Corruption-Terrorism Nexus, Breaking the unholy alliance

Corruption-Terrorism Nexus

“As we consolidate the gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, we will continue to take action against terrorists of all hue and colour. Our resolve to break the nexus between terrorists, criminality and corruption is unflinching.”
— General (Retd.) Raheel Sahrif (Former COAS)

Corruption is at the very heart of many of the biggest issues the world is faced with at present. This evil is rightly called a major factor that undermines peace and stability in a country. Although corruption is not the sole contributor to the destabilisation of a country, it does have a significant role in faltering socioeconomic conditions which not only drain public resources and undermine the government but also can give birth to conflicts and add fuel to the fire of terrorism. Terrorism and corruption have a strong nexus to support each other and it needs to be tackled with iron hands.


In the contemporary world, the menace of corruption has emerged as the most potent threat to the security and stability of a state. Corruption not only affects the socioeconomic conditions of a country, but by doing so it also increases the risk of organized crime which, in turn, increases the risk of corruption. Organized crime and the criminals are often involved in conflicts and if this evil is not nipped in the bud, they get involved in terror activities. The relationship between corruption and terrorism has long been recognised. Evidence shows that corruption contributes to the financing of terrorism and creates inequalities that disenfranchise communities and promote the development and growth of terrorist groups. So, it can be said that the symbiotic relationship between organised crime and terrorism results from ineffective and corrupt governance.

When we have a look at the conditions prevailing in Pakistan, we find that a woeful decline in the political order, deteriorating economic conditions and expanding underground economies have created conditions for profitable activity outside the legal framework in the country. Organised criminal groups have access to vast financial resources and they run a parallel black economy that has become an existential threat to the nation. Terrorists are motivated by ideology and criminals by greed, yet cooperation between them is growing for mutual benefit. Terrorist groups need arms and money, “organised crime” provides illegal trafficking of arms, drugs and human beings, as well as money laundering and smuggling operating across countries and regions.

A brief analysis of the definition of “organised criminals” as provided by the FBI, suggests that they are the “groups having formalised structure whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities, maintaining their position through actual or threatened violence, corrupting of public officials, graft, or extortion, and generally having a significant impact on the people in their locales, region, or the country as a whole.” The United Nations (UN) definition, however, includes “the enrichment of those participating at the expense of the community and its members through ruthless disregard of any law, including offences against the person, and frequently in connection with political corruption”.

Corruption, according to Transparency International is “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. In May 2016, IMF chief, Christine Lagarde, in her essay “Addressing Corruption – Openly” wrote that the direct economic cost of corruption was around 1.5-2 trillion dollars, about 2 percent of global GDP, annually; however this estimate may be an understatement as “the indirect costs may be even more substantial and debilitating, leading to low growth and greater income inequality.”

Since its very inception, Pakistan has been a victim of corruption. Soon after the Quaid died and Liaquat Ali Khan subsequently assassinated in 1951, a small coterie of bureaucrats and their businessmen friends gave it momentum. Even then, it remained within what one optimistically calls ‘limits’. However, over the last decade or so, it has gone into overdrive and the situation is so worse that Transparency International ranked Pakistan 117th out of 175 countries on its Corruption Perception Index 2015.

From the petty corruption of low-ranking officials to bribery of leading politicians, corruption not only weakens a state, but also exposes its territory and that of others to terrorist activities by weakening the capacity to defend citizens and national interests. It is assumed that corruption grows ‘naturally’ as societies and cities grow and become more complex. More and more intermediaries are needed between the government and the people. What is about corruption that should drive people to such extremes? Four elements of corruption in its current form help to provide an explanation, the humiliation inflicted on victims, their lack of recourse, the structure and sophistication of corrupt networks and the truly colossal sums being stolen. Corruption is considered an assault on victim’s human dignity that accompanies it. Recall the example of any extortion when the only way of gaining a right may be to allow some money or favour. Abuses of this nature can spark a burning need for retribution. Even across the private sector companies, whose business models actually depend on servicing kleptocratic officials, such as some bankers, lawyers, estate agents, food chains and international construction contractors, are contributing to significant corrupt practices and causing security threats to the country. If their public spiritedness should remain wanting, then sanctions on them for colluding with illegal, corrupt practices, the grip should be stiffened to commensurate with the harm they are doing. Citizens should begin pressurising such businesses, and above all, the governments should cease viewing corrupt money flows, or good trade deals extracted from kleptocrats at the expense of their populations, as a necessary component of their nations’ economies.

