Foreign funding of militancy

Published January 22, 2015
.—AFP/File
.—AFP/File

IN order to effectively put militant groups out of business, it is essential to dry up their finances.

Religiously-motivated militants do raise funds through local sources and criminal rackets, but foreign funding — particularly from Muslim states in the Middle East — is also a major source of cash.

While the Gulf states are often cited as sources of militant funding, especially from private donors, it is extremely rare for government officials in Pakistan to openly identify any one of them.

Hence, when Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Riaz Pirzada named names at an event in Islamabad on Tuesday, eyebrows were certainly raised. The minister, though he claims he was quoted out of context, told a conclave that “Saudi money” had destabilised this country.

In fact, it has been largely established that Pakistan has been a conduit for funds destined for religiously inspired fighters for over three decades.

In 1979, two monumental events took place in this region that forever altered the geopolitical calculus: the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Thereafter, funds flowed in freely from the United States, Saudi Arabia and others for the ‘mujahideen’ battling the Soviets across the border, while many Arab states — fearful of a revolutionary and explicitly Shia Iran — started to fund groups that could resist Tehran’s ideological influence in Muslim countries.

Ever since, a jumble of jihadi and sectarian groups (of varying persuasions) has thrived in Pakistan, as the country became a proxy battlefield for Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as a front line of the last major battle of the Cold War.

Since then, militancy has morphed out of control to such an extent that it now threatens the internal stability of this country; neutralising the myriad jihadi outfits has then become Pakistan’s number one security challenge.

While documentary evidence is often hard to come by, Gulf money has been linked to the promotion of militancy in many instances.

There have been reports of Gulf funding for extremists in the Syrian conflict, while the WikiLeaks disclosures of 2009 also attributed comments to Hillary Clinton linking Saudi funds to militant groups.

Another cable claimed donors in Saudi Arabia and the UAE were pumping millions into south Punjab, with much of these funds ending up in the hands of jihadis. Even Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan admitted recently in a written reply to a question in the Senate that madressahs were receiving funding from “Muslim countries”.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with seminaries or charities receiving foreign funds. But when this cash is used to fund terrorism and extremism, things become problematic. The best way to proceed is for the intelligence apparatus to monitor the flow of funds.

If the authorities have reasonable evidence that funds from the Gulf or elsewhere are being funnelled to militants, the issue needs to be taken up with the countries concerned.

Published in Dawn January 22nd , 2015

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