Dr Farhan Zahid
Ph D, Counter-Terrorism and Security Analyst (Pakistan).
Pakistani Islamist charities organizations are known for their widespread influence. Most of the Islamist charities are associated with (or wings of) either Islamist political parties or Islamist violent non-state actors operating in Pakistan. It is pertinent to note here that the Islamist charity organizations actively seek support and funding from Pakistani diaspora where affluent Pakistanis donate huge sums of money every year. Terrorism is considered as the weapon of the weak and in most of the cases requires few resources; on the other hand, counter terrorism is a pretty expensive activity. Despite being cheap, terrorism still requires continuous flow of finances for sustainability. Exponential growth of Islamist terrorist in Pakistan is somehow related to undeterred financing of terrorist organizations. The article intends to study avenues of terrorism financing of Islamist terrorist organizations operating in urban areas of Pakistan.
Al-Akhter and Al-Rashid Trusts are two Al-Qaeda-linked social welfare organizations. Before 9/11 attacks, the two were primarily involved in rendering medical, logistics and financial support to Islamist militant organizations fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya and Indian Kashmir. These two charities were formed as charity wings of Harkatul Mujahedeen, and later joined hands with its offshoot Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in late 1990s.
Al-Rashid Trust (ART) was established by Mufti Mohammad Rashid and Mufti Abu Lubaba in 1996 after the formal takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in 1998. ART initially focused on providing assistance to Afghan Taliban by establishing a network of madrassas in Afghanistan and opening up of bakeries across Taliban ruled areas of Afghanistan. It was during that period that ART managers developed close relationship with Al-Qaeda, that continued after Taliban ouster from Afghanistan. ART was listed as Specially Designated Terrorist Entity under Executive Order 13224 in 2001, for having ties with Islamist terrorist groups.
Before being banned in Pakistan in 2002, the ART was also involved in publishing JeM's official monthly journal Zarb-e-Momin, both in English and Urdu languages. JeM's founder, Masood Azhar, wrote regularly in the said journal. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, "The ART perceives the various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) currently working in Afghanistan as ‘enemies of the Muslims' and media reports have indicated that one of the other significant objectives of the ART is to reportedly push Western NGOs out of Afghanistan. The ART subscribes to the Deobandi school of thought, a trait it shares with the Taliban. The trust also promotes the concept of Jihad among Muslims, especially at times and in places where it perceives the community of faithful is being ‘oppressed'. One of the numerous ART booklets states, "the holy war is an essential element of Islam."
It further says, "The Al-Rashid Trust is reported to be one of Osama bin Laden's many sources of income. It is closely linked with the Taliban as also with Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and other terrorist outfits active in India's J&K. The trust's formation coincided with the Taliban capture of Afghanistan in 1996."
Al-Akhter Trust (AAT) was also established under the Harkatul Mujahedeen (HuM) platform to cater the financial needs in late 1990s. It became part of JeM wider network after its formation in 2000. Masood Azhar, chief of JeM and principal ideologue, is considered the main patron of AKT. It was headed by Hakeem Muhammad Akhter. The charity organization helped establish a liaison between Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Islamist violent non-state actors HuM, JeM, LeT and LeJ. Islamist militants during Taliban regime period sought assistance from AKT to reach training camps in Afghanistan. International jihadists from many different Muslim majority countries and expatriate communities from Europe and North America also reached those camps via AAT.
Since the shifting of training facilities to Taliban ruled Afghanistan, the AAT also focused its activities and developed relations with Al-Qaeda and Taliban. AAT is known to provide material and financial support to Taliban militants and it was listed as Specially Designated Terrorist entity under executive order 13224 of US Treasury Department in 2003. The US government accused AAT for "The U.S. government reported that Al Akhtar Trust was secretly treating wounded Al-Qaeda members at its medical facilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was followed by information from a senior Al-Qaeda detainee who, in a custodial interview, revealed that Al Akhtar Trust and Al-Rashid Trust were the main relief agencies used by Al Qaeda to send supplies in Kandahar."
During the Taliban period, when AAT remained most active, the said charity broadened its network and cooperated with other Arab and Middle Eastern Islamist charity organizations to bankroll activities of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Pakistani Islamist violent non-state actors. It collected donations from various sources such as alms money (Zakat, Fitra, and Sadqaat) during the Muslim holy month of Ramzan and established offices across Pakistan and Middle East. In the aftermath of 9/11 attacks the AAT acquired ART amid increasing US efforts to curb the terrorist financing.
