By Zia Ur Rehman

KARACHI – Pakistani officials are cracking down on so-called charitable fundraising appeals during Ramadan by militant groups.

The Punjab Home Department August 3 ordered 22 banned organizations, most with ties to al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), to stop seeking charitable donations during Ramadan. Other provinces have ordered law enforcement agencies to monitor the activities of such banned organisations.

”]Zakat is an Islamic tradition in which Muslims are asked to donate money to alleviate the suffering of the hungry and poor. Although legitimate charities do remarkable work, extremist groups rake in millions of rupees to fund terrorism instead of helping the poor, charity activists complain.

Working under different names

The problem continues, in part, because the militant groups quickly create fictitious foundations to solicit funds.

Prominent among them are the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) and Jammatud Dawaa (JuD), fronts for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT); Maymar Trust, a front for the banned Al-Rasheed Trust (ART); Al-Rehmat Trust, a front for Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM); Pakistan Relief Foundation, a front for the banned Al-Akhter Trust (AAT); and more than a dozen smaller groups, Central Asia Online has learnt.

The militant groups’ use of aliases makes outright bans difficult, security analysts say.

Such groups merely use a different name to conceal the hand of the same leadership, said Muhammad Amir Rana, a security analyst and director of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS).

The JeM militant group is active as Khidam-e-Islam, and collects funds and campaigns as Al-Rehmat Trust, he said. “Similarly, the LeT renamed itself as the JuD and is carrying out its charitable works and fund collection through the FIF.”

Government pressure has worked

However, security analysts say there is less illicit fund-raising than in the past. Government actions against phoney welfare organisations and the continuous ban on jihadist charities have disrupted the network, they say.

The long-standing ban has rattled the network of the AAT and ARA, charities linked to Pakistani jihadist organisations JeM and Harkatul Mujahidin, al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, said Arsalan Hussain, an Islamabad-based development expert. In February 2007, the Interior Ministry banned the AAT and ARA, sealed their offices nationwide and froze their assets, he recalled.

An attempt by the ARA to continue working, under the name Al-Amin Welfare Trust, also was thwarted by the authorities, he said.

Still, legitimate organisations continue to complain that terrorists are misusing Ramadan to raise funds for subversion.

“The government should check the organisations to learn who is collecting donations, why they collected them and where they were spent,” said Arshad Ali, a volunteer at Edhi Foundation in Karachi. “The government should take strict action against proscribed and questionable organisations.”

The government should monitor organisations involved in fund-raising during Ramadan, he said, suggesting that an awareness campaign is necessary since most Pakistanis do not know whether various charities are legitimate.

The government tries, said one official.

“Every organisation has to submit income and expenditure accounts for its political and social welfare activities and disclose funding sources to the government,” said Imtiaz Ali of the Social Welfare Department in Karachi.

“We are trying our best to create awareness … by encouraging genuine charity organisations like Edhi Foundation, Shokat Khanam Memorial Trust and Saylani Welfare Trust, so that people won’t support fake charities during Ramadan,” he said.

Political parties including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party and Jammat-e-Islami through their respective charity fronts, the Khidmat Khalq Foundation, Bacha Khan Welfare Trust and Al-Khidmat Foundation, also raise funds but are not linked to any extremism, he added.