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The Wahabi money trail

There is a misconception, say Karachi police officials, that Pakistan’s Wahabi revolution is being funded by Saudi Arabia and Arab countries.

world Updated: Nov 09, 2010 01:12 IST

There is a misconception, say Karachi police officials, that Pakistan’s Wahabi revolution is being funded by Saudi Arabia and Arab countries. Pakistan’s deobandi seminaries are more or less financially dependent on local resources, much which come from private donors and businesses within the country, content intelligence officials.

Despite several efforts to trace the funding of Deobandi seminaries in Pakistan, the government has been unsuccessful. For one, many of the Sunni extremist parties were initially funded by the country’s own intelligence agencies. “That is where the seed money came from,” comments Amir Mir, in his book The True face of Jihadis.

Apart from that, petro-dollars, primarily from welfare and religious organisations in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries helped set up Madrassas as far away as the Northern Areas, where the need was to convert the majority Ismaili population to Sunni Islam.

However, as time passed Saudi interest in Pakistani madrassas waned and religious organisations had to look for alternate sources of funding.

Today, many Deobandi madrassas and organisations run on the goodwill of local businessmen, many of them based in Karachi, which is the commercial capital. Millions of rupees are donated daily, say intelligence officials. But the government looks the other way.

More recently the Tehreek-e-Taliban, which is strapped for cash, also set up a fund raising unit which went around the country to ask for donations — in many instances forced — and arranging bank robberies and kidnapping to raise funds to fight their anti-government war.

It is this funding that the rival Barelvi parties say needs to be stopped. “When there is no money there will be no fight,” says Sarwat Ejaz Qadri, a leader of the Sunni Tehreek.

Others disagree. “It is a battle for bhatta,” says police official Waseem Ahmad, who argues that if the government goes after one group, another would emerge to take up from where the first left off. “People should stop paying protection money.”

While the government has been able to keep tabs on funds that come from abroad, the worry is that nothing is being done to check or monitor funding of Pakistan’s extremist parties from within. “We were going to work on this but somehow all this got delayed,” comments Moinuddin Haider, a retired general and former interior minister under General Musharraf.

So far, little has been done, by the government or the law enforcing agencies. As a result, say intelligence officials, the money continues to flow and the militants keep their well oiled terror machine running.