Funding terrorism

December 30, 2015


The writer is a police officer.
The writer is a police officer.

POINT six of the National Action Plan calls for the state to choke terrorism financing. Choking funds is not possible without understanding the processes of fundraising, transfers and utilisation of funds. To ensure stern action against the facilitators and financiers of terrorism, the government recently established the National Terrorists Financing Investigation Cell. The creation of NTFIC is the practical manifestation of NAP’s point six. Without a specialised unit, financing cannot be stopped.

The government has tasked FIA, the State Bank, FBR and intelligence agencies to jointly operate NTFIC. The unit will track financial transactions between the national and international banking systems.

Such ventures cannot succeed without the active cooperation of the provinces. The new initiative has been taken in the light of capacity issues of the existing Financial Monitoring Unit and to improve information-sharing among investigation, intelligence and law-enforcement agencies.

Technology has boosted the terrorism financing.

Efforts have been made to freeze suspicious accounts. The central bank has apparently frozen Rs1 billion contained in 126 accounts linked to proscribed groups. Law-enforcement agencies also recovered Rs251.2 million being transferred through hawala.

In countries where the banking sector works in isolation from the counterterrorism apparatus, tracking terrorism financing is a gigantic task. The creation of a new unit is based on a holistic approach. However, merely setting up the NTFIC and working towards collaboration with the banking sector may not work. Financial intelligence will play a key role while cooperation between private-sector banks and the state’s investigation apparatus will also need to be effective.

Extremists primarily collect money as subscription from sympathisers and criminal activities such as extortion, gunrunning and the narcotics trade. Such groups transfer funds through the formal financial system, alternative remittance services, trade, cash, non-profit organisations and charities.

In societies such as Pakistan, where philanthropy is part of religious obligations, extremist organisations engage in charity and welfare work, collecting hefty amounts and ‘blackwashing’ such money for recruitment, propaganda and terrorist operations.

Our investigators try to connect the human links but often fail when it comes to the financiers of terrorism. Even where more is known about terrorism cases, investigators have overlooked the sources and methods of financing.

Technology and globalisation have multiplied the fundraising capabilities of radical organisations. By uploading videos of bloodshed, such organisations not only attract volunteers but also influence sympathisers to contribute financially. They often employ religious, sectarian or ethnic slogans.

Disruption of terrorism financing will affect the propaganda, recruitment and operational capabilities of proscribed organisations. Detection of links between the financiers and terrorist organisations is the only non-violent way by which the police can unearth big names.

In Muslim countries, governments often overlook the regulation of charities, including registration criteria, record-keeping, background security checks, monitoring, financial inflows and outflows etc. Consequently, militant organisations take advantage of the situation.

In fundraising, the ‘diaspora’ also plays an important role. Citizens residing overseas are easily attracted by religious or ethnic slogans. Many Tamils settled abroad (in 44 countries) generously contributed to the kitty of the separatist Tamil group, the LTTE.

During the war against the LTTE, the Sri Lankan government caused the group’s overseas funding to dry up. At its climax, the LTTE had received more than $200m per year. Pakistan also needs to ensure that funds for extremist organisations dry up. We need to improve cooperation with countries where overseas Pakistanis are settled.

To address the shortcomings related to terrorism financing, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, was amended. However, mere amendments will not serve the purpose; it is the capacity-building of investigators that needs special attention.

In 2012, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force — the international organisation which defines standards for anti-money laundering and combating terrorism financing — placed Pakistan on the ‘grey list’. After certain legal and procedural actions taken by the government, it was placed on the ‘white list’. Whether it is the incorporation of the resolve to choke terrorists’ funds in NAP, amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act and the ATA or the setting up of NTFIC, these are concrete steps.

The enormity of the challenge requires a legal framework, an institutional edifice, the hiring of experts and their capacity-building, institutional collaboration and bilateral arrangements with countries where the inflows originate.

The writer is a police officer.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2015