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Pakistan expects reprieve at global anti-terror financing meeting

Asif Shahzad

ISLAMABAD, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Pakistan hopes to secure a four-month reprieve at a global meeting on anti-terrorism financing in Paris on Friday where a decision whether or not to blacklist the South Asian nation is expected, officials and analysts said.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has to date kept Pakistan off its blacklist but warned late last year that Islamabad could face international action if it failed to do more to combat terrorism financing.

But Pakistan, which has avoided punishment so far thanks to support from major ally China, now seems more confident it will keep clear of the blacklist after securing backing from other friendly countries including Malaysia and Turkey.

A minimum of three votes by FATF member states are required for a country to escape FATF blacklisting.

Pakistani Finance Ministry adviser Abdul Hafeez Shaikh has "thanked the Chinese government for their massive support in the FATF meetings," a ministry statement said.

"China and other brotherly countries have supported Pakistan throughout the process in terms of guiding the country to improve its frameworks."

Finance Ministry and counter-terrorism officials say Pakistan has done much under pressure to comply with FATF's 27-point agenda, which included an unprecedented conviction for terrorism financing of Hafiz Saeed, chief of the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) Islamist militant group.

"You know there are two aspects which we have to deal with at this forum. One is technical and the other political," a senior finance ministry official told Reuters. "We have covered both and we expect that we will secure more concessions."

The official said Pakistan was likely to secure another four-month grace period to fulfil the FATF agenda.

"I don't see any adverse results coming out of the meeting," Pakistan's former finance czar Waqar Masood told Reuters.

If blacklisted alongside Iran and North Korea, Pakistan would face a serious financial hit at a time when its economy is confronting a balance of payment crisis.

The most crucial aspect of compliance with FATF in Pakistan's case would be steps to effectively prevent militant groups from openly operating and raising funds, as the LeT has done from Islamic charities.

The FATF has pushed Pakistan to adequately identify, assess and understand risks associated with jihadist groups present in the country such as LeT, Islamic State, al Qaeda, Jamat-ud-Dawa and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

Pakistan has long been accused of nurturing and supporting militant groups like the LeT for use as proxies to project power in the South Asian region particularly in Afghanistan and India. Islamabad denies such accusations.

In 2018 the FATF placed Pakistan on a so-called "grey list" of countries with inadequate controls over terrorism financing.

(Writing by Asif Shahzad Editing by Mark Heinrich)