By Zia Ur Rehman

KARACHI – After imposing restrictions on charities linked with banned militant organisations, Pakistani authorities have generally succeeded in blocking them from collecting Ramadan donations, security analysts say.

During Ramadan, militant organisations failed to establish a single camp collecting donations and Zakat (Islamic tithing) in Karachi, Central Asia Online has learnt.

The Sindh government warned 25 banned organisations to shut their offices and directed law enforcement agencies to move against them.

That decision came from an August 24 Karachi meeting chaired by Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik. It follows an August 3 order by the Punjab government to 22 banned organisations, most tied to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and al-Qaeda, to stop seeking donations during Ramadan.

Banned terrorist outfits, under different names, raise money through Zakat and the collection of animal hides, Malik told a meeting with Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) August 27.

“There is a dire need to enact laws to stop the collection of Zakat, Fitrana and animal skins in Karachi,” he said. “I will take this matter to parliament and ask all political parties to stop these activities.”

Exploiting generosity

Ramadan has been a lucrative month for militants in past years. They take advantage of the generosity of Pakistani Muslims. International studies show Pakistan to be one of the most charitable Islamic nations, with its citizens annually contributing Rs. 80 billion (US $920m) as Zakat and Fitrana (staple-food donations at the end of Ramadan) during the holy month, said Imtiaz Alam, a Lahore-based aid consultant.

“The role of such militant welfare organisations is a serious issue because many of them are based on spreading militancy via supporting terrorism financially and creating havoc in the name of Islam,” Alam said.

Taliban militants always exploit natural disasters and use the money to fund terrorism and weapon purchases rather than helping disaster survivors, charged Islam Shah, an NGO activist from Swat.

Last year during Ramadan, militant-linked charities raked in millions of rupees under the guise of helping flood victims, Alam said.

“But this Ramadan, the recent government ban on militant-linked charities will help the legitimate charitable organisations to collect Zakat donations (and to) spend the funds on remarkable work,” he added.

The ban and other moves by authorities have encouraged genuine charities to collect donations that will benefit the long-suffering population of insurgency- and disaster-stricken areas, Shah told Central Asia Online.

“In the past, charily boxes of these banned militant welfare organisations were placed everywhere at shops in big cities of the country,” said Khurshid Anwar, a Karachi-based civil society activist, “but today the situation has quietly changed. Boxes having logos and pleas of various jihadi outfits have been replaced by boxes belonging to actual charity organisations, such as SUIT (Sarhad University of Science and Information Technology), the Edhi Foundation, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, etc.”

However, a few shops in large cities still have boxes from banned charities, proving the menace persists, Anwar said.

Some militant groups haven’t stopped raising money

Some banned jihadi organisations, especially Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), continue to seek funds during Ramadan, primarily in Punjab Province, according to media reports.

Halting militants’ pursuit of donations altogether is difficult because the groups re-name their front organisations, security analysts say.

JeM, Punjab’s second largest militant group, has resumed its activities after remaining underground since the government banned it in 2001 and is trying to raise money during Ramadan from Pakistan and the Gulf states, according to a June 19 Express Tribune report.

JeM, to circumvent the ban on fund-raising, has been working under dozens of different names in South Punjab, Afzal Baloch, a journalist in Dera Ghazi Khan, told Central Asia Online.

Five militant organisations, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, JeM, the Harkaturl Jihadul Islami and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), are comfortably established in South Punjab and can use the fund-raising campaign to enlist fresh recruits in some areas, Baloch said.

Similarly, a charity front for the banned LeT and its political arm (Jamaat-ud-Dawa) has been raising money, but this time, its campaign has been comparatively feeble, he said.

Most banned organisations that are still pursuing money do so at mosques, especially after Friday prayers, and through their jihadi publications, Central Asia Online has learnt.

Funding from the Gulf states plays a vital role in supporting militancy, some political analysts say. They suggest scrutinising money coming from the Gulf states to Pakistan.