Corruption and terrorism are two faces of a single coin. Both have potential to groom conflict and criminal activities in the society. They not only make the society vulnerable but pose a danger to the neighbouring communities for terrorist activities. Terrorist organisations use corruption to both finance and perpetrate terrorism. Like criminals and those they corrupt, they use the same grey areas in legal systems and porosity of the financial sector to channel their financing. As such, no country is totally immune.

Identifying connections between corruption and terrorism and the means to break them is crucial to fighting terrorism. Four main types of connections can be identified which are linked to corruption and terrorist activities. They include corruption and poor governance, which undermine the fight against terrorism. Corruption facilitates terrorist attacks, and corruption and terrorism financing share methods to hide money and corruption helps terrorist funding. Although awareness of corruption, organised crime and terrorist financing has been growing in recent years, the linkage and resonances between these three forms of behaviour may not be sufficiently acknowledged.

State institutions weakened by engrained and deep-rooted corruption are not only less effective in fighting terrorism but are also vulnerable to exploitation by terrorist groups. Corruption in institutions such as the police and the judiciary are of great concern as they are the pillars of state security and rule of law.

Despite stringent anti-bribery laws have been enforced and there are numerous agencies to root out the menace from the country, corruption scandals continue to emerge. The reason is the influence exerted at middle and low level of law-enforcement structures to avoid investigation or detection and to impede ongoing judicial or investigative process. This can benefit both organized crime and terrorists.

Corruption is the ‘enabling technology’ that makes many terrorist crimes possible. For instance, two of the 9/11 hijackers allegedly obtained fraudulent driver’s licenses from a branch of Virginia’s Division of Motor Vehicles which they used as identity cards to board the aircraft. The same branch had also sold licenses to illegal immigrants in exchange for bribes. Likewise, corruption of public border officials enables terrorists to travel clandestinely and gain access to targets or smuggle weapons. Obtaining false documentation like fake identity cards and passports usually entails corruption of border officials who remain very vulnerable.

Criminals and terrorists use similar tactics to reach their separate operational objectives. The obvious correlation is corruption as they engage in a range of activities that are greatly facilitated by corruption. Corruption happens at border points, where illegal operators offer bribes to customs and immigration officials to allow them to smuggle prohibited goods. The nature of activities that corrupt customs officials typically engage in varies from country to country, from simple acts of ‘turning a blind eye’ to extreme acts of aiding with contraband smuggling. Smuggling and illicit trade are long-established and profitable activities which international terror groups, crime rings and rebel guerrillas use to finance their activities. Terrorists benefit from corruption and promote it in order to finance their activities, smuggle their equipment, and to protect their networks from the eyes of security and justice. In fact, terrorism and corruption are feeding each other.

Kleptocrats, traffickers and terrorists need ways to raise, move, conceal and spend money. One of the main means is the use of anonymous “shell companies”. These companies are formally registered, incorporated, or otherwise legally organised in an economy but do not conduct any operations in that economy other than in a pass-through capacity. So, the only purpose of a shell company is to hide the identity of the true owner of the money passing through it, or “beneficial ownership” as it is called by tax authorities and other combatting illegal financial flows and tax avoidance. The owners of shell companies can remain anonymous while still being able to open bank accounts, transfer money and enjoy the legitimacy of being incorporated in countries with sophisticated financial sectors.

A specific focus should be put on promoting more transparency and accountability in public procurement. It is important to preserve the law-enforcement agencies and judiciary from undue influence, not only in high profile cases but also at micro-level by promoting more integrity in the criminal justice system. Innovative techniques should be introduced within the law and in the use of anti-corruption laws by the prosecutors and investigators against terrorists and also against companies who have assisted them. Anti-corruption enforcement equips authorities with powerful weapons to fight the financing of terrorism. The collection of data by the investigators of multinational corporations, petty financial crimes and any other relevant information would help the enforcement officials to develop better strategies based on the information about corrupt practices.

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