Islamabad, Oct 15 (AP/UNB) — Pakistan is trying to avoid getting blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force, a global watchdog, when it meets Wednesday in Paris.
A report earlier this month by the task force's Asia Pacific Group, which monitors Pakistan's progress, is not encouraging.
The report says Pakistan has fully implemented only one item from a list of 40 measures that the country should be taking to curb terrorist financing and money laundering. The other 39 measures were either partially implemented or in some cases overlooked entirely.
Iran and North Korea are currently the only two countries on the blacklist.
Being blacklisted would be a serious blow for Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan as he tries to boost its faltering economy and attract foreign investment and loans.
Pakistan got a mixed review for its efforts to curb terrorist financing and money laundering as it tries to avoid getting blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force, a global watchdog, when it meets Wednesday in Paris.
A report earlier this month by the task force's Asia Pacific Group, which monitors Pakistan's progress, was not encouraging. It found Pakistan had fully implemented only one item from a list of 40 measures that the country should be taking to curb terrorist financing and money laundering, if it wants to stay off the blacklist. The other 39 measures were either partially implemented or in some cases overlooked entirely.
Iran and North Korea are currently the only two countries on the blacklist.
Just as Pakistan has been trying to get on its feet financially, having secured a $6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and a $6 billion package from Saudi Arabia, it might get knocked back down by getting put on the list.
"It would no longer be business as usual in Pakistan," said Amir Rana, director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies.
Being blacklisted could even jeopardize Pakistan's multi-billion dollar part in China's Belt and Road Initiative, a global endeavor aimed at reconstituting the Silk Road and linking China to all corners of Asia. In Pakistan, it has been billed as a massive development program that will bring new prosperity to the South Asian nation, where the average citizen lives on just $125 a month.
But if Pakistan is blacklisted, every financial transaction would be closely scrutinized, and doing business in Pakistan would become costly and cumbersome, said Rana. He said restrictions could be imposed on international lending agencies, including the International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, which are all key money lenders to Pakistan.
Rana also said Pakistan hasn't made the institutional changes it needs to seriously tackle terrorism financing and the terrorist-declared groups that still operate in Pakistan — some of whom have been resurrected under new names.
He blamed police and bureaucratic incompetence, mismanagement and a conflicted military and intelligence apparatus. These security agencies are still undecided about whether to break all ties with groups they have long considered "assets," particularly against neighboring India, Pakistan's longtime nemesis.
At one juncture, Rana said Pakistan had sought to differentiate between what it considered bad and worse groups. Authorities put anti-India groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba in the less dangerous category, and put groups like al-Qaida, Tehrik-e-Taliban and the Baluchistan Liberation Army on the more dangerous list.
If Pakistan's security establishment was serious about breaking ties, Rana said, it needs to lay out a plan of action, one that details a reintegration plan for members of these groups as well as a strategy of how it would arrest and prosecute those who carry out acts of terror in other countries.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters Friday that the economic affairs minister Hammad Azhar was already in Paris preparing for the meeting. Pakistan's State-run television on Monday said Azhar presented Pakistan's case to the task force ahead of its deliberations starting Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Qureshi accused neighboring India of lobbying to get his country blacklisted.
"India tried its best to get us blacklisted. God willing, you will see that all such efforts will fail," he said.
Pakistan has reportedly lobbied both Turkey and Malaysia to seek an extension at the task force meeting, promising to be 100% compliant by June 2020.
Qureshi, meanwhile, said the government has spent the last 10 months taking steps to curb both money laundering and terror financing.
But the job is a big one.
Pakistan has banned 66 organizations declared terrorist or terrorist-supporting groups and listed another estimated 7,600 individuals under its anti-terrorism act. India's most wanted man, Hafiz Saeed, lives in Pakistan and has a $10 million U.S.-imposed bounty on his head.
Also based in Pakistan is the terrorist-designated group Jaish-e-Mohammad, which claimed responsibility for a February suicide attack in the Indian-controlled portion of the disputed Kashmir region. That attack killed 40 Indian soldiers and caused tensions to spiral upward between India and Pakistan, bringing the two nuclear-armed nations unsettlingly close to war. They've already fought three wars since Britain ended its colonial rule over the Indian subcontinent in 1947.
