By Zia Ur Rehman

August 1, 2012

KARACHI – Taliban militants are actively generating funds in Karachi from Pashtun traders and transporters through extortion, donations and kidnapping, Central Asia Online has learned.

The militants have also threatened tribe members living in Karachi by seeking forced zakat (Islamic tithing) during Ramadan.

Karachi’s big businesses and wealthy residents are fertile ground for financing Taliban militant groups, police officials and security analysts say.

Police officers guard a street while a shopkeeper waits for customers at a scrap market in Karachi June 14. The Taliban collect funds through extortion and forced zakat during Ramadan. [REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro]
However, the authorities have launched a crackdown on militants who were raising funds in Karachi and have made several arrests. The government July 22 banned nationwide zakat and fitrana collection by banned organisations during Ramadan. Fitrana donations to help the needy, like zakat, are compulsory for Muslims during Ramadan.

Karachi, an ideal place for extortion

Militants fleeing military operations in the tribal areas gravitate to Karachi, Pakistan’s financial hub and home to about 18m residents, including 5m Pashtuns, said Raees Ahmed, an independent security analyst who is familiar with the militancy.

“The militant groups have been facing a severe financial crisis and a shortage of funds in wake of the measures taken by Pakistani authorities to cut off their main source of income abroad, especially from Gulf States,” Ahmed told Central Asia Online.

The money the Taliban raise is sent to training camps in tribal areas where militants plan terrorist acts, said Chaudhry Aslam Khan, an official at the Karachi Crimes Investigation Department (CID).

Besides forced zakat contributions and extortion, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members have robbed Karachi banks of US $18m (Rs. 1.7 billion) since 2009, police claim. Police have arrested 42 TTP activists in 2010 and 2011 in connection with various robberies.

TTP-affiliated clerics in tribal areas have issued fatwas authorising their followers to commit crimes to fund the fighting, according to media reports.

Extortion of Pashtun businessmen

Several Taliban militant groups from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are collecting extortions and protection money from the Pashtun traders and transporters based in Karachi, Central Asia Online has learnt. They regularly target wealthy Karachi business owners from South Waziristan, Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies.

The amounts extorted range from Rs. 1m (US $11,000) to Rs. 5m (US $53,000). Such cases have become more frequent during Ramadan.

One offender is the Mohmand chapter of the TTP, which formed a network in Karachi to extort protection money from Mohmand Agency natives, said Safi, a Karachi-based tribal elder. Mohmand tribesmen are known for selling timber and construction materials.

The network, which TTP Mohmand chief Omar Khalid and spokesman Ikramullah Mohmand formed, exists exclusively to raise money, he said, adding that Khalid’s deputy, Qari Shakeel, personally calls traders to demand payment.

That network, led in Karachi by TTP commander Yousaf Khan Mian, has killed several traders who refused to pay, he said. They include Misal Khan and Ashraf Khan, killed in February and January, respectively.

In August, militants injured Malik Wazir Khan, a businessman, even after he paid them off, said Safi.

Meanwhile, Mehsud tribesmen from South Waziristan involved in transport and heavy machinery businesses also find themselves endangered in Karachi. The Wali ur Rehman Mehsud-led TTP South Waziristan chapter has formed a cell to extract money from tribesmen.

“The militants know the wealthy businessmen belonging to South Waziristan and other parts of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” said Wajid Burki, a businessman who fled to Islamabad after his refusal to pay extortion led to death threats.

Taliban groups also collect voluntary donations from university and college students, a purported TTP finance department member told the BBC March 23.

Zakat collection during Ramadan : 

Taliban militant outfits try to rake in zakat and fitrana donations during Ramadan by posing as charities. However, the government has taken various steps to thwart them, besides the July 22 prohibition on their collection of zakat and fitrana.

Faced with those measures, Taliban groups from FATA have changed strategy and begun demanding forced zakat contributions from affluent tribal business owners.

“Many transporters and traders living in Sohrab Goth, Mingophir, Sultanabad and Baldia Town have received such messages … from the extremists,” Burki said. “They threaten to harm them or their family members if they don’t pay.”

Many families quietly pay forced zakat or ransoms for kidnapped relatives and never tell police in order to avoid retaliation, he said.

Government’s Efforts 

The government has ordered law enforcement agencies to watch fund-raising activity by banned organisations during Ramadan, Rehman Malik, the senior advisor to Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on interior affairs, said July 22.

“We are monitoring Taliban activities in Karachi and will not allow them to collect zakat donations during Ramadan,” said Aslam, adding that law enforcement agencies have arrested several TTP suspects belonging to South Waziristan.

Karachi police in May, June and July arrested various extortion, murder and kidnapping suspects, including Nazeerullah Mehsud (July 25), Faisal Mehsud and Khan Mohammad, alias Sajid (July 2), Jahangir Khan Akakhel (June 9) and Muhammad Yaseen Mehsud, alias Naib-Commander (May 28). They killed a key TTP leader, Omar Khitab, July 27.

“Khitab, belonging to South Waziristan, used to collect extortion and forced donations from Pashtun traders in Karachi,” said Karachi police official Chaudhry Bashir. Khitab killed Jan Muhammad Afridi, a former union council mayor and owner of a plant that fills tanker trucks with water, June 30 for rejecting an extortion demand, Bashir told Central Asia Online. He also demanded money from many traders during the first week of Ramadan, Bashir added.