By Zia Ur Rehman
July 20, 2012
KARACHI – As the holy month of Ramadan begins, charitable fund-raising appeals are getting under way across Pakistan. But security analysts and social activists are concerned about terrorist groups posing as charities seeking to take advantage of zakat donations.
Zakat is an Islamic tradition of donating money during Ramadan to help the needy. Although legitimate charities do remarkable work, militant groups rake in billions of rupees to fund terrorism instead of helping the poor, charity activists say.
However, law enforcement made it much harder for jihadists and fraudulent welfare organisations to raise money in 2011, they agree.
Zakat collection a lucrative business
Because Ramadan emphasizes helping the poor, activists of political and religious parties, including outlawed militant organisations, do whatever they can to maximise the amount they raise, said Faizan Jalil, a Karachi-based journalist who covers terrorism.
They take advantage of the generosity of Pakistani Muslims, who annually contribute billions of rupees as part of zakat and fitrana, donations of food at the end of Ramadan, Jalil told Central Asia Online, citing various reports.
Naive Pakistanis unwittingly donate to terrorist fronts in the name of Islam and humanity, Shah Wali, an aid worker helping flood victims in Badin District, said, stressing the need to raise public awareness.
Every citizen should demand the credentials of the person seeking a donation before giving him or her money, Wali told Central Asia Online. Doing so will thwart phony organisations from receiving money and defaming Islam, he said.
Banned jihadi charities working with new names
Banned militant organisations linked with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al-Qaeda pose as charities, said Raees Ahmed, a security analyst who closely monitors jihadi organisations. During Ramadan, banners and posters appealing for zakat collection appear in different parts of the country, he told Central Asia Online.
Last year, after imposing restrictions on charities linked with banned militant organisations, Pakistani authorities thwarted much of their Ramadan fund-raising.
However, the recently formed Difah-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), an alliance of religious parties, has opened new vistas for banned militant organisations.
The Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil-led Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen (HuM) and Maulana Abdullah Shah Mazhar-led Jammat-ul-Furqan (JuF), banned militant outfits linked to the TTP and al-Qaeda, have started working under the new names Ansar-ul-Umma and Tehreek-e-Ghalba Islam, Ahmed said, adding they are active under the DPC.
Militants fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan are brazenly raising funds and recruiting potential fighters throughout Pakistan, the daily Express Tribune reported July 9.
Al-Badr Mujahedeen, a breakaway faction of the Hizb ul-Mujahedeen group, organised a two-day “Shuada Conference” July 8 in the Swan Adda area of Rawalpindi to seek recruits and raise funds, the report said, adding that the faction’s supporters from Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistani-controlled Jammu and Kashmir attended the conference.
Most banned outfits have many covers for their operations and the first response to a ban is to start operating under a new name, said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank.
“Changed names of charities also mask their links with militant organisations,” Rana said. “The proscribed JeM (Jaish-e-Muhammad) becomes active as Tehreek-e-Khuddam-ul-Islam, while collecting funds and campaigning as Al Rehmat Trust, the charity wing of the organisation. Similarly, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) renamed itself Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and is carrying out its activities as Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, while Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation oversees the group’s charitable projects and fund-raising.”
The long-standing ban has rattled the network of the Al-Rasheed Trust (ART) and Al-Akhter Trust (AAT), charities linked to TTP, JeM, HuM, al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. In February 2007, the Interior Ministry banned the ART and AAT, sealed their offices nationwide and froze their assets. Authorities also blocked an attempt by the ART to continue working under the name Al-Amin Welfare Trust.
Still, legitimate organisations continue to complain that terrorists are misusing Ramadan to raise funds for subversion.
Government takes action
This year, the government is planning again to order law enforcement agencies to block banned militant groups from raising money during Ramadan, Central Asia Online has learned.
In August, the Sindh and Punjab governments cracked down on 25 and 22 banned organisations, respectively, ordering them to shut down or to stop seeking donations.
Among those on the list are:
Tehreek-e-Nafaz- e-Shariat Muhammadi
“So far we didn’t receive any special directive in this regard, but authorities are updating the list of banned organisations involved in spreading militancy and carrying out subversive activities,” said Abdul Rasheed, a senior police official in Karachi’s west region.
Law enforcement agencies will monitor the activities of banned extremist outfits and stop them from Ramadan fund-raising, as they did in 2011, said Rasheed.
Political parties including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party and Jamaat-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.
A public awareness campaign, especially during Ramadan, is necessary because most Pakistanis do not know whether various charities are legitimate, he said.