Pakistan’s terror watchdog to target ‘dubious’ charities

Pakistani police officers examine a bullet-riddled vehicle following an attack by a gunman in Quetta on Feb. 28, 2018.(AP Photo/Arshad Butt)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Pakistan’s terror watchdog to target ‘dubious’ charities

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) signed an agreement with the Pakistan Center for Philanthropy (PCP) on Wednesday as the country strives to meet global standards in the fight against terrorism funding and money laundering.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, has said it will place Pakistan on its “grey list” of countries with strategic weaknesses on terrorism financing and money laundering in June.
FATF extended a three-month reprieve to correct irregularities before strict financial restrictions were imposed.
Regulation of non-government and non-profit organizations is a key part of the watchdog’s demands.
Organizations that comply with PCP will be accepted on NACTA’s white list of legally compliant entities. “It (PCP) certifies and verifies NGOs/NPOs and ensures the entities use banking channels for funding and that credible third parties conduct audits of those organizations,” NACTA official Qaiser Ashfaq told Arab News.
He said the move would promote genuine charity and humanitarian assistance organizations in Pakistan and discourage public donations to dubious unregistered entities or individuals.
A delegation of FATF’s Asian Pacific Group is due to visit Pakistan in April to deliver a list of requirements for an action plan to counter money laundering and terror financing.
NACTA officials said that the financial watchdog has yet to provide recommendations or list weaknesses in Pakistan’s financial monitoring system. Most of FATF’s standards were met before the regulator held its plenary meeting in February, they said.
Last week, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal lashed out at the US over criticism of Pakistan’s alleged weaknesses. “Recent FATF action 2 put us in grey is in violation of process & politically motivated 2 pressurize Pakistan (to) follow Trump admin policies. Our successes against terrorism are recognized internationally,” he tweeted on Saturday.
Defense analyst and former air vice-marshal Shahzad Chaudhry told Arab News that Pakistan should think strategically before confronting the US on its demands.
“Political manipulation will always take place if there is cleavage available to exploit that weakness,” he said.
However, Pakistani officials said that FATF’s decision would have no impact on the country’s $300 billion economy.
NACTA is working with departments to monitor and regulate the flow of funds and to close loopholes exploited to launder money, including terror financing.
The watchdog’s national coordinator, Lt. Cdr. Ihsan Ghani, said a task force formed last July would improve coordination between 27 agencies in Pakistan.
As part of the global measures, travelers will have to complete financial declaration forms on departure and arrival in the country. Up to $10,000 is allowed per person on departure, with a yearly limit of $60,000.


Nearly 6,000 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

Updated 59 min 17 sec ago
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Nearly 6,000 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

  • Each year, two to three million people who are able to undertake the journey descend on Islam’s holiest city to deepen their faith and cleanse themselves of their sins.
  • This year, 5,800 Muslims from the Philippines will make the trip, according to Omar Mandia, chief administrative officer at the Office of the Hajj Attache, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).

MANILA: On Sunday, Filipino Muslims will start their pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj — a pinnacle in every Muslim’s life.
Each year, two to three million people who are able to undertake the journey descend on Islam’s holiest city to deepen their faith and cleanse themselves of their sins.
This year, 5,800 Muslims from the Philippines will make the trip, according to Omar Mandia, chief administrative officer at the Office of the Hajj Attache, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
Aside from the Filipino Muslims, some foreign diplomats will be among the delegates from the Philippines.
“There are diplomats who want to join us. They are requesting to be included. These are from the Libyan Embassy, UAE and Iran. They want to join us,” Mandia told Arab News.
“They can just arrange for their Hajj visa but they need to be accommodated in our housing and space in Mina and Arafat,” Mandia continued, as he explained that housing accommodation for pilgrims is done country-to-country, which means that the NCMF has to write a request to the Ministry of Hajj for additional slots to accommodate the diplomats.
In 2017, a total of 6,032 Filipino Muslims performed Hajj, but the number has fallen slightly this year.
“Last year, we had a bigger number of pilgrims from the Philippines, but we’ve reduced it... because of stringent visa requirements,” said Mandia.
An incident in 2016 when dozens of Indonesians were intercepted using Filipino Hajj passports en route to Makkah, prompted the authorities to introduce tight measures to ensure that no other nationalities join the Philippine contingent’s pilgrimage.
“That’s one reason why they’ve been very strict on securing the passports. They don’t want a repeat of that controversy. We are still bearing the consequence of that anomaly,” said Mandia. “We have assured them (Saudi authorities) that we have taken steps in order to prevent that from happening again,” he added.
Of the 5,800 Filipino Muslim pilgrims, the majority are from Cotabato and Lanao provinces, and include pilgrims from war-torn Marawi City.
Mandia, who will also be performing Hajj this year, added: “I’m from Marawi. Our house was destroyed during the siege. We are still not allowed to go back as it is a restricted site even today. They said there are still live bombs there you could step on and get killed.”
When he performs the pilgrimage he said that it would be “a sigh of relief after all those problematic days,” referring to the five-month battle in Marawi.
On average, a Filipino Muslim spends up to 200,000 pesos on Hajj. Some lawmakers sponsor Hajj for those who would not otherwise be able to afford to make the trip, especially those from Marawi City who suffered major devastation during the siege.
The first two batches of pilgrims are scheduled to leave on July 22 on a Saudi Airlines flight. The country’s flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), also has direct flights to take pilgrims from the Philippines to Madinah.
“Last year they (PAL) were not able to get landing permit, so we had to land in Kuwait and an airline in Kuwait flew them to Madinah. Now they have been able to secure a landing permit so they will be transporting pilgrims directly from Philippines to Madinah,” said Mandia.