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Accounts of suspected militants frozen: Nacta

Accounts of suspected militants frozen: Nacta

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has frozen the accounts of a large number of suspected militants, taking about $3 million out of their pockets, but Islamabad could still come under scrutiny at a crucial June meeting of an international watchdog that tracks terror financing.

Analysts say political foot-dragging and sympathetic supporters throughout the country makes it difficult to cut off the money supply to banned militant groups.

Next month in Spain, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) will update its assessment of “high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions,” Alexandra Wijme­nga-Daniel of the task force’s communications dep­ar­t­ment said in an email. She did not offer any specifics.

International body to scrutinise Pakistan’s efforts for stopping terror financing next month

The 35-nation intergovernmental organisation was formed in 1989 to combat money laundering. After 9/11, it also took on the role of fighting the financing of terrorism. Getting on the task force’s “black list” could hurt a country’s ability to borrow, if its banking system is considered a money laundering haven.

In 2015, Pakistan was exempted from its scrutiny after a similar session applauded the country’s progress in tackling both money laundering and terror financing.

However, concerns have been raised by the resurrection of banned groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba under new names. Also worrying is the relative ease with which groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed appear to operate, openly running seminaries and fundraising.

“The government has to find a way to completely ban individuals and groups (suspected of militant activity) from operating. This is the only way,” said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies.

Still, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) has begun the painstaking work of devising anti-terror financing policies, freezing bank accounts of known terrorist groups and identifying those that have resurfaced with different names, according to Nacta director Ishan Ghani.

When he took over Nacta 18 months ago, it had a staff of only 25, including drivers, despite a government promise to bring in about 800 people with the job of curbing money laundering and terror financing.

Mr Ghani blamed the slow start on a lack of government commitment and jurisdictional battles within the bureaucracy.

New, stricter laws

Since taking over, Mr Ghani has increased his staff to 100, gotten a budget of Rs1.8 billion and is updating a list of individuals suspected of extremism. He also has devised a sweeping policy on which new, stricter laws can be enacted.

He said its current lists were outdated, with several suspected militants either dead or in jail, and the job of identifying individuals suspected of links to extremists rests with the four provinces.

The names have been slow in coming, Mr Ghani said, blaming outdated systems, political foot-dragging and a lack of focus on counterterrorism despite military and police operations against suspected hideouts, particularly in tribal regions that border Afghanistan.

Politicians have been reluctant to shut down some of the reconstituted militant groups because of the local support they enjoy and the votes they bring in. Other groups, whose stated purpose is to wage war with India over the disputed Kashmir region, survive because of their suspected links to agencies.

Still, Mr Ghani said he had had some success pressing provincial lawmakers into action.

He recounted an incident last year during the holy month of Ramazan when fundraising often goes into high gear. He received reports that banned groups with militant links were openly raising cash. He put all four provinces on notice, warning them to stop the fundraising.

This year, Nacta is circulating a list of acceptable charities to which the faithful can donate because they are “not affiliated with terrorism,” he said.

Hasan Akbar, executive director of the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute, said Pakistan had made some progress tackling money laundering, “shutting down businesses that had a sweep not just in Pakistan but in Dubai and the United States”. There even has been progress against those groups that resurface under a new name.

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2017

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