Iranian FM’s visa issue
THE UN is supposed to be a global forum where geopolitical adversaries can discuss their differences in front of the comity of nations in order to avoid conflict. However, if one party is denied a hearing, the utility of this multilateral forum becomes questionable, as the UN is supposed to be a democratic institution, not a glorified talk shop like the erstwhile League of Nations.
But in the aftermath of Iranian Gen Qassem Soleimani’s assassination by the US, Washington is throwing its weight around by blocking Tehran’s full access to the UN. As reported, the American administration has denied a visa to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, stopping him from attending a Security Council session in New York as there was “not enough time” to process the request.
The US move to deny Iran’s top diplomat access to the UN may violate the ‘headquarters agreement’ Washington signed with the UN when the global body was set up. America has a right to allow or deny access to anyone as far as its own soil is concerned, yet it should not be allowed to use access to the UN as a political tool to punish its rivals.
Previously, severe critics of the US had been allowed to attend UN sessions without major problems arising. For example, much before the Americans dropped its ‘terrorist’ designation for the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the late 1980s, Yasser Arafat made a memorable speech at the UN in 1974. Moreover, at the height of the Cold War, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev used the UN rostrum to deliver fiery speeches condemning their rival capitalist bloc.
And in contrast to the urbane Mr Zarif, Iran’s hard-line former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was allowed to attend UN sessions to denounce his geopolitical rivals. If America’s adversaries are not allowed to come to New York for UN sessions, then the democratic spirit of the body is violated, making it a mere instrument for great power bullying.
PAKISTAN’S downward trajectory where a number of development indicators, especially those related to food security, health and sanitation, are concerned has been widely discussed. In the past four years, we have slid at least 15 notches on the UN Sustainable Development Goals index. The country ranked 115th in 2016, went down to 117th in 2017, and then to 122nd in 2018 before reaching the 130th spot in 2019. Sadly, considering the strained economy, poor governance and high inflation, the living conditions of millions of Pakistanis will only get worse. It is ironic that Pakistan was among the first countries that translated the Millennium Development Goals into national goals and came up with a detailed framework for achieving them. However, Pakistan had missed several major goals related to health and climate by the conclusion of the MDG time frame in 2015. Similarly, after the Sustainable Development Summit of 2015, Pakistan was again one of the first countries to adopt the 2030 agenda through a resolution in the National Assembly. Yet, despite the allocation of resources, foreign aid and much activity in bureaucratic circles, the country continues to perform badly in several areas, the challenges ranging from malnutrition to education inequality. In the latest Human Development Report, Pakistan is ranked at 152, marginally below all other South Asian countries, not least because of the complexity of the developmental challenges it faces and its poor response to them.
What we lack are proper resources, political will, competent personnel and empowered local governments, while bureaucratic delays, corruption and mismanagement have worsened matters. Unfortunately, development to policymakers is an ‘outside’ problem to be tackled by academics and development agencies. What seems to be missing is the realisation that development indicators also expose ineffective governance. The success of any parallel or overarching development scheme will always remain limited if governance weakens the implementation of goals. For example, the introduction of the Sehat Sahulat Card that aims to provide health insurance is a laudable step by the PTI government, but unless a serious effort is made to improve the quality of drinking water — polluted water is a major source of disease — the initiative will remain ineffective because of rising health costs. Similarly, eradicating poverty and hunger will be difficult without a reduction in food prices. The challenges for the present government are enormous. But solutions might be simpler than expected — if the decision-makers are willing to make amends.
THE Financial Action Task Force will decide next month if Pakistan has done enough to be removed from the grey list. If FATF decides that Pakistan has taken substantial measures to curb money laundering and terror financing, and based on its assessment removes Pakistan from the list, it would defuse a big threat to this country’s economy and its standing in the international community. If, however, Pakistan is unable to satisfy FATF that it has taken sufficient steps in this direction and is downgraded to the blacklist, then the country could face severe diplomatic and financial consequences, including an uncertain fate for the ongoing IMF programme. Much, therefore, rides on what happens next month.
Much also depends on Pakistan’s own progress on this front. On Tuesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance approved two important bills on money laundering and foreign exchange regulations to meet the requirements of FATF. Earlier, too, the National Assembly passed a crucial FATF-related bill for the exchange of information and criminals with other countries. Since the last meeting of FATF in 2019, Pakistan has been working feverishly to address all the objections raised by FATF and to build a strong case so that it can be removed from the grey list. According to available information, various government departments, ministries and relevant bodies have made significant headway in tightening laws and legislating new ones where necessary, while updating rules and regulations to satisfy the requirements of FATF. Years of neglect have clearly taken a toll, and the state has no choice but to put in a massive effort to bring transparency to its fight against terror financing and money laundering. Hard as it might be, it is the right thing to do.
It may be necessary for us to comply with FATF demands but it is also in our own interest to do so. Pakistan has been lax on these matters for too long — often as a result of misplaced priorities — and it has had to endure a heavy cost for this. Now that the state has taken a decision to crack down on all organisations that may have links with terror financing and extremism, Pakistan would be doing itself a favour by going all the way to reform its archaic system and block all loopholes that allow for the unaccounted trafficking of money. However, it is important that parliament be taken on board before next month’s meeting. All steps taken so far should be discussed in the Senate and National Assembly so that the people’s representatives can give their input. Pakistan has chosen the right direction and it should hold steady even beyond the requirements of FATF. We still have a long way to go to rid ourselves of the menace of terrorism and we should not lose sight of the real objective. Hopefully, FATF will recognise our efforts in this respect.