New Age Islam Edit Bureau
17 September 2015
Hot Pursuit of Terror Funds
By Khurram Husain
‘Jewels In Rags’
By I. A. Rehman
An Open Letter to Donald J Trump
By Harlan Ullman
Hot Pursuit of Terror Funds
By Khurram Husain
17 September 2015
The writer is a member of staff.
ON Aug 28, a letter was received at the State Bank from a sector commander of the Rangers in Karachi asking for specific account details and transaction history of four individuals. The letter was addressed to the director of the Banking Policy and Regulatory Department of the State Bank, asking him to “please circulate to all the financial institutions as well as foreign banks operating in Pakistan to provide the following information in respect of the following individuals”.
The information being asked for was incredibly detailed, including copies of account opening forms “even if closed”, all persons authorised to operate the accounts in question, signature specimen cards, and account statements “from date of opening to date”.
“In addition to the above”, the letter continued, “please obtain information of any other accounts, deposits or lockers maintained by the above individuals or to his/her business concerns with details of security offered including family members. In case any banking facility has been granted to a third person/firm against the deposit or guarantee of the above individuals, details of such facilities showed [sic] also be obtained and advised.”
The first high-profile case involving decisive action to probe terror financing is against people known for their political rather than terrorist links.
The individuals listed were Dr Asim Hussain, Mr Shoaib Warsi (deputy managing director of SSGC), Mr Zohair Siddiqui (former managing director SSGC), and Mr Kamran Ihsan Nagi (general manager Project and Construction, SSGC).
Each of them was picked up in a series of raids that followed the arrest of Dr Asim Hussain. A number of others were also picked up in those raids, including Amin Rajput, the chief financial officer of SSGC, and Dr Yusuf Sattar, the deputy managing director of Ziauddin Hospital North Nazimabad.
The letter from the Rangers made no mention of Rajput and Sattar, suggesting their personal financial affairs were not being scrutinised at this stage. One of the four listed in the letter, Nagi, was later released from Rangers custody on the night of Sept 11, although it’s not clear whether the investigation against him continues or has been dropped.
Nevertheless, on Sept 3, five working days from receiving the letter, the Banking Policy and Regulatory Department issued a confidential circular to presidents and CEOs of all banks and DFIs. The circular simply said: “Please find enclosed a copy of letter dated Aug 27, 2015 received from Pakistan Rangers regarding supply of information/documents for your immediate attention to be dealt with under the relevant laws.”
Notice the circular does not ask banks to act on the letter from the Rangers. It only says the letter must “be dealt with under the relevant laws”. This ambiguity is in contrast to the language of other circulars issued by the same department. What is the right way to deal with the request contained in the letter? And what are those “relevant laws”? Nobody from the world of banking and law can pinpoint, although the consensus is that the regulator indeed has the power to entertain, and act upon, the request from the Rangers.
Conversations with senior bankers suggest that the banks are indeed complying with the request contained in the letter and will be furnishing the details, although the volume of material that will be generated as a result is likely to be considerable, and will require a great deal of capacity to sift through and extract anything meaningful from it.
This matter is of great interest for a number of reasons. For one, the request itself is highly unusual. Normally requests for client-specific information from law-enforcement require a court order, but it turns out in this case nobody is willing to challenge the authority of the State Bank to proceed in the absence of a court order. Has a precedent been set?
Second, requests for information on clients from law enforcement tend to be very specific. For example, they may request to see the deposit slips for certain credits made into an account, along with CCTV footage to identify the particular individual who made a specific deposit. But in this case, the information being requested is broad-based, implying the investigation is looking for trends, or sifting for signs of irregularities or improper dealings. Can future terror financing investigations proceed similarly?
Third, none of the individuals listed in the letter have, as of yet, been charged with any offence. They have all been taken into Rangers custody under Section 11EEEE of the Anti-Terrorism Act (1997) for suspected involvement in terror financing and embezzlement of funds.
It is excellent and heartening to see such swift and decisive action being taken to investigate a case of suspected terror financing. This might be the single most forceful effort mounted by the state in recent years to follow up on terror financing suspicions, an area in which Pakistan has struggled to show results, and even dragged its feet to pass the amendments to the relevant legislation that would bring its legislative framework against money laundering and terror financing into conformity with international norms and best practices.
What is less excellent and less heartening, however, is that the first high-profile case of such swift and decisive action to investigate suspected terror financing happens to be against people better known for their links to politics than to terrorist entities.
The results of the investigation will tell us how well this uniquely forceful step has worked in strengthening the hand of the state to genuinely identify and intercept terror funding, which everyone agrees is a crucial part of the overall war against the menace of terrorism. But in the meantime, one wonders how things might turn out if such swift and decisive action were to be directed against entities and individuals within Pakistan who are more widely suspected of maintaining links with terrorism.
The present case shows the tools with which to track terror funds are ready and available. All that is required is the will to use them.
Khurram Husain is a member of staff.
‘Jewels in rags’
By I. A. Rehman
17 September 2015
AS in the past, this year, too, the examiners in Punjab’s education system have found some poor students, most of them belonging to the lowest rung of the working class, who have done better than their affluent competitors.
Ali Hamza (16) from Daska town in Sialkot district has secured the second position in the humanities group of the matriculation examination. He overcame formidable handicaps: his parents cannot work because they have health problems; as the family’s sole breadwinner he sells fruit from a pushcart; and he studied at a government high school where only the most intrepid children can receive instruction.
Last week, an Urdu daily reported that a boy working as a dishwasher at a hotel had secured the second position in the Lahore Board’s Intermediate examination. The report added that the winners of distinction received medals, cash awards and the luckier ones laptops as well, but did not disclose the name of the ‘mehnat kash’ student.
