Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Asif

ISLAMABAD - New friend Russia and iron brother China saved the day for Pakistan at the Financial Action Task Force meet in Paris as Islamabad temporarily averted an embarrassing terror tag.

When the FATF meeting started on February 18, no country - except China - had committed to support Pakistan against the United States-sponsored resolution seeking to place Pakistan on the terror watch list. The FATF is a global body that combats terrorist financing and money laundering.

Russia had promised to consider Pakistan’s request to speak in favour of Islamabad at the FATF meeting but only took the practical step after Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif visited Moscow. The cold-war rivals and emerging allies pledged to form a new partnership and agreed to enhance cooperation in all sectors.

Other countries like Germany and Belgium had also given hope but there was no commitment, leaving Pakistan to intensify contacts with Russia .

The 37 permanent members of FATF included: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China , Denmark, European Commission, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Gulf Co-operation Council, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and the US. Israel and Saudi Arabia have observer status.

Khawaja Asif was over the moon as the ‘good news’ from Paris arrived. The ‘three months pause’ was not ideal but good enough. The minister took on the Twitter to break the news: “No consensus (could be reached) for nominating Pakistan. Our efforts paid, FATF Paris Feb 20 meeting conclusion on US-led motion to put Pakistan on watch list. No consensus for nominating Pakistan. Proposing 3 (three) months pause and asking Asia Pacific Group (APG) for another report to be considered in June. Grateful to friends who helped.”

However, Washington refused to confirm that the FATF deferred action for three months claiming the organisation’s deliberations were confidential until “it makes them public.”

The FATF verdict against Pakistan could have been a huge setback as major global financial institutions – including International Monetary Fund and World Bank – are under the FATF influence. The European Commission and the United Nations also give importance to the FATF.

Before the FATF meeting, Prime Minister Adviser on Finance Miftah Ismail visited Germany, Netherlands and Belgium to seek support. Federal Minister Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari also visited Malaysia.

The heroes however, remained Russia and China. Pakistan was in regular contact with China that was the only country to commit support for Pakistan. High-level visits to China in the coming days were being planned to thank the all-weather-friend.

Also, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will visit Turkmenistan and Afghanistan from February 22-23 to participate in the ground-breaking ceremonies of Turkmenistan- Afghanistan, Pakistan, India gas pipeline project, lines of electricity transmission and fibre optics in Serhetabat. This should appease the US as they had been asking Pakistan to prefer TAPI over the Iran-Pakistan gas project.

The ground-breaking ceremonies will be jointly attended by Prime Minister Abbasi, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Malikgulyevich Berdimuhamedov, President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani and Minister of State for External Affairs of India M J Akbar. This will give them a chance to speak on improving ties.

The Prime Minister will then proceed to Herat, Afghanistan to attend the Afghan leg of the groundbreaking ceremony. A bilateral meeting with the Afghan President is also scheduled.

International relations expert Dr Pervez Iqbal Cheema said the US had been ignoring Pakistan’s efforts against terror. “They used us (Pakistan) and are now blaming us for promoting terrorism. This is totally unfair. Befriending Russia is a huge success for Pakistan,” he maintained.

Cheema said the US had failed miserably in Afghanistan and was now making attempts to put the blame on Pakistan. “The US must know that no desirable results in Afghanistan can be achieved without Pakistan’s participation and contribution. We (Pakistan) must focus on China and Russia who are supporting us in these difficult times,” he said.

Analyst Dr Huma Baqai said the US policy towards Pakistan indicated that Washington was planning long-term ties with India. “They (the US) are denying our (Pakistan) efforts against terrorism. We have sacrificed the most but are being acknowledged the least. We are the only country that has defeated terrorism,” she argued.

Baqai said Pakistan was not responsible for the worst security situation in Afghanistan. “The public humiliation of Pakistan by the US administration is not acceptable. The US cannot make Pakistan a scapegoat for its failures and mistakes. It is time to recognize and acknowledge Pakistan’s sacrifices and contribution,” she added.

She said China and Russia were the main players to help Pakistan dodge the terror watch list tag at the FATF meeting. “We should get even closer to these two powers,” she said.