Dec 5, 2008

World - Financing terror: the Lashkar and beyond

Menaka Guruswamy

International law warrants that all nations have a legal obligation to work against the financing of terror by any country. It is time our leadership, both in the government and in the opposition, acted.

The lone terrorist captured alive during the three-day battle in Mumbai is reported to be Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman, a 21-year-old Pakistani national. He is alleged to have admitted that he is an operative of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. According to newspaper reports, he is a resident of Faridkot, in Pakistan’s Punjab province. He has apparently also stated that he was trained, along with others, at two camps in Pakistan. The first camp focussed on the use of arms and explos ives and the second on marine drills.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba, or the “Army of the Pure” which, like all other purgatory forces with cleansing on their minds, predictably picked a name that involves purity. It is reported to be the military wing of the Markaz Dawa Wal-Irshad, an Islamic fundamentalist organisation of the Wahabi sects in Pakistan. Till 2007 it had a centre in London, among other places. In late-2001, after the United States designated the Lashkar as a banned terrorist outfit, the Markaz Dawa was renamed the Jamaat ud-Dawa, and more recently according to the U.S. State Department, as the Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq. It was till recently possible to donate to the Lashkar from the Jamaat ud-Dawa’s website. Whatever nomenclature the organisation goes by, it formally collects money apparently to deal with natural disasters and provide services such as health care. It is conceivable that the organisation does provide some such services in Pakistan, where the state has clearly abdicated such a welfare role. Unfortunately, it also uses such funds to finance terror through entities such as the Lashkar, the effects of which are felt in India.

The Wahabi brand of Sunni Islam that the Lashkar owes allegiance to is an ultra- conservative version founded in the 18th century in Saudi Arabia by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792). The Al-Saud dynasty that rules Saudi Arabia professes the Wahabi faith. Fuelled by oil money, and to cloak their own lavish lifestyles, the rulers pump in money for Wahabi missionary activity all over the world. According to The New Yorker’s investigative journalist Seymore Hersh, the Saud regime is “increasingly corrupt, alienated from the country’s religious rank and file, and so weakened and frightened that it has brokered its future by channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to protection money to fundamentalist groups that wish to overthrow it.” This is a practice that has been referred to as “Petro-Islam.” Muslim Brotherhood chapters all over the world have also been allegedly helped in a similar manner.

The Lashkar is reported to be based in two locations within Pakistan. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in its report on Pakistan and the (American) War on Terror notes that “since the late 1980s, the Pakistani military has financed, trained, armed, and launched the cadres of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, along with the Jaish-e-Muhammad, and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, on their murderous missions into Kashmir and elsewhere inside the Indian union.” Terror teams sent by these outfits are always led and manned by Pakistani nationals. The U.S., which is also paying for Pakistan’s own war mostly on domestic terror, succeeded only in marginally diminishing the consistent support that the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and the Pakistan Army have been providing to groups that target India. It is more than likely that some of this American funding, unknown or known to the U.S. government, would be used to sponsor groups such as the Lashkar. Perhaps, then, it was for good reason that it was decided at 1-30 a.m. on November 29 in Pakistan, apparently by the President, the Prime Minister and the head of the Army, not to send Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the chief of the ISI, to India. Instead, a representative who can presumably claim to know little and have authorisation for nothing, will visit India, to provide an assurance of his agency’s and his government’s support. It is quite clear that the civilian ruler of Pakistan does not have the ability to exert real control over the ISI or the Army — both of which have consistently supported jihadi activity in India.

How, then, do we strive to strike at the financing of terror; and do we have the legal obligation to do so? Or are we reacting merely as outraged and hurt citizens of a nation that bleeds constantly, but whose toll is usually highlighted by the number of foreigners that are unfortunately killed. If you must know, India ranks next only to Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of the number of people killed by such conflicts. Having said that, it is equally true that it takes less and less money today to build a bomb or plan attacks. The cost of the latest Mumbai terror attacks has been estimated to be in the region of $100,000-$200,000. But it is stable financing that enables organisations such as the Lashkar to recruit operatives, indoctrinate them, train them, provide equipment, and provide compensation to the families of terrorists when they are killed. We know this from documents recovered from groups operating in Kashmir — that terror enterprises are organised in a manner similar to large criminal enterprises. And it takes financing to ensure that these enterprises are able to conduct their business.

International law warrants that all nations have a legal obligation to work against the financing of terror by countries, like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, among others. A few weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United Nations Security Council, which rarely agrees on things of consequence in a timely fashion, found that the attacks threatened international peace and security, and warranted a stern resolution. So it ordered states to take specific actions regarding terrorism and its financing.

The resultant Resolution 1373 states some key concepts: states must “suppress terrorism” and enact legislation “by criminalising” the deliberate collection of funds for terrorism. Further, they must freeze the assets of those who facilitate or commit terrorist acts. The Resolution compels states to prohibit persons from directly or indirectly financing those who commit terrorist acts, and forbids the use of their territory as safe haven for those who finance or plan terrorist acts. Resolution 1373 demands that states must ensure that any person who participates in financing, planning, or otherwise supporting terrorist acts is brought to justice, and that domestic legislation establishes such terrorist acts as serious criminal offences, with appropriate punishments. To monitor states’ implementation of these obligations, and to provide assistance to states for this purpose, Resolution 1373 has established a Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC).

Additionally, Resolution 1566, approved by the Security Council in October 2004, states that “criminal acts — including those against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or the taking of hostages, with the purpose of provoking a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidating a population, or compelling a government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act — which constitute offences within the scope of and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature.”

Together, these two resolutions set forth some important points, the main one being that states have an obligation to criminalise and prohibit the direct or indirect financing of terrorism. What these terrorist acts are can be found in the second resolution; most obviously, acts committed to cause death or injury, to provoke terror among the public, or to compel a government to do something that is prohibited by international instruments relating to terrorism, will fall in this category. Such acts are presumed to have no justification; ideals like “independence” or “injustice” cannot be used as justification for these actions. Thus, it is not the aims that are indicative of terrorist acts, but the means —violence, intimidation, and tactics of terror, merit classification as “terrorist acts.” Conversely, peaceful acts of resistance, dissent, and opposition of any scale cannot ever be classified as terrorism. By the same logic, financing peaceful movements that challenge the status quo, or in other words, the existing political or social elites, cannot be considered as financing of terrorism.

Likewise, India’s own Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 prohibits the use of funds for, or of, a designated ‘unlawful association.’ The Act states that “any person who has custody of any moneys, securities or credits which are being used or are intended to be used for the purpose of the unlawful association, the Central Government may, by order in writing, prohibit such person from paying, delivering, transferring or otherwise dealing in any manner whatsoever with such moneys, securities or credits or with any other moneys, securities or credits which may come into his custody after the making of the order.” This under-utilised provision can be used against individuals and organisations such as charities as it can be used against those that raise money for terror groups and banks that move these moneys. This law addresses our own home-grown terrorists such as those involved in the Malegaon blasts.

Perhaps, then, it is time for our leadership, both in the government and in the opposition, to act. It is time for the government (and the international community) to press the Saudi and Pakistani governments to stop financing and training terrorists, and for the opposition to allow investigators to do their job without impugning motives as has happened in the case of the Malegaon investigations — unless there is just cause to do so.

(Menaka Guruswamy is an advocate who practises law in New Delhi. She can be contacted at )

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