Terror financing

Terrorism has been on the national agenda once again, with two major meetings having been held over the last week to implement key NAP agendas. Strategies to deal with terrorist organisations were discussed on Wednesday; these included disarming terrorist organisations and curbing their sources of finance. Timelines have been agreed on. Earlier, in late September, the State Bank of Pakistan initiated action against terror financing by ordering the freezing of 2,021 bank accounts thought to be of either terror suspects or suspected terror financiers. Another 6,400 names are expected to be added to the list of blocked accounts. Over half of the listed individuals are from Punjab. The travel documents of around 3,111 terror suspects have also been blocked through Nadra. It is not clear whether this is the complete list of all individuals on the forth schedule of the Anti Terrorism Act or whether some selection criterion has been used. The decision seems to have come after the list of suspected terrorists was updated at a district level recently. Under increased pressure, the government has done well to act on the very serious issue of terror financing which continues to plague any efforts to fight terrorism on the ground. The absence of a publically available list of high-profile terrorism suspects remains a concern, which raises the possibility that individuals and organisations missed the cut. More clarity will be needed on how the individuals were chosen but at least this is a step in the right direction.

The SBP has indicated that the issue of terrorism financing will be treated with utmost seriousness. This is the second time such a move has been made. In January this year, the SBP had moved to block 121 bank accounts holding Rs1 billion in reserves. This time, though, the move seems more than mere cosmetic changes. The sheer number of bank accounts blocked seems to suggest a more methodological approach. It also gives the government something to cheer after the recent pressure it has received from the security forces over not fulfilling its part in NAP. That said, it is still far from clear why only the accounts of some of these individuals were blocked without formally charging them with terrorism. In fact, this is the question these individuals are already asking the banks. It is legitimate to question how individuals who have not been convicted in court for either terrorist action or for financing it can have their bank accounts blocked and travel documents invalidated. Even though the list includes a number of sectarian extremist group members, these individuals rarely use their bank accounts to run their operations. In fact, once these individuals are blacklisted from using banking services, there will be a need to stop informal mechanisms used to fund terrorist activities. Banned organisations have continued to operate bank accounts through aliases and alternate names. Government sources have already spoken of plans for stricter checks on the hawala and hundi methods of funding. For this, the government will need to continue to evolve methods to counter such actions, instead of touting what it has done till now – or these meetings – as a completion of its objectives. Pakistan will also need to update the list in accordance with international lists declaring suspected terrorist organisations in Pakistan. We have reason to be optimistic about the fact that there seems to be more serious concern over the issue of terror financing. Maybe the next few meetings will further clarify exactly how the state of Pakistan is planning to go about ensuring this.

Source: Daily The News

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