Authorities crack down on Ramadan donations to banned groups

By Zia Ur Rehman


A charity in Karachi on April 23 sends trucks full of food to residents affected by a lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. [Zia Ur Rehman]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani authorities are taking steps to ensure that charity donations during Ramadan go to deserving and genuine welfare organisations and not to proscribed militant outfits.

As part of a directive from Pakistan's Interior Ministry to have donations monitored as part of counter-terrorism efforts, the Punjab government on April 23 announced that it will bar 79 banned groups from collecting zakat and fitra -- a donation specifically given during Ramadan.

Ramadan officially began on April 25.

The provinces of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have issued similar notifications about Ramadan donations.


Police April 19 enforce a lockdown in Karachi to limit the spread of the coronavirus. [Zia Ur Rehman]

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), a national-level counter-terrorism governmental body, maintains a list of proscribed militant outfits aimed at helping financial institutions and individuals avoid doing business with or processing transactions of suspected terrorists.

Prominent banned groups in the list include the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP).

Charity fronts formed by militants to dodge law enforcement agencies after being banned are also part of the list. They include Falah-i-Insanyiat Foundation (FIF), Maymar Trust, Al-Akhtar Trust, Al-Rasheed Trust, Al Haramain Foundation, and Rabita Trust.

In June 2019, the Sachal Sarmast Welfare Trust and the Al-Jaza Patient Welfare Society -- both based in Karachi -- were added to the list, according to a NACTA official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Updating the list of proscribed outfits and charity fronts linked to them is part of the country's efforts to curb money laundering and terror financing, he said.

Exploiting generosity

Militant-linked charities in the past have sought to exploit Muslim occasions and use the money collected in the form of zakat and fitra to fund terrorism and purchase weapons rather than help the poor.

In 2014, Pakistanis gave about $240 billion ($1.5 billion) to charity, according to a 2016 report by the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy, an Islamabad-based think-tank.

The government's effort to ban phony charities is paying off, said Abubakkar Yousafzai, a Karachi-based development professional who has run charity campaigns in the area.

"The militants' fundraising campaigns have badly been affected across the country because the government has banned militant outfits from collecting funds," Yousafzai sad.

He is concerned that proscribed outfits may use the coronavirus pandemic as a new way to collect funds for their subversive activities.

"Because of the government's continuous ban, several proscribed charities, particularly the FIF, did not show up in recent relief activities for those affected by the [coronavirus] lockdown," said Manan Hussain, a charity worker who distributes free food in the Keamari area of Karachi.

While the government is taking measures to stop terrorist groups from collecting funds, "public vigilance also is important," he said.

"Law enforcement agencies for the past several years have put up banners across the city informing residents to become cautious while donating money during Ramadan," he said.

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