Who doesn’t know that education is now a commodity that people can buy in proportion to their means?
Last year, Muhammad Rizwan, son of a security guard who paid for his education by selling samosas, gained the second position in the humanities group of the matriculation examination. Another student mentioned in last year’s report was Umar Farooq from a local seminary, the son of a bus driver, who secured the third position in a matriculation group of the Sargodha Board. One Urdu daily carried a three-column heading to the effect that ‘poor students sweep the matriculation examination’ but did not explain who the children of the poor were.
A more detailed report carried by an Urdu daily in 2013, under the headline: “Matric examination: poverty again surpasses affluence across Punjab” declared that a majority of top-scoring students belonged to poor families of Kasur (a plumber’s son), Dera Ghazi Khan (son of a rickshaw driver), Multan (son of a pakora/samosa vendor), Gujranwala (the parents of eight position holders out of 15 were described as labourers), and so on.
Why all these stories should attest to the genius of poverty-stricken students from Punjab alone cannot be explained. Similar stories may well be available from other provinces that are either not reported in the Lahore editions of the national dailies or are not considered worth reporting anywhere except Punjab.
Be that as it may, Punjab’s educational bosses are quite keen to announce the discovery of ‘jewels in rags’, an expression corresponding to an Urdu equivalent, ‘gudri mein laal’, meaning the existence of a genius in a family whose sole possession is a bundle of rags.
The romanticisation of poverty in whose bosom genius grew was a strong tradition in the age of feudalism. Rousseau, who was born free but poor, had an edge over Voltaire, the lord of the rich nobles’ salons. Goldsmith is praised for writing She Stoops to Conquer in a single night as he needed money to pay for his father’s burial. And Marx wrote Capital while in the grip of extreme poverty.
In our Urdu classical literature, too, poets have proved their mettle in direct proportion to their indigence. Can anyone imagine what Mir would have been if he had been rich? Or Ghalib if he did not have to worry all the time about his pension arrears or where the next bottle of his favourite drink was coming from?
The Punjab rulers can claim as much credit for keeping alive the feudal tradition of recognising the ‘laals’ in ‘gudrees’ as they want. But how will they ward off the charge that they want to condemn a large slice of humankind to survival in rags so as to earn plaudits for occasionally discovering the jewels among them?
Were it not so, our rulers might not have failed to notice modern nations’ efforts to eliminate the poor’s disadvantage in access to education by offering to all children, poor as well as rich, a certain level of equality of opportunity. We often raise the slogan of rule of merit without establishing equality of opportunity to all children to acquire merit.
Instead of shouting about the benevolence of the state in giving a few thousand rupees or a laptop to children of poor wage-earners, it is necessary to probe the causes of the failure en masse of the poorer students in all examinations, to find out and report the discrepancy between poor and rich and between the rural and urban seekers of knowledge.
Who does not know that education has become a commodity that people can buy in proportion to their financial means, that countless families make huge sacrifices to be able to send their children to expensive private institutions, and that the size of the class grows and the quality of instruction declines as you move away from capital cities?
All this has been researched by the much-maligned civil society organisations. For instance, ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) and Alif Ailaan have been pointing out year after year what is wrong with our elitist education system. While the authorities have shed their snobbery to the extent of using ASER findings in the Economic Survey they are still determined not to respect its advice. The provincial governments do not conceal their delight over the fact that 40pc of students are going to private schools but cannot see the need for developing a mechanism to protect the students against poor curriculum choices and substandard teaching, that was recently brought out by the Society for Advancement of Higher Education.
Each of these issues — disparity in rural and urban institutions, growing inequality between the rich and the poor caused by the difference between institutions exclusively meant for them, the need for rescuing those without resources from the culture of poverty, et al — deserves a full-scale discussion, and that is the route our rulers ought to take instead of indulging in hypocritical applause for a poor boy or two as ‘jewels in rags’ and ignoring the millions who are caught in the trap of poverty.
An open letter to Donald J Trump
By Harlan Ullman
Dear Mr Trump,
Last week, you called the nuclear agreement with Iran the worst deal you have “ever, ever” seen. Having made that statement, holding you accountable is fair game. While you could protest the specific questions hurled at you by a conservative radio talk show host in which you confused Kurds with Quds, your assessment of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) demands more than an ad hominem conclusion. My sense is that you have neither studied nor have read the 100-plus page document to understand what it does and does not achieve. My guess is that you cannot tell the difference between a centrifuge and a Cadillac. However, I will give you the benefit of the doubt.
Understanding the context for rejecting your flawed conclusion that this is the worst agreement ever is important. As you may or may not know, nuclear weapons require either uranium (U-235) or plutonium (P-239). Weapons grade uranium can be produced by gaseous diffusion or centrifuge using UF6 (uranium fluoride 6). This is called enrichment. Plutonium is produced as a by-product of reprocessing uranium in a heavy water reactor.
The first two nuclear bombs, Fat Boy and Little Man, used P-239 and U-235 respectively as the fissile material that generated the explosions equivalent to about 15 kilotonnes (15,000 tonnes) of TNT, wiping out Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Fortunately, despite the tens of thousands of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons that have been produced, none has since been used in anger. One hopes none ever will be.
When George W Bush took office in 2001, Iran had no centrifuges. Today, Iran has 19,500 centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Iran has several tonnes of enriched uranium. Estimates are that Iran could produce nuclear weapons inside a year and possibly sooner. It also has a heavy water reactor at Arak that is capable of producing plutonium. Without manufacturing, buying or stealing weapons grade uranium or plutonium, Iran cannot ever produce a nuclear weapon.
For those engaging in the debate over the