For another time, Faroogh Naseem, the federal minister of law, has firmly established that from among the 45-plus ministers, advisors and special assistants of the Imran government, he remains the one and only, equipped with aformidable capacity for softening our number-strong, and often very vocal, opposition.

His ‘pull’ in a deeply polarized political environment rather seems doubly astonishing if you consider the reality that without much ado, both the main opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), finally facilitated the smooth and speedy passage of not one but five laws passed by the national assembly Wednesday. These laws also appeared to have been “adopted by consensus.”

The laws, passed on Wednesday, were part of a heavy package of legislative initiatives, Pakistan felt compelled to take for seeking exit from the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Two significant bills of the said series were initially ‘bulldozed’ in the national assembly. Taking advantage of its brute majority in the Senate, the opposition parties could certainly embarrass the government by getting them ‘rejected’ by the upper house of parliament.

The persuasive skills of Faroogh Naseem were thus activated in sheer desperation early last week. And, he quickly delivered by agreeing to incorporate some amendments proposed by the opposition. But five more laws still required the parliamentary approval to please the FATF. Both the main opposition parties, especially the PPP, didn’t appear too comfortable regarding the language of these laws. 

They strongly believed that taking advantage of the draconian reach of the laws, ostensibly prepared to combat terrorism and multiple means of financing it, the Imran government was set to cripple the opposition. Many of its leaders and vocal representatives, contemptuously dubbed as “looters and plunderers” by the PTI hawks, are already facing serious charges of “money laundering.”

A loose definition of this term surely had the visible potential of sending the same leaders to jails, almost for the rest of their lives. Therefore, the main opposition parties firmly demanded unambiguous definitions and explanations for terms and expressions like money laundering, terrorism and agencies etc. They also pressed for a clear cut de-clubbing of all forms of “money laundering” from the specific acts of “terror financing”. Their concerns indeed sounded legitimate, if you consider them in the political history of Pakistan, replete with buy or bully obsessions of successive governments since 1948. Yet, the Imran government preferred to act deaf about them.

The corruption-fighting vows of Prime Minister Imran Khan justified the hawkish posturing. Some advisors and spokespersons of the government rather began building hopes that laws like the “Mutual Legal Assistance” with foreign countries would eventually facilitate bringing people like Ishaq Dar and the sons of Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan from England. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had already managed to get them declared as “wanted” by the courts, established to deal with corruption-connected crimes. It was time to put them in the dock.

Faroogh Naseem didn’t need any tutor to instinctively appreciate concerns, forcing the main opposition parties to resist adoption of some FATF-related laws. Apparently, he merely represents the MQM in the coalition government led by Imran Khan, but the law minister also enjoys admirable access to and trust of ‘institutions’ comprising the so-called ‘deep state.’ His reputation empowers him to speak with the opposition, as a weighty representative of ‘the state.’ The opposition has to take him seriously.

Since Monday night, he had been visiting the Speaker’s official residence to negotiate with a select group of opposition representatives, enjoying complete trust of their leadership. Late Tuesday night, he finally brought them to a win-win looking resolution. Wednesday proceedings of the national assembly in this background were nothing but procedural rites of law passing.

Presenting the FATF-related laws for approval by the national assembly, Barrister Faroogh Naseem did acknowledge and appreciate “patriotic conduct” of the opposition parties, with a large heart. Besides Khawaja Asif of the PML-N, he also praised Farooq Naik and Ms. Sherry Rehman of the PPP in this respect. Too generous he certainly behaved by humbly admitting that “in larger public interest,” these legislators had “positively” contributed in the process of drafting FATF-Compliance laws, in a manner that also ensured protection of the fundamental rights of Pakistanis.  

For another time, Jamaat-e-Islami, an old outfit of the religious-right, felt somewhat abandoned, both by the government and the main opposition parties. Since the introduction of FATF-related laws, Jamiat-e-Ulma-e-Pakistan (JUI-F), another vocal outfit of the religious-right, had also been expressing loud reservations. For preparing the final draft of the five remaining laws, finally passed on Wednesday, the law minister took the same party on board. Its women representative, Ms. Shahid Akhter, also took the floor Wednesday to almost own these laws.

Sardar Akhter Mengal of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), however, felt bitter for being ignored. Until June 2020, he and his party had been supporting the Imran government since August 2018. But he constantly felt “taken for granted” and quit the ruling alliance due to accumulated frustrations. He sounded doubly hurt Wednesday while complaining that even the main opposition parties were also not willing to take him and his party on board, while negotiating with the government.  

Thanks to discreet and drawn-out consultations between the government and main opposition parties, average Pakistanis like you and I would not be able to fathom the plethora of significant changes, which FATF-related laws are set to enforce in our country. Neither the government nor the opposition ever cared to explain how these laws would radically change to various modes of financial transactions, we had been familiar with for many decades, in some cases rather centuries.

“Documentation,” appears to be the key motive of drafting new laws. No responsible citizen in this day and age would question the said notion. But like the rest of world, we also have some very old habits and customs of doing business. “Money laundering” is certainly a bad practice. But you can’t associate all forms of it with “terror financing.”

We also have a centuries-old habit of buying gold to save it for rainy days. Similarly, millions of low-income families need to get jewelry of some worth for dowry of their women. One can only hope that while drafting FATF-related laws, “our representatives” had also considered such practices, instead of merely focusing on protecting their leaders from being dubbed and punished as “hardened money launderers.”

The government certainly needs to launch a massive awareness campaign to explain the salient features of FATF-related laws. Otherwise, in sheer fear often triggered due to baseless rumors, people would feel extremely reluctant to engage in financial transactions, even if they have the distant possibility of being clubbed or associated with acts of “terror financing.”

The IMF-dictated “documentation” had already brought “the slump” to our economy, many months before the advent of COVID-19. We have yet to find appropriate means to kick-start it for heading towards a full-throttled growth. FATF-related laws must not deepen the feeling of doom and gloom.