AAT's involvement in cooperating with radical Islamists was obvious when its key financer and founding member, Saud Memon, was found involved in Daniel Pearl's murder, a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Pakistan in 2002. "Saud Memon, a financier of Al Akhtar Trust, however was found to be involved with the kidnapping and murder of the Wall Street Journal's journalist Daniel Pearl .Memon owned the compound in the outskirts of Karachi where Pearl was being held before his murder in January 2002. Memon's employees are believed to be responsible for killing Pearl."
After being designated as terrorist entity in Pakistan and the US, the AAT continues on to work under different names such as Pakistan Relief Foundation, and Azmat-e-Pakistan Trust.
Figure: Network of Islamist Charities in Pakistan
Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI), the parent organization of proselytizing Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD), and militant Lashkar-e-Taiba also provides charity and social welfare services. The primary welfare organization is registered by the name of Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq (Organization for Serving Humanity). The said wing of JuD worked during 2005 earthquake alongside other charity wings of Islamist parties and militant organizations. Because of Wahabi/Salafi ideology of JuD, its humanitarian wing received huge funding from Middle Eastern and Saudi donors. JuD and its Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq had successfully used their welfare services as part of launching recruitment drives and improving its brand image.
JuD became more prominent after Mumbai attacks in 2008, in which its involvement led India and Pakistan on the brink of War. Earlier LeT and JeM's combined terrorist operation at Indian Parliament in December 2001 created a situation even worse and both countries amassed their armies at border areas. In lieu of Indian Parliament attack, Pakistani government banned LeT and shut down all of its offices across Pakistan, but it continued to work under JuD banner. The US State Department added LeT on its Foreign Terrorist Organizations' (FTO) list and Treasury Department also applied executive order 13224 on it.
All of these developments led LeT and its mother organization Markaz Dawa wal Irshad to activate under a new cover called Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF). FIF started its relief activities for recruitment in calamity hit regions during 2010 floods in Pakistan, posing as relief and social welfare organization.
In Pakistan, it is not uncommon for banned outfits to bounce back with new names and that is one reason the National Action Plan to combat terrorism (announced after December 16, 2014 attack on Army Public School resulted in deaths of 142 school children) included a section on this issue. JuD and its militant wing LeT were banned in January 2002 but soon reemerged with new names. FIF in Pakistan is the new face of JuD/LeT. The main reason is covert support provided to these banned organizations by Islamist political parties in times of need. The banned outfits and their Islamist helpers either have overlapping memberships or their leaders were previously part of Islamist parties and in a way the relationship is still on.
According to one report on FIF activities during their relief work activities in one refugee camp in northern Pakistan in 2009, the workers of FIF proclaim their allegiance to parent party JuD. When asked about it one FIF worker said, "We are with the Falah-e-Insaniat [Human Welfare] Foundation," Jafar Khan, a volunteer, told TIME. "We used to be known as Jamaat-ud-Dawa. We are doing the work that the government is not here to do."
FIF and its parent organization JuD have had a close relationship with Jamaat-e-Islami and its sister-concerns such as Islamic Medical Association and both at occasions join hands in relief and rescue activities. Both worked together in 2009 refugee crises that emerged after the launch of military operations to curb Islamist militancy in Swat and South Waziristan districts (Operation Rah-e-Rast and Operation Rah-e-Nijat, 2009). Later, during 2010 floods in Pakistan, the same organizations deployed their workers at refugee camps and took part in relief operations.
The US government swiftly acted against FIF and added it to State Department's list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). Pakistani Interior Ministry also directed authorities not to allow banned organizations working ‘under the garb of humanitarian services.'
Former Inspector General of Police Punjab province Khawaja, Khalid Farooq, revealed in an article that during 1999-2002 Al-Akhter Trust received $100 million in 38 international transactions, mostly from Western countries, i.e. from overseas Pakistanis. Finally, in 2002, the Pakistani government of General Pervez Musharraf froze the accounts of both Akhter and Rashid trusts under Al-Qaeda specific UN Security Council Resolution 1333.
This showcases a grave situation and requires immediate crackdown on financial avenue of Islamist terrorist organizations active in Pakistan. Despite government measures to curb terrorism financing, such as establishment of Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) at Ministry of Finance, amendment in Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 and Anti-Money Laundering Act in 2010, the Islamist charity organizations are still operating under new names - such as Al-Rashid is working under Al-Amin Trust - and collecting donations and sacrificial hides during Eid ul Azha, the Abrahamic sacrificial celebration. A renewed policy is required for rooting out all avenues of terrorism financing in Pakistan.