomatically, Pakistan has had to endure a big loss. A continued listing in the FATF, discourages better diplomatic relations with most countries. Also, potential investors and financial institutions will find it uncomfortable to do business with such a country. Further, when the country has acquired a notorious reputation of being home to terrorists from Al Qaeda, ISIS, Lasker-eTaiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and their leaders, banks and financial institutions will not find the place attractive enough to do business.
To make the situation worse, Pakistan is in a very delicate financial state. Inflation is very high, unemployment is rampant, GDP figures are down while forex reserves are at a very low of US$ 12Billion. The Gross Public Debt has risen from 72% of GDP at US$95 Billion (2018) to 87% at US$112.8 Billion currently. Pakistan’s Debt to GDP ratio currently stands at an abysmal 107% of GDP. Total external debts and liabilities have risen from 33% of GDP (2018) to 45% of GDP (2020). And the political instability is worrisome while the role of Army in making of economic and foreign policy remains, as it had been for decades.
Though PM Imran Khan continues to accuse the FATF of playing politics, it cannot shy away from the fact that globally-acknowledged terrorists, continue to have a free run in the country. To create troubles for neighbouring India, its army and the ISI provide sanctuary, arms and financial support to terror kingpins like Salahuddin, Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehamn and many others.
The politically-motivated widespread support to anti-France protests (probably to please Erdogan), the dilly-dallying of the judicial process for Daniel Pearl killers and a continued brinkmanship against the Indian government, have made situation further difficult for Pakistan. While most of the Pakistani analysts are expecting the country’s likely exit from the list in June this year and are putting their hopes on a phone call by Biden to Imran Khan that could change the fate of Pakistan, it is clear that Pakistan really needs to change its attitude, behaviour and actions to use terrorism as a tool of foreign policy.
Despite acknowledging strict measures, Pakistan has to stay on the grey-list in FATF
President of The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Dr. Marcus Pleyer, announced in a press conference held on 25 February 2021 after the four-day virtual plenary meeting in Paris, France, that “Pakistan remains under increased monitoring,” adding that while Islamabad had made “significant progress,” there remained some “deficiencies” in mechanisms to plug terrorism financing.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-governmental formal decision-making body. It was founded in 1989 during the G7 Summit in Paris to develop policies against money laundering. It is a “policy-making body “that generates the political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in money laundering. It has also started dealing with virtual currencies. The FATF Secretariat is located in Paris. It sets standards and promotes effective implementation of:-
a. Legal, regulatory, and operational measures for combating money laundering.
b. The FATF works to identify national-level vulnerabilities to protect the international financial system from misuse.
Pakistan has been on the FATF grey list since June 2018 and has been asked to implement the FATF Action Plan fully by September 2019. Pakistan has implemented almost 90% of the recommendations; only three out of 27 points are not fully implemented.
Pakistan has suffered heavy economic losses due to being put on the grey-list; according to some estimates, Pakistan has suffered US Dollars 38 billion.
The FATF president noted that Pakistan was working towards its commitment made at a high level to implement the illicit financing watchdog’s recommendations, saying “that is not the time to put a country on the blacklist.”He added that as soon as Pakistan completed the action, the watchdog “will verify the reforms’ sustainability and discuss in next plenary in June.”
However, there are no chances that Pakistan could be put on the blacklist because it has at least three members of the FATF — China, Turkey, and Malaysia — that can sustain all pressures against any downgrade.
The government of Pakistan is committed to fully implementing the action plan, and to date, the progress achieved is admired by other FATF members.
However, FATF is also being used as a political tool against other nations. By reviewing the countries on the blacklist, the new additions are North Korea and Iran- the West’s adverse enemies. Also,the addition of Morocco, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and the Cayman Islands, are political decisions. As a matter of fact, the Western world is using international organizations, including FATF, to coerce their political opponents. Pakistan was a close ally with the West during the cold war era, and the front line state on Afghan war and non-NATO ally in the war on terror, yet faced worst sanctions like Pressler Amendments, Kerry Loggar Bill, etc.
