By its own police records, Pakistan has failed to stem fund raising by various terrorist groups. Pakistan has been claiming to hunt down terror funds and their sources for some time but without much impact on the ground. The fact that almost all the terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) are not only operational but also flourishing in Punjab and Sind, reveals the true nature of the campaign. These groups have also been raising funds without much difficulty in the recent times.
A few months ago, media reports in Pakistan reported seizure of Rs 10.2 billion in cash from some individuals who were charged with money laundering and terror financing. The news reports also talked about another seizure of Rs 101.7 million from clerics and workers of banned terrorist groups. Not surprisingly there has been no official confirmation about these seizures, and the identity of the individuals arrested and the groups involved. But the large sum seized from a ``few`` individuals gives an idea of the kind of money involved in terror financing. These would easily run into several billion dollars in a year if Pakistan government were to shut down even partially the terror funding pipeline.
But there is no sign of any crackdown. During the recent Ramzan, terrorist and extremist groups openly collected ``donations`` and animal hides. Most of these donations and hides are cornered by big groups like LeT and JeM. Investigating agencies in Pakistan have found a close link between these ``Ramzan`` donations and money laundering. Terrorist groups use religious cover to launder money from different sources from abroad.
It is well known in Pakistan that terrorist groups get money through three means—zakat collection during Ramzan, collection of animal hides on Eid and foreign donations. About 70 to 80 per cent of funding for these groups come from local donations. There are sizeable number of individuals, business houses and establishments which contribute regularly for the cause of ``jihad``. These donations generally come during religious festivities and occasions. Terrorist groups publicise widely their bank account numbers and addresses in their publications and on the social media. In fact, groups like LeT have been exploiting social media for raising funds within Pakistan as well as outside. By all accounts, these groups have been successful in collecting large sums through these media sources while managing to hoodwink the system.
It is also not a secret that almost all the terrorist groups in Pakistan today have a charity face. LeT was the first one to take this route in 2001. When the group came under scrutiny following the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, it split into two—one to carry out jihad against India and another to do charity work. Thus was born Jamat-ud Dawa (JuD). This was a clever ploy—it helped the group, its patrons in Pakistan Army, to dodge any possible international action or sanction and gave it a public legitimacy. More importantly, it also gave it the much-needed and potent deniability excuse. So whenever LeT carried out an attack in India, Pakistan said it had been banned long ago and that JuD was not LeT. For years, the international community accepted the argument and refused to accept Indian protests about JuD being a front for LeT. It was the Mumbai attacks and subsequent investigations which made the world accept the simple fact that JuD was just another name for LeT.
The group by then had created a vast network of schools, charities, hospitals, ambulance services, rescue and relief teams. This rapid expansion of ``services`` could not have happened without the generous support of its patrons in Pakistan Army and political elite. This ``charity cover`` gave a cloak of respectability to the terrorist group and gave an excuse to Pakistan to protect the group. Even today, JuD, directly involved in the Mumbai attacks and several other terrorist activities, is merely on the ``watch list`` in Pakistan while it is banned world-wide. The LeT has thus set an example for others to follow—JeM has similar charity fronts, although on a much limited scale. Other groups have also followed suit, making it easier for them to get money and respectability, as well as immunity from any action. These are known tactics of terrorist groups and Pakistan could have easily nipped it in the bud if it had the intention to do so.
A major source of funding for these terrorist groups is from charities in the Middle East. Big religious charities in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries keep aside a large sum for charity purposes. This sum runs into several billion dollars a year and a substantial part of it comes to South Asia, notably Pakistan and Bangladesh. A large part of this charity funding lands into the accounts of terrorist groups through various means. Terrorist groups like LeT have had close links with the clergy and religious leaders in these countries and these contacts work like liaison agents between the charity organisations and terrorist-run charity fronts. Millions of dollars thus pour into terrorist and extremist outfits. Some time back, this issue was raised in the National Assembly after it was found by Pakistani agencies that terrorist groups targeting Pakistan received funds from charities in Saudi Arabia. In fact, several political leaders issued statements against such funding in public. The protests, however, were quickly doused after the Saudi rulers warned Pakistan of the consequences of such statements. The incident exposed the fact that the so-called charities funded terrorist groups and that it was a widely known secret.
There is no doubt that this failure to choke terrorist funding is damaging Pakistan more than any other country in the neighbourhood. What is no less distressing is that it is also keeping region unstable and violent. The international community must bring pressure on Pakistani leadership to take visible and strong action against terrorist funding. Pakistan’s claim that such crackdowns will cause massive law and order problem is hog wash. This can begin by keeping a check on hide collection and sales, donations accepted by terrorist groups through their bank accounts and assessing the annual incomes of the so-called charities run by these groups. These are purely administrative actions and will cause no mass unrest as Pakistan claims.