Pakistan investigates funding channels for seminaries

By Amna Nasir Jamal

Young Pakistanis in Karachi in 2015 listen to their teacher in a seminary. [Amna Nasir Jamal]

Young Pakistanis in Karachi in 2015 listen to their teacher in a seminary. [Amna Nasir Jamal]

KARACHI -- Pakistan is tightening registration rules for seminaries and strengthening oversight of their funding sources to identify any ties to terrorism.

The move is part of compliance with the National Action Plan (NAP), a counter-terrorism policy that Islamabad enacted in December 2014.

"To trace the funding sources and the spending of seminaries ... the Sindh Police have begun auditing [seminaries'] finances," Sanaullah Abbasi, additional inspector general of Karachi Police, told Central Asia Online.

"The process will take time," he said. "We intend to find all the seminaries that have links to militancy."

Sindh Police recently completed geo-tagging the province's seminaries, he said, adding that the process would help them keep an eye on any illicit funding.

"It's a lifetime effort ... to develop a geo-tagging and financial database on seminaries across the province," he said.

Finding extremists

Geo-tagging of the province turned up "3,110 seminaries" in Karachi alone, according to a May press release by the Sindh Home Department.

"Police identified 49 seminaries with alleged ties to terrorist organisations," the statement said. "The authorities acted against them in April."

Since launching its share of NAP in December 2014, the Sindh Police have shut down and sealed 167 unregistered seminaries, Abbasi said.

The province urgently needs to reform rules for seminary registration to block facilitation of terrorism, he added.

"We need to make seminaries declare all sources of funding by law," he said.

Investigating foreign funding

Investigators found that 285 seminaries in Pakistan receive funding from about 10 countries, Arif Khan, secretary of the Pakistani Interior Ministry, told Central Asia Online.

Pakistani authorities recently conferred with those countries' ambassadors to "obtain input on how to block the unregulated transfer of money to seminaries", Khan said.

Punjab has the most -- 147 -- of those 285 seminaries, Khan said. Sindh Province has one.

Not all funding equals terrorism, he noted.

"Some seminaries receive funds legally and raise money by visiting foreign sponsors," he said.

Authorities frequently lack the means to determine if foreign funding finances terrorism at a given seminary or legitimate purposes like curriculum development and capacity building.

Only "three or four seminaries [in Sindh] receive [foreign] funds through legal money transfers via banks", he added. Others use various means that are more difficult to trace.

Two of those seminaries that used banks had considerable foreign income streams, he said: Rs. 2.5m (US $23,894) and Rs. 3m (US $28,673) per year.

Bill could prevent illegal funding

In the interests of transparency, "the Sindh government is planning to introduce a bill in the provincial assembly to register seminaries under an entirely new process," Sindh government legal advisor Barrister Murtaza Wahab Siddiqui told Central Asia Online.

If enacted, the bill will replace a law that dates back to 1885, he said.

The bill would make the Sindh Home and Religious Affairs departments fully responsible for registering seminaries, he said.

Already registered seminaries would have to register again.

"The bill would limit seminaries to imparting education," he said.

The Sindh government also expects to "co-ordinate with clerics of all schools of thought to register seminaries", he said.

Authorities are moving to reduce sectarian violence and incitement too.

"To curb hate speech and remarks during sermons, we are finalising the [provincial] code on permissible sermons," Abdul Qayyum Soomro, the Sindh chief minister's advisor on religious affairs, told Central Asia Online.

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