Pakistani journalist Adeela Khan stepped up and raised a question asking FATF president Marcus Pleyer why India is not on the grey or blacklist of FATF even after financing proxies in Afghanistan, using Afghan soil to end terrorism in Pakistan, and violating human rights in India Occupied Kashmir. There more than forty banks in India involved in money laundering. The Incident of terrorism in Sri Lanka can be traced back to India. Yet India is not on the grey list or blacklist. India has been playing an ugly role in keeping Pakistan on the grey list. Although the EU Disinfo lab has revealed that Indian state-sponsored media think tanks and professionals play a dirty role in spreading fake news and disinformation against China and Pakistan yet, the world has not realized India’s evil intentions.
A bais and discriminatory attitude may harm the FATF’s reputation ultimately.
Many neutral people ask similar questions and demand justice and a fair playground for all nations, above the political motives and discrimination. The international community may maintain the reputation of International organizations and integrity – merit-based decisions.
On the one hand, Pakistan is trying its best to implement the FATF plan fully, and on the other hand, it is demanded that a fair playground be provided to judge the case for Pakistan. It is expected that in the next plenary session to be held in June 2021, Pakistan will come out of the grey list.
‘Disturbing spike’ in Afghan civilian casualties after peace talks began
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan witnessed a sharp rise since peace negotiations started in September last year, even though overall deaths and injuries dropped in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to a UN human rights report launched Tuesday.
In their annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) documented some 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries) in 2020, about 15 per cent less than in 2019.
It was also the first time the figure fell below 10,000 since 2013.
However, the country remains amongst the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”, according to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September”, she said.
At least 11 rights defenders, journalists and media workers lost their lives since September, resulting in many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and even leaving their homes and the country – in hope it will improve their safety.
Rise in ‘targeted killings’
According to the report, the overall drop in civilian casualties in 2020 was due to fewer casualties from suicide attacks by anti-Government elements in populated areas, as well as drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.
There was, however, a “worrying rise” in targeted killings by such elements – up about 45 per cent over 2019. The use of pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by the Taliban, air strikes by the Afghan Air Force, and ground engagements also resulted in increased casualties, the report said.
According to the report, anti-Government elements bore responsibility for about 62 per cent civilian casualties, while pro-Government forces were responsible for about 25 per cent casualties. About 13 per cent of casualties were attributed to crossfire and other incidents.
2020 could have been ‘a year of peace’
Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, called on all parties to take immediate and concrete action to protect civilians, urging them “not to squander a single day in taking the urgent steps to avoid more suffering”.
“2020 could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished due to the conflict”, Ms. Lyons said.
The “overriding objective” of the report is to provide the parties responsible with the facts, and recommendations, so they take immediate and concrete steps to protect civilians, she added.
Ms. Lyons highlighted that “ultimately, the best way to protect civilians is to establish a humanitarian ceasefire” – a call consistently made by Secretary-General António Guterres and the Security Council.
“Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences of such a posture on the lives of Afghan civilians.”
UNAMA-OHCHR report: Women casualties (killings and injuries) documented between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2020
‘Shocking toll’ on women and children
The report went on to note that the years-long conflict in Afghanistan “continues to wreak a shocking and detrimental toll” on women and children, who accounted for 43 per cent of all civilian casualties – 30 per cent children and 13 per cent women.
“This report shows the acute, lasting needs of victims of the armed conflict and demonstrates how much remains to be done to meet those needs in a meaningful way”, High Commissioner Bachelet said.
“The violence that has brought so much pain and suffering to the Afghan population for decades must stop and steps towards reaching a lasting peace must continue.”
Attacking civilians ‘serious violations’
With the conflict continuing, parties must do more to prevent and mitigate civilian casualties, the report said, urging them to fully implement the report’s recommendations and to ensure that respect and protection of human rights is central to the ongoing peace negotiations.
It also reminded the parties that deliberately attacking civilians or civilian objects are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.
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