By Zia Ur Rehman

August 20, 2012

Taliban militant-linked charities typically exploit Muslim occasions like Ramadan to take advantage of Pakistani generosity to solicit charitable contributions that fund terrorism instead of helping the poor, observers say.

In keeping with the trend of recent years though, authorities July 22 imposed a nationwide ban on zakat and fitrana collections by banned organisations during Ramadan.

“Any social and welfare organisation willing to collect zakat and fitrana has to apply and acquire permission from the government; otherwise, no one will be allowed to indulge in these activities,” Rehman Malik, senior advisor to Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf for internal affairs, said the day the ban was announced.

A seminarian August 10 mans a stall seeking zakat and fitrana donations, while a beggar awaits passersby outside a mosque in Karachi. Militant-linked charities exploit Muslim occasions like Ramadan to solicit donations, but that money funds terrorism rather than helping the poor, officials and analysts say. [Zia Ur Rehman]
But people still need to be wary of where their money is going as militant groups “take advantage of the open-handedness of Pakistani Muslims, who annually contribute billions of rupees during Islamic festivals,” said Abdul Waheed, a social activist and head of Bright Educational Society, a Karachi-based community organisation.

The challenge is that donors often don’t know enough about the fund-raising group or what it supports, Waheed said, adding that a number of such outfits posing as charities and madrassas (religious seminaries) collect donations from commercial centres and in door-to-door campaigns.

Still, development workers say the government’s efforts to keep militants from collecting during Ramadan have been successful. That assessment is based, in part, on the fact that extremist groups haven’t set up any donation camps in Karachi this Ramadan, unlike in past years, Central Asia Online has learnt.

Militants exploit natural disasters, too

Militant-linked charities also enjoy a spike in donations after natural disasters, security analysts say.

After the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Taliban-linked Al-Rasheed Trust (ARAT) raised Rs. 950m (US $10.1m) in five months, while Al-Rehmat Trust (ARHT), a charity associated with Jaish-e-Muhammad, raised Rs. 600m (US $6.4m), according to a 2009 report on funding of Pakistani militant organisations published by the Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS).

However, in 2006, the government began cracking down on outfits linked to al-Qaeda and other militant groups. In February 2007, the Interior Ministry shut down ARAT and ARHT, sealed their offices and froze their assets.

But militant groups get around that by establishing charity fronts or changing names, said Sindh University social scientist Athar Hussain. That strategy enables them to gain public acceptance and to expand their base of support and donations, he told Central Asia Online.

Jihadi publications and social media

Militants employ various strategies to bolster fund-raising efforts. Primarily, they use hard-copy publications or social media to attract recruits and generate funds, Hussain said.

The government has banned hate literature and jihadi newspapers, making them harder to obtain in Karachi, but militants still distribute some publications outside mosques after Friday prayers or at seminaries and newsstands, Hussain and Shah said.

While some groups run ads seeking donations in publications like Al-Qalam weekly (an ARHT publication) and Jarrar weekly (a Jamaat-ud-Dawa or JuD publication), some computer-savvy militants are raising money on Facebook and Twitter, Karachi blogger Ali Zahid said.

Government’s efforts

Relying on the July 22 ban, authorities have arrested several suspected militants on charges of illegal fund-raising in Karachi.

Officials attending an August 6 meeting jointly chaired by Malik and Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ail Shah in Karachi decided that police and Rangers would raid the dens of the Taliban and other criminals in the city who were involved in collecting extortions and forced zakat.

Besides banning militant groups and charity organisations, the authorities have enacted banking regulations, and have involved intelligence agencies, governmental social welfare and Auqaf (religious endowment) departments, to deny financial resources to militant groups, the PIPS report states.

Militant outfits that used to rely on traditional channels like halawa (an informal, trust-based system) to import funds from abroad have found that the government efforts have severely disrupted such infusions, especially from Gulf countries, Hussain said.