Pakistan has frozen the accounts of 5,000 suspected militants, taking about $3 million out of their pockets, but Islamabad could still come under scrutiny at a crucial June meeting of an international watchdog that tracks terror financing.
Analysts and government officials say political foot-dragging and sympathetic supporters throughout Pakistan makes it difficult to cut off the money supply to banned militant groups.
Next month in Spain, the Financial Action Task Force will update its assessment of “high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions,” Alexandra Wijmenga-Daniel of the task force’s communications department said in an email. She did not offer any specifics.
The 35-nation intergovernmental organisation was formed in 1989 to combat money laundering. After 9/11, it also took on the role of fighting the financing of terror. Getting on the task force’s “black list” could hurt a country’s ability to borrow, if its banking system is considered a money laundering haven.
In 2015, Pakistan was exempted from its scrutiny after a similar session applauded the country’s progress in tackling both money laundering and terror financing.
However, concerns have been raised by the resurrection of banned groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba under new names. Also worrying is the relative ease with which groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed appear to operate, openly running Islamic seminaries and fundraising.
Still, Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) has begun the painstaking work of devising anti-terror financing policies, freezing bank accounts of known terrorist groups and identifying those that have resurfaced with different names, according to its director, Ishan Ghani.
Since taking over, Ghani has increased his staff to 100, gotten a budget of $15.7m and is updating a list of individuals suspected of extremism. He also has devised a sweeping policy on which new, stricter laws can be enacted.
He said its current lists are outdated, with several suspected militants either dead or in jail, and the job of identifying individuals suspected of links to extremists rests with Pakistan’s four provinces.
The names have been slow in coming, Ghani added, blaming outdated systems, political foot-dragging and a lack of focus on counter-terrorism despite military and police operations against suspected hideouts, particularly in Pakistan’s tribal regions that border Afghanistan.
Politicians have been reluctant to shut down some of the reconstituted militant groups because of the local support they enjoy and the votes they bring in. Other groups, whose stated purpose is to wage war with neighbor India over the disputed Kashmir region, survive because of their suspected links to Pakistan’s military and intelligence.
Still, Ghani said he has had some success pressing provincial lawmakers into action.