Earlier this year, the United Nations added Masood Azhar, the head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, to its blacklist after several unsuccessful attempts. After the February attack, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's government took control of the many schools run by Azhar's group as well as clinics and even an ambulance service.
Dozens of his activists have been arrested, but Rana, the security analyst, said the legal system is hindered by its use of what he called "secret courts." He advocated for a free and transparent court system, rather than the current judicial procedures held behind closed doors or in military courts, also closed to public scrutiny.
The Asia Pacific Group report — which is set to be reviewed during this week's task force meeting — said that while Pakistan seized some assets, the amounts seized were very small considering the extent of the money laundering and terrorist financing believed to be going on in the country. The report also criticized Pakistan's efforts at stemming the movement of illicit money across borders.
The report gave good marks to Pakistan's banks and larger exchange companies at putting in controls to detect and protect against money laundering and terrorism financing. However, it said the State Bank of Pakistan "does not have a clear understanding of the ML (money laundering) and TF (terrorist financing) risks unique to the sectors it supervises." But it is improving, the report added.
Overall, much of the report suggested Pakistan had mostly failed at making the institutional changes needed to ferret out those who finance terror and put an end to it. Whether Pakistan joins Iran and North Korea on the blacklist remains to be seen.
Tokyo, Oct 15 (AP/UNB) — The typhoon that ravaged Japan last week hit with unusual speed and ferocity, leaving homes buried in mud and people stranded on rooftops.
But nothing spoke more of the powerlessness of modernization against natural disasters than rows of bullet trains deluged in floodwaters in Nagano, a mountainous region to the northwest of Tokyo.
Japan's technological prowess and meticulous attention to detail are sometimes no match for rising risks in a precarious era of climate change.
Experts say they also instill a false sense of security in a country inured to danger by the constant threat of calamitous earthquakes, tsunami and volcanos.
"Weather conditions in Japan up to now have been relatively moderate," said Toshitaka Katada, a disaster expert and professor at the University of Tokyo.
Those days are over, and Japan's readiness for disasters, still based on data collected decades ago, hasn't kept up with the times, he said.
"Damage gets multiplied when people are overly confident about their safety," Katada said.
With increasingly extreme weather, the government, businesses and individuals need to rethink their preparedness.
Rescue efforts continued Tuesday, three days after the typhoon made landfall near Tokyo and then swerved northward before moving over the Pacific as a tropical storm. The casualty counts were climbing, with dozens dead, more missing and some 100 people injured in Nagano, Fukushima, Miyagi and other central and northern prefectures.
At least 10 Shinkansen trains, each consisting of 12 cars, were damaged by the flooding at a depot in Nagano, said East Japan Railway Co. spokesman Yuji Ishikawa.
Evacuation orders were still in effect, so details were still unclear. But electronic equipment underneath the carriages was likely totally wrecked, he said.
The scientific community has been warning about the trend toward more extreme weather for years, including intensifying cyclones.
Many of the casualties from natural disasters, especially landslides and flooding, reflect the vulnerability of Japanese communities, businesses and public infrastructure to torrential rains and other conditions that were not considered when homes and other facilities were built.
Despite increasingly accurate forecasts, it's still difficult to predict the exact track of storms and the potential damage they may bring, said Chris Field, director at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.
"The message for typhoon-prone areas is that all should prepare for a future of stronger storms," Field said.
"It is important to understand and respond to the evidence that storms are getting stronger as a result of climate change and that investments in disaster prevention need to rise, now more than ever," he said.
Japan already is in crisis over its aging and inadequately maintained infrastructure. Governments lack the funding and manpower to refurbish and replace tunnels, bridges and other structures to meet improved standards for resistance to earthquakes and other disasters.
On top of that, there's an urgent need to improve early warning systems, build bigger seawalls and help people relocate out of vulnerable areas, Field and other experts said.
In Nagano and other areas, homes and fields that normally would be protected were inundated when swollen rivers breached dikes and levees build for the less severe flooding of earlier times.
The authorities issued clear and early warnings about the perils of the approaching typhoon, holding an emergency news conference several days before the expected landfall.
