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Opinion

January 24, 2015
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Madressahs and cash

Opinion

January 24, 2015

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The recently unveiled National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism is an important document. Important, because for the first time the government has created a comprehensive document detailing exactly what needs to be done if we want to fight back against terrorism.
In fact, the document is so crucial that it needs to put under the microscope; each component needs to be questioned and critiqued and it’s historical trends checked so that we clearly know where we are headed.
This week, let’s talk about madressahs and their funding.
1. Registration and regulation of religious schools. There are over 20,000 religious schools (madressahs), in Pakistan. It has long been alleged that up to ten percent of these schools play a leading role in promoting militancy and extremism. History suggests this allegation is true. The obscure leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Muhammad Omar, studied at the Darul Uloom Haqqania, located in Akora Khattak. Others have, let’s just say, graduated with distinctions, from places like the Ganj madressah in Peshawar, the Jamia Binoria in Karachi etc.
However, successive governments have tried, and ultimately failed, in reining in these schools and bringing them into the fold of the National Education Board. The first attempt was during General Pervez Musharraf’s tenure, but the lack of a mutually acceptable middle ground for all the various sects, coupled with major hesitation on the matter of sharing details of students and sources of funding, and of course, strong-arming by the religio-political parties ensured that the attempt was unsuccessful. The next government, led by Asif Ali Zardari also tried, and subsequently failed.
Today, the same parties that stonewalled the earlier two efforts to rein in the madressahs have banded together again, and are threatening the already battered government with massive street agitation if the reforms are initiated. It is also important to note that the current PML-N government

is also closely wedded to these right-wing parties, and expecting any kind of action against these religious schools under their watch, is naive at best.
2. Choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organisations. Over time, militant organisations have created intricate methods of collecting funds through religious charity organisations which operate across the country. This claim is corroborated in a diplomatic cable released by Wiki-leaks, stating that “Pakistan’s extensive network of charities, NGOs and madressahs...readily provides extremist organisations with recruits, funding and infrastructure for planning new attacks”.
While the state has banned numerous such charity organisations, their ability to continue operations under a new name and banner is a major roadblock in the state’s ability to shut down these financing routes. Only this week, the government has frozen the bank accounts of the Jamaatud Dawa, which as its head Hafiz Saeed has rightly deciphered, has only been done under US pressure to appease India. More importantly though, a new name is already making the rounds.
Back to the money trail. The financing of these religious charities is not done through banks or anything like that, but run on suitcases, cash carriers, charity drives as the like. It is part of a parallel, undocumented economy which exists in Pakistan.
The cash transfer method, known locally as hundi or hawala, is a method of transferring cash from one party to another based on an honour system. At its best, it requires zero or minimal identification and background information, hence leaving no paper trail. In most cases, it is faster than most bank transfers, and without the need of bank accounts.
Since it operates on the grassroots level, hundi is next to impossible to control, and as such remains a gray area. Sure, action has been taken, but in the context of the amounts going through, or in relation to the number of transactions flagged, it is a pittance. As someone told me, you plug one hole and they dig another.
The rampant narcotics trade in Pakistan and Afghanistan complicates things further. According to a report released by the National Bureau of Asian Research, Pakistan continues to be a major transit route for most of the narcotics farmed in Afghanistan, and as such, both Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban utilise funds gained through this trade for their own version of narco-jihad.
Did I mention that our long transit trucking network is one of the major players in this flow of money?
Lastly, Saudi Arabia has also been highlighted as a major source of funding, not only for terrorist organisations, but also extremist religious schools. In yet another Wiki-leak released diplomatic cable, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton is on record saying, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide’”. On the other hand, the Kingdom continues to provide billions of dollars to shore up Pakistan’s ever ailing economy. Can Pakistan somehow restructure its relationship with the kingdom? How long will that take?
Terrorism is best countered with a hammer and anvil approach: the former being delivered by your armed forces, but the anvil rather than attacking the end product, strikes against the manufacturing chain, which in this particular case includes both the madressahs and their funds. The hammer alone cannot achieve anything permanent.
I’m not saying it can’t be done. But for the state to think that they can satisfy us – the public, the direct affectees of terrorism – by just a single line or a paragraph, surely it is an insult to our intelligence. So what’s the plan, boys?
None? Didn’t think so.
Our armed forces are stretched thin. And the government has relationships with religio-political parties and certain militant wings as well. How do we fight a fair fight under these circumstances?
Twitter: @aasimzkhan
Email: [email protected]

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