Pakistan Reader# 159, 28 February 2021
During this week, there were three major developments in Pakistan. The first one was the much-expected decision on Pakistan leaving the grey list of the FATF; second, a bold decision by the Election Commission of Pakistan to declare the NA-75 seat for the National Assembly as null and void, though the ruling PTI has claimed to win the seat; and third, Imran Khan’s visit to Sri Lanka.
Pakistan in Grey:
The FATF retains the status quo
On 25 February 2021, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) decided to keep Pakistan on the grey list until June 2021. While commenting on “Pakistan’s continued political commitment” as leading towards “significant progress”, the FATF has asked Pakistan to “swiftly complete its full action plan before June 2021.”
What is the background?
First, Pakistan and the FATF’s grey list. In the June 2018 meeting, the FATF identified Pakistan “as a jurisdiction with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies.” AML refers to anti-money laundering and CFT refers to countering the financing of terrorism. Ever since 2018, these two – money laundering and terror financing have remained as two key factors in the FATF’s decision to keep Pakistan in the FATF.
Second, Pakistan’s expectation from the February 2021 meeting. Based on what Pakistan had done during 2020, it was expecting that the FATF would move out of the grey list. However, the FATF meeting that witnessed delegates from 205 members belonging to a global network of countries and organizations, decided to maintain the status quo – retain Pakistan in the grey list.
Third, the positive notes from the FATF during the meeting. The FATF was not completely negative; it had a few positive observations about Pakistan’s commitment since June 2018. The latest meeting has commented on “Pakistan’s continued political commitment” leading towards significant progress relating to countering the financing of terrorism.
Fourth, specific demands by the FATF. There are three specific demands; they include Pakistan addressing terror financing investigations and prosecutions; demonstrating that the terror financing prosecutions “result in effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions”; and effective implementation of targeted financial sanctions against all those designated terrorists under UNSC resolutions 1267 and 1373.
The Election Commission of Pakistan declares the NA-75 by-poll null and void
On 25 February 2021, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) issued an order that re-election be held for the Daska National Assembly seat (NA-75), as it found “on the day of the election, chaos was spread in the entire constituency.” The re-election is slated to be held on 18 March.
The Election Commission has also asked the concerned authorities to suspend a few officials including the deputy commissioner of Sialkot, the district police officer, and the assistant commissioner of Daska.
On 23 February 2021, according to a news report (The News), the Returning Officer (RO) of NA-75 Daska by-poll had claimed that “the Daska by-election results were altered as presiding officers of 23 polling stations were seemingly found involved in rigging.” According to him, out of the 360 polling stations, results of 305 polling stations were received by 0200 hrs, and 337 polling stations had been recorded by 0330 hrs. However, in the above 23 polling stations, the results were delayed and the presiding officers were
Inaccessible. Later the presiding officers had stated that they lost their way due to fog, and their mobile phones did not have power.
On 28 February, according to another news report (Dawn), the Punjab government, following the ECP order, has suspended the Daska Assistant Commissioner and two deputy superintendents of police (DSPs).
What is the background?
First, the Daska national assembly constituency (NA-75). Daska is one of the four tehsils in the Sialkot district in Punjab, and one of the five national assembly constituencies in the district. The Daska National Assembly has been a PML-N fortress since the 2008 elections. In 2018, the PML-N (Syed Iftikharul Hassan Shah) had polled more than 101,000 (Ali Asjad Malhi) votes, when compared to the PTI’s 610,000 plus votes. A long term leader of the PML-N, Iftikharul Shah died in August 2020, leading to the by-poll last week on 21 February 2021; his daughter Nosheen Iftikhar was nominated by the PML-N as the party candidate. The PPP withdrew its candidate, supporting the PML-N in Daska. Ali Asjad Malhi, who had lost the same seat in 2018 was nominated again by the PTI. When the constituency went to the elections, clearly it was a two-front contest between the PML-N and the PTI.
Second, the violence, suspicions, and the missing election officials on 19 February 2021 in Daska. On the day of elections, there was violence in certain polling stations and two people were killed according to initial reports. The Opposition had claimed that in certain places, the polling officers purposefully delayed the voting process. And then, as mentioned above, after the elections got over on Friday, from 23 polling stations the officials went missing for a substantial period.
Third, the victory claim by the PTI and the ECP’s refusal. On 20 February, the PTI had declared victory in Daska. The party’s Information Minister Shibli Faraz tweeted: “Results received by our polling agents in NA-75 Daska suggest we have won the election by over 7000 votes.” However, the Election Commission withheld the results, despite the pressure from the PTI. Another minister of the PTI tweeted that the patience of the PTI workers should not be tested, thereby urging the ECP to make an announcement (of the PTI’s victory.”
Fourth, the bold step by the Election Commission, by calling the NA-75 by-poll null and void and deciding to conduct a re-election. This is a bold move by the ECP, that would go a long way in strengthening the Election Commission of Pakistan, and the larger electoral process. This is a welcome development.
Imran Khan’s Sri Lanka Visit: Focus on Defence
On 23 February, Imran Khan landed in Colombo for a two days visit, his first one officially as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka received him at the airport; for Rajapaksa, this is the first visit by a head of a state, after getting elected as the PM last year. Imran Khan, on the purpose of his visit, stated: “My visit is aimed at strengthening bilateral relationship (with Sri Lanka), especially trade and economic ties through enhanced connectivity.”
On 24 February, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister met his Sri Lankan counterpart Dinesh Gunawardena. According to an official statement by the Sri Lankan foreign ministry, “the two Ministers agreed to strengthen the multifaceted bilateral relationship through the ongoing commercial activities under the Pakistan Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (PSFTA) to achieve the desired target of the US $ 1 Billion annual two-way trade. Both sides are vying to expand the bilateral trade relationship to new domains such as investments, services and finance beyond the current threshold of activities under the PSFTA.”
On 24 February, Imran Khan met with Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. On the same day, both countries issued a joint communique at the end of Imran’s visit. Among the numerous points, it stated, that the “two sides reviewed the extensive engagement that exists between the two countries in promoting cultural linkages, human resource development, and capacity building in diverse areas as well as educational and technical cooperation. The Pakistan side announced 100 scholarships in the field of medicines (MBBS and BDS) as part of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Higher Education Cooperation Programme (PSLHECP).”
Also on 24 February, a Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference was held; Imran Khan took part in the conference. The joint communique later “stressed the importance of realizing the goal of achieving US$ 1 billion bilateral trade target and also agreed to work towards broadening and deepening of Pakistan Sri Lank Free Trade Agreement.”
What is the background?
First, the nature of Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations, with a recent emphasis on defence. In recent years, despite the low level of trade, Pakistan has claimed success at the defence level, by supporting the Sri Lankan government in its war against the LTTE, and also by agreeing to provide training to Sri Lankan military officials. Especially during 2007-09, there was a drastic increase in Sri Lanka’s military purchase from Pakistan. In January 2018, Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff Gen Bajwa visited Sri Lanka on a two-day trip; according to Pakistani news sources, the Sri Lankan military leadership “expressed their gratitude and appreciation for Pakistan’s unequivocal moral and material support during Sri Lanka's successful war on terror.” In the final communique, the defence relations got strengthened with both sides expressing "satisfaction at the existing bilateral cooperation in the field of defence." According to the Communique, "Imran Khan announced a new $50 million defence credit line facility. The two sides stressed the need for stronger partnership for supporting and coordinating with each other in dealing with matters related to security, terrorism, organized crime and drug and narcotic trafficking as well as intelligence-sharing."
Second the Rajapaksa link between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. When the defence relationship picked between Sri Lanka and Pakistan during 2007-09, the Rajapaksa brothers were at the helm as the President and Defence Secretary. The Rajapaksas today, is perhaps attempting to pursue a balancing approach in their foreign policy, hence the invitation to Imran Khan.
Third, the outcome of Imran’s visit, outside the defence relations. It is neither of substance nor of show. Imran Khan was earlier slated to address the Parliament, but the programme had to be cancelled. The joint communique that was issued at the end of Imran Khan’s visit, though has 21 points, they are high on rhetoric than any real substance. For example, the MoU on tourism; the fact that there is no direct flight between Islamabad and Colombo should underscore the larger issues between the two countries. As of now, Sri Lankan Airlines fly alternatively to Karachi and Lahore; both countries are yet to have daily flights between two cities.