"Please take measures to save your own life," public broadcaster NHK announced, again and again.
In Miyagi, trucks circulated in neighborhoods urging people to evacuate, sirens wailed and smartphones were bombarded with emails urging evacuations.
But while evacuation advisories were issued to areas affecting as many as several million people, far fewer, in the tens of thousands, heeded those warnings.
Japanese need to be more aware of disaster risks and do more to prepare on their own instead of counting on the government to take care of them, experts said.
Hiroaki Maruya, a disaster expert and professor at Tohoku University in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, said Japan built many dams and embankments after World War II to reduce disasters.
But fortifying such infrastructure is costly and will take time, maybe decades.
That means it's better to escape even if you find out later that you didn't need to flee.
"These days, we are having one big typhoon after another, and places that haven't flooded in decades are now at risk," he said.
"This is a serious problem. And so, to stay alive, you just have to get out."
Canbera, Oct 15 (AP/UNB) — Papua New Guinea police said Tuesday they were seeking the arrest of Prime Minister Peter O'Neill for official corruption but the former leader of the South Pacific island nation was refusing to cooperate.
But Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported from Port Moresby that O'Neill said he was cooperating with police and looked forward to proving his innocence in court.
Police have released no detail of the allegations against a prime minister who led the country for seven years.
Acting Police Commissioner David Manning said in a statement that O'Neill had been found in a hotel in the capital Port Moresby on Tuesday but was not cooperating.
"Whilst I cannot reveal any specific details at this point in time due to the sensitivity of the investigations, I can confirm that police investigators in an ongoing investigation applied to the district court for the arrest warrant for Mr. O'Neill which was granted last Friday," Manning said.
"The warrant was obtained upon the weight of the evidence brought forward by the investigators," he added.
O'Neill resigned as prime minister in May following weeks of high-profile defections from his government to the opposition.
O'Neill said at the time recent movements in parliament have shown a "need for change."
He was replaced by former finance minister James Marape.
Ceylanpinar, Oct 15 (AP/UNB) — Turkish artillery is pounding suspected Syrian Kurdish positions near a town in northeast Syria as Turkey's military incursion enters its seventh day.
An Associated Press journalist on Tuesday reported heavy bombardment of targets in the countryside of Ras al Ayn, days after Turkey announced that it had captured the border town. Turkish jets also carried out at least one airstrike.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, reported Kurdish fighters had retaken the town.
A Turkish military official denied reports that Turkey had begun an assault on the Kurdish-held town of Manbij, without giving further detail.
Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended Turkey's offensive in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, calling on the international community to support the initiative or "begin admitting refugees" from Syria.
Luxembourg, Oct 15 (AP/UNB) — The European Union said Tuesday that a Brexit divorce deal is possible this week but that the British government's proposals so far are not sufficient to seal an agreement.
The EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said ahead of a meeting of EU ministers that the main challenge now is to turn British proposals on the complex issue of the border on the island of Ireland into something binding.
Barnier said it is "high time to turn good intentions into a legal text."
Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said the British proposals to keep the Irish border protected from smuggling and fraud once the U.K. leaves the bloc remain insufficient.
"The U.K. proposal contained some steps forward but not enough to guarantee that the internal market will be protected," Blok said.
EU leaders are meeting for a two-day summit in Brussels from Thursday. Brexit will top the agenda as the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline looms.
"Even if an agreement will be difficult — more and more difficult, we think — it is still possible this week," Barnier said.
EU ministers insisted it was for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make the next move, with French Europe Minister Amelie de Montchalin saying that the EU nations "will be firm on our fundamentals."
Meanwhile, the insistence that the summit this week would be a cutoff moment is quickly fading.
Three EU nations have predicted the negotiations could spill over into next week.
Antti Rinne, prime minister of Finland, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said in Helsinki late Monday that he had given up hope for a quick breakthrough ahead of the Brexit summit.
"There is no time in a practical way, and in legal base, to reach an agreement before the meeting," Rinne said. "We need to have more time."
Blok agreed. "Let's use the remaining time until the Oct. 31." There has been increasing talk about an extra summit close to the end of the month.
Technical teams from Britain and the EU worked through the weekend and Monday, but both sides said significant gaps remained between their positions.