The month of Ramzan is one of the seasons which militants use to secure their yearly finances. While extremist and militant groups are set to raise funds during the holy month, Pakistan’s government has not taken any concrete measures to stop them from doing so.
Apart from routine fund collection through charity and donations, banned groups have three major sources of financial supplies: zakat collection in Ramzan; collection of animal hides on Eidul Azha; and foreign funding. Even if one of these supply lines is blocked, it will have huge impact on the militants’ operations.
The militants’ media publications are still available, which carry appeals for donations. Pamphlets containing such appeals can also be found on notice boards of some mosques. Banned groups are still operating in cyberspace and attracting people to contribute to their cause.
Pakistan’s policy to curb terror financing is not yet known. All we know is that the federal and provincial governments have taken action against a few individuals after the approval of the National Action Plan. Media reports in February and March this year, while quoting official sources, had stated that Rs.10.2 billion (INR 6.5 billion) in cash was recovered from a few individuals who were supposed to be involved in terror financing and money laundering. According to official claims, law-enforcement agencies also recovered Rs.101.7 milion (INR 65 million) either from clerics or workers of banned groups.
But no specific information was revealed about these individuals and their affiliations. Similarly, no information is available about what steps have been taken to stop foreign funding to these groups through hawala and couriers’ networks.
It is interesting to know how these groups collect funds through couriers. Wealthy Arabs in the Gulf States, who take the religious obligation of zakat very seriously, deem madrassahs in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh as deserving entities for their charity. They usually assess and set aside their zakat before Ramzan and engage local religious scholars in these countries to distribute it among the deserving. Pakistani madrassahs, religious parties and militant groups remain in contact with these religious scholars, who keep them on the list of the deserving. Religious scholars either visit the Gulf countries themselves or send their represen-tatives as couriers to collect zakat. Most militant groups also send their couriers to collect such donations.
Once officials investigating the collection of animal hides on Eidul Azha found links between organised money laundering and banned militant groups. Militant groups use animal hides as a cover to legitimise funds received from abroad, by showing that the money had been generated by selling the hides.
Most militant groups in Pakistan are continuously changing their organisational structure, networks, and tactics and introducing new ways of generating funds. Many of them have also created permanent sources for finances. Militant groups have established public welfare wings to cover their activities.
After they were banned, many groups resurfaced as charity organisations to boost their image among the masses as well as to avoid government restrictions. This ploy has not only helped them gain social acceptance but also enabled them to expand their support base.
Some militant groups are trying to diversify their assets and have set up commercial ventures including English-medium schools, healthcare centres, transportation companies, housing schemes and media groups or acquired farmland on a large scale. Some groups have established currency exchange networks while others use smugglers’ networks to bring in funds raised abroad.
According to a study, militant groups raise between 55 and 65 per cent of their funds from local sponsors, who willingly donate. Some groups collect donations from commercial centres and in door-to-door campaigns, ostensibly for charitable pursuits, but are quite often operating as fundraising organs for militant organisations. People respond generously to such drives, especially during Ramzan.
A recent change in the fund collection tactics of militant groups noticed by the police is their increasing focus on the rural areas of Punjab and Sindh. These groups collect ushr (Islamic levy on agricultural income, which is 10 per cent of total income) from farmers. The growing religiosity in rural areas of these provinces makes it easier for banned groups to convince farmers, due to their poor religious knowledge.
Terrorist groups like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamaatul Ahrar, factions of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates and other small groups are facing problems in generating funds from Karachi. The law-enforcement agencies’ operations make it difficult for them to generate funds from the metropolis. Most of these groups are also involved in kidnapping for ransom and other serious crimes. Some reports indicate that these terrorist groups are also active in Punjab where they are collecting money using names of fake charities and madrassahs.
The challenge is complex. But the government is still confused about how to deal with it. It seems that political considerations matter. Banned organisations like Jamaatud Dawa and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat have a support base in Punjab and the government is reluctant to take any risk to annoy them, as they have street power and vote banks.
But the government has also failed to take effective measures against other militant groups such as small sectarian groups and those linked to Al Qaeda and the TTP, which are increasingly generating funds from urban areas of Pakistan, mainly Punjab.
As stated earlier, militant organisations keep changing their targets and tactics, making it difficult for law-enforcement agencies to combat them. The government’s actions must keep pace with those changes. The state must move beyond the conventional method of banning the groups and evolve a strategy to block militants’ new channels for generating funds. It is indeed a real challenge for law-enforcement agencies to keep one step ahead of the militants.
Dawn/Asia News Network.