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February 24, 2017

How corruption helps terrorism

Islamabad

February 24, 2017

Corruption can help terrorism in many ways, particularly when it is done in the name of 'ideology'. It is easy to attract people, particularly the youth, in view of injustice and unemployment existing in the society due to bad governance and they may be asked to revolt against system. Against this backdrop, the recent report of the Transparency International, which warned governments to take measures against corruption to defeat terrorism, looks quite relevant to Pakistan. 

Thousands of Pakistani youth have joined one extremist group or the other. Some of these networks also look after their families. These networks include ethnic and separatist groups active in southern Punjab, Karachi and Balochistan in particular. A survey in Lyari revealed that many Baloch, who were once politically inclined towards the PPP, have either joined sectarian outfits or separatists. Interestingly, they regularly send money to their families. The counter-strategy to give amnesty in addition to meeting their economic needs lacks conviction at the highest level. Those who laid down arms are still not acceptable to the society as they are being questioned by intelligence agencies. 

Whether one agrees or not, the fact remains that the culture of corruption and terrorism penetrated our society after the first Afghan war. Arms and drugs along with five million refuges completely changed the Pakistani society, the crisis which not only damaged our political culture but also pushed our youth to drugs, arms smuggling and militant groups.

Our civilian and non-civilian governments were either corrupt or used anti-corruption institutions for change of political loyalties and thus became more damaging. Prior to 1979, the Pakistani society was not even aware of drugs, arms smuggling, money laundering, terror financing, extortion and land grabbing. Politics was more clean and the society more open than today. Political parties used to differ on ideologies, but their leaders hardly went to jail on corruption charges. There were hardly any militant groups based on ideology. Even Taliban appeared in the late 1980s. Today, there are not only dozens of sectarian groups and terror networks but Jihadi outfits exist as well. 

Today, we are living in an interesting time and the Transparency International report over links between 'corruption and terrorism' came at a time when some interim order is expected in the high-profile Panama case. Pakistan can easily detect the link between the two as it has been facing these problems since long, since the days of first Afghan war. This crisis is still far from over. It is premature to say how much the Panama outcome would help eradicate corruption and terrorism, but it may lead to some kind of mechanism in reducing the level of corruption on the top. 

Although Panama has created record media hype and its final outcome would at least allow the dust to settle somewhat, particularly at a time when the national unity is required among all institutions; the issue which the TI report highlighted about the economics of terrorism and rise of organisations like Daish could be a lesson for countries like Pakistan. Pakistan not only has a bad record of governance but its corrupt society and institutions often become a blessing for terror networks as they use 'money' to get access to their targets more easily. 

The TI report has asked governments to improve level of governance and take measures against corruption if they really want to check the rise of groups like Daish. While it particularly mentioned economic reasons behind the prevailing phenomena, it is generally believed that injustice in society often results in intolerance which at times leads to crime and terrorism. While Daish's presence is still not visible, there are reports that hundreds of Pakistani youth were financed and trained in the last one year and sent to Syria by Daish and ant-Daish groups.

This reminds me of the situation after Iran and Afghan revolutions when Pakistan became the soil for a proxy war. Corruption within institutions helps terrorist networks and makes their targets soft as they just have to pay some security men. In case they get arrested, they bribe jail officials and also use this very method to get out of jail, either through bail or jail break. Terrorists including suicide bombers hardly find it difficult to travel hundreds of kilometres, crossing all check-posts, and hit their targets due to security lapse or bribed security.

Initial findings of the Sehwan blast have pointed to security lapses and revealed that some of CCTV cameras installed at the shrine were out of order. One may ask what it has to do with corruption and terrorism. Unfortunately, it looks meaningful when one goes into depth of one simple scam revealing how millions of rupees went waste in a CCTV camera contract. 

The world over, CCTV cameras are considered most effective in tracing terrorists and conducting investigations. Many countries have been successful in meeting the growing challenge of terrorism. But, here the problem is 'corruption or commission', even in matters like national security, as recently the Sindh government allegedly awarded a contract (without tender) of some Rs 140 million for the repair and maintenance of CCTV cameras.

In Punjab and the federal capital, such contracts were allegedly awarded in US dollars. How much it helped identify terrorists needs a detailed analysis as hundreds of more cameras may be installed. The failure of successive governments in coping with this threat and coming out with a counter-strategy to address the economic needs of the youth has created a major vacuum between the state and people. Whether some of our friends agree or not, the fact remains that in the past as well as today, there has been an alleged nexus between 'terror financing and politics'. But it does not mean that other sectors are clear of corruption. 

In the last three and a half years, it has been reported how billions of rupees were given to powerful people on the top by terrorist groups to smuggle arms. The Karachi Fisheries Inquiry report is one such example. 

Corruption, terrorism and transparency in governance are interlinked. Political turmoil has aggravated this issue. Despite being one of major terrorism victims after facing thousands of deaths of civilians and security personnel, we are still not ready to admit the causes behind the mushroom growth of terrorist and extremist groups and the failure of successive civilian and military governments in tackling this problem. 

Some independent reports have suggested that the global terror networks, through their franchises in Pakistan, have recruited thousands of uneducated and educated but unemployed youth. The TI report has reminded governments of their responsibility and warned unless they seriously address the issue of corruption, they may find it difficult to counter terrorists and groups like Daish which exploit economic destabilization. The report did not mention any particular country, but as Pakistan is facing the challenges of both corruption and terrorism, there is a lot to learn from this report for our national security institutions as well as the parliament.

Therefore, if we really want to win this most unconventional war, unprecedented measures will have to be taken. Not only battle but also zero tolerance for corruption is need of the hour, no matter how powerful the corrupt are, whether they civilian or non-civilian. For this, an institution is needed which could make all sectors accountable. Can we overcome this challenge? It’s difficult but still possible!

The writer is a senior analyst and columnist of the Geo News, The News and daily Jang.  

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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