Pakistan PM Imran Khan seems to have no time to relax as the opposition is coming down heavily on the military-backed government under his leadership. In a report in The Sunday Guardian, Dr Yatharth Kachiar said that The ruling party is facing heat at both foreign policy and domestic fronts. In the last few months, the neighbouring nation has made several blunders that have put it further deep in financial trouble.
Pakistan got into a rift with Saudi Arabia that resulted in a blockade of deferred payments on oil purchases. Pakistan had to borrow $1 billion from China to repay a part of the $3 billion loan granted by the Saudis. It has to be noted that a fifth of the external debt that makes $19 billion is owed to China, mainly due to China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Further increase in debt owing to China may lead to China taking control of assets in Pakistan as it has been doing across the world.
Arranging funds from external sources has been a problem for Pakistan. In 2018, Financial Action Task Force (FATF) added Pakistan in the list of countries to be monitored by the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) or commonly known as the Grey list. It means that Pakistan is considered to be a safe haven for terror funding and money laundering. Pakistan was first added in the grey list in 2012, and the status remains the same. India, the US and UK however, wanted Pakistan to be added in the blacklist.
Painstaking and challenging journey of Pakistan to get itself removed from Grey list
In order to get itself removed from the Grey list, Pakistan has to comply with the regulations of FATF to stop money laundering and terror funding. On 30th July 2020, Pakistan Senate passed the Anti-Terrorism Act (Amendment) Bill, 2020. It was one of the attempts to satisfy the requirements laid down by FATF. The bill was only able to get passed from the lower house when the Khan government decided to drop the “economic terrorism” clause after opposition caused havoc over it.
However, the country also tried to introduce two critical FATF-related anti-money laundering bills twice in the parliament, but they were brought down by the opposition that claims there are several problems with the bill. One of the significant issues that the senators raised was the power government would have with these bills to detain accused in money laundering or terror funding case for up to six months.
The two bills named the second amendment to the anti-money laundering bill and the Islamabad capital territory Waqf properties bill were rejected by the upper house where the opposition has the majority. A joint session of both houses will soon take up the bill. While Imran Khan hopes that these bills will pass during joint sessions, the Khan government has initiated corruption probes against prominent leaders of opposition parties Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML(N)).
Massive attempts to shut down anti-government voices in opposition
The Pakistan Government is also using corruption charges to bring down the opposition leaders. It is seen as in sync with the military orchestrated ‘witch hunt’ against former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif. The government has filed several cases against former president Zardari that are being seen as an attempt to silence opposition for exposing corruption and incompetence of the ruling party.
While the steps against the opposition may bring some cheering from the supporters for Imran Khan, in the long run, it will trigger massive protests. The country is currently at its weakest point, and sooner or later, the government will face heat for its actions and incompetence.
Why opposition fears “economic terrorism” bill
Pakistan has a history of misusing powerful bills, including the Anti-Terrorism Act or ATA, of killing any kind of dissent or rights-based movements. The poor human rights records of the neighboring country are proving to be no help in further strengthening its position in the eyes of opposition as well as the International community. The opposition believes that because there is a clause that provides the government right to detain anyone for up to six months, it will open a pandora box of enforced disappearances in Pakistan. The bill gives more power to ATA in cases of a money transfer using informal channels.
Imran Khan has promised several times that his government will criminalize the practice of enforced disappearances. However, contradictory to their own promises, the government reintroduced the “economic terrorism bill” with the 6-month detention clause. Enforced disappearances are a major issue in Pakistan. Since the 1970s, when such cases begin to appear in media, Pakistan has reported over 7,000 such disappearances. Since 1986, over 20,000 MQM workers had been arrests in Sindh.
Since 2013, Pakistan’s government decided to come down heavily on MQM that resulted in the enforced disappearances of more than 130 political workers and extra-judicial killings of 76 accused. More than 22,000 Baloch persons have gone missing so far in Balochistan. These disappearances have been termed as extrajudicial enforced disappearances. However, arrests under Anti-Terrorism Act or other Balochistan laws are not as common as Sindh. There have been several cases of disappearances in Pakistan that were raised several times in media but nothing concrete happened. These political or terror-linked enforced disappearances and abductions include cases of Dr Deen Mohammad, SECP official Sajid Gondal, Pakistan journalist Hamid Mir and many others.