ISLAMABAD - Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has saved Pakistan from crippling US sanctions by convincing the US State Department to upgrade the country’s status on the “Trafficking Watch List”. This miracle was made possible, largely, by FIA working against the clock to get, with the support of the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the Foreign Office, the outgoing parliament to enact two landmark laws just before its term expired on the 31st of May, 2018. <link#_>
While Pakistan’s recent placement on the Financial Action Task Force’s ‘grey list’ this month has understandably raised plenty of concerned eyebrows, few have bothered to take note that until last Friday, Pakistan had been on the State Department’s equivalent of FATF grey list – the “Tier 2 Watch List” – for four years running. In the 2018 edition of the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, released on 28 June, Pakistan has been removed from the grey “Tier 2 Watch List” and placed in regular Tier 2 in relatively decent company along the likes of Singapore and a number of European countries such as Greece and Iceland.
As part of its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report”, the US Statement Department ranks countries of the world, based on the efforts countries are making towards addressing this in human crime, into one of the 4 categories or “Tiers”: “Tier 1” (Fully compliant), “Tier 2” (Not fully compliant yet but making significant efforts), “Tier 2 Watch List” (Grey) and “Tier 3” (Black). Countries placed on the Watch List for 4 consecutive years, and who do not demonstrate tangible and significant improvement in the 5th year, are automatically downgraded to Tier 3 the following year and have broad sanctions slapped on them which make them not only ineligible for US’ own aid and cooperation but also earns them US opposition at US-dominated multilateral forums such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The importance the US attaches to the Pakistan’s policies and actions regarding trafficking in human beings was highlighted in a meeting in December last year between the then interior minister Ahsan Iqbal and the visiting Director from the State Department Kari Johnstone who was accompanied by the US Ambassador to Pakistan, David Hale, during the discussion. In this meeting, as well as in a more frank no-holds barred discussion at the FIA Headquarters during the same visit, Ms. Johnston made it clear that Pakistan was staring down the barrel of a-gun-called-sanctions unless it took immediate and concrete steps such as enactment of anti-trafficking laws.
It just so happened that FIA had, in fact, been trying to bring in new separate Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking laws since 2012 but had never managed to obtain clearance of the Ministry of Interior, for one reason or another, for placing the proposed laws before the Cabinet and the Parliament. FIA was desperate to have the new laws because no laws existed in Pakistan which properly defined the crime of migrant smuggling nor did it have a legal instrument which comprehensively dealt with trafficking, especially domestic trafficking.
With still no new law in hand come Spring 2018, FIA found a powerful ally in the chief justice of Pakistan when he began to take a close look into the problems holding FIA back pursuant to the suo motu notice he had taken of the Turbat tragedy in which 20 intending Pakistani migrants lost their lives on the way to Iran. Surprised to find out that there was no law in Pakistan which unambiguously defined the crime of migrant smuggling, the chief justice ordered, along with a host of other measures aimed at strengthening the agency, the FIA to urgently proceed with drafting a new law to address the gaping legal hole.
Consequently, FIA prepared a fresh draft of the Migrant Smuggling Bill in accordance with international and UN standards and spent the next few months trying to push the law through the usual complicated bureaucratic chain to obtain numerous approvals required at the many different levels including by the Ministry of Interior, Law and Justice Division, the Cabinet Committee for Legislative Cases and the Cabinet and the prime minister himself.
Well-placed sources in the Foreign Office have revealed that sometime around the end of March, with the FIA still having failed to receive all the approvals required to place even the Migrant Smuggling bill before the Parliament, the US upped the ante and the US Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells conveyed to the Pakistan’s then ambassador in the US , Aitzaz Chaudhry in a meeting in Washington that, unless the government of Pakistan immediately passed credible anti-trafficking legislation, Pakistan would be downgraded to “Tier 3” in the upcoming Trafficking Report to be released in June 2018 and that this demotion would attract severe punitive sanctions against Pakistan. The sanctions would result in cut off of aid from the US itself as well as oblige the US to actively seek to deny the grant or extension of loans and assistance to Pakistan at forums such as banks and IMF. A number of other consequences, such as halting of US funding of Pakistan government officials’ training programmes, would also follow.
This meeting proved a turning point in the saga as the Foreign Office conveyed the gist of the discussion between the US Assistant Secretary of State and the Pakistan envoy in a tersely worded letter to the Ministry of Interior. The letter made no bones about the Foreign Office’s belief that unless the legislation was allowed to go through Pakistan would have US sanctions imposed on it.