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Pakistan’s new ambassador to US?

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News Analysis |

Ali Jahangir Siddiqui has been nominated as the new US ambassador by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. The previous Ambassador, Aizaz Chaudhry’s tenure has almost expired and he has not been offered an extension. Chaudhary served from February 2017 till date. As per custom, the appointment of Ali Siddiqui will be confirmed once Washington validates his nomination.

US Pakistan relations have been on the decline on recent years. Ever since the Salalah Checkpost incident in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by NATO troops and the Osama bin Laden raid, relations between the two countries have slid downhill. Last month, the FATF announced that Pakistan has ‘strategic deficiencies’ in its anti-money laundering and counter-terror finance regime. Pakistan faces the danger of being put under the FATF grey list, pending a procedure for verification and examination of Pakistan’s anti-terror finance laws that can take three months.

Pakistan faces the danger of being put in the grey list of FATF, as a result of which Pakistan may find it difficult to seek aid from international institutions. Pakistani banks may also face barriers in transnational commercial activities.

The move has been spearheaded by the US, although other countries friendly to Pakistan also joined in the move, such as the UK. Most surprisingly, initially, key allies of Pakistan such as Turkey and China also seemed to be not supporting Pakistan this time around. New leadership in the Pakistan embassy in the United States was, thus, necessary.

Ali Siddiqui has an impressive resume. He is the chairman of JS Bank and JS Private Equity Management, Pakistan’s largest equity firm. In 2014, he was honored at the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. Siddiqui has a degree in economics from Cornell Univeristy, New York. He has some experience in the public sector as well.

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He served as a member of the Privatisation Commission, a member of the Private Sector Advisory Board of the Planning Commission, a member of the Sindh Board of Investment and as a member of the Community Development Board of the Government of Sindh. He was appointed special advisor to the Prime Minister in August 2017 with the status of Minister of State.

Ali Siddiqui, however, has not escaped the ire of accountability courts. NAB is investigating Azgard Nine Group for allegedly increasing the price of its shares depite suffering from deficits. This step was taken after a report by the Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan revealed that the Jahangir Siddiqui group had made payments to someone unidentified. Ali Jahangir is accused of paying Rs. 140.30 million to an unidentified person. Jahangir, however, denies these allegations.

The FATF or Financial Action Task Force is an inter-governmental body that seeks to establish norms in countering finance for terrorism and halting black market activities. It meets every year.

Having a background in economics would certainly help in presenting a stronger case on behalf of Pakistan. The US is the largest export market for Pakistan ($3.43 billion). Immediately after 9/11, Pakistan wanted to establish a trade-based relationship with the United States, as argued by Dr. Steve P. Cohen, a foremost expert on Pakistan. The US, however, settled for an aid-based relationship. This ensured that the Pak-US relationship remained transactional as the US could and did threaten to withdraw aid if Pakistan didn’t act in accordance with US interests. The fact that he is educated New York means that the US won’t be entirely foreign to him once he gets there.

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The FATF or Financial Action Task Force is an inter-governmental body that seeks to establish norms in countering finance for terrorism and halting black market activities. It meets every year. It’s most recent meeting was in February in Paris and it was decided there that Pakistan’s measures to stop money-laundering and terror finance are inadequate.

Pakistan faces the danger of being put in the grey list of FATF, as a result of which Pakistan may find it difficult to seek aid from international institutions. Pakistani banks may also face barriers in transnational commercial activities.

The new ambassador will have heavy responsibilities from day one. Not only does he need to improve Pakistan’s trade prospects via-a-vis the US, he needs to reverse, to the extent that is possible for an ambassador, the decisions made by top US government officials that led to the FATF vote against Pakistan. He will face another challenge in the form of a highly proactive Indian lobby in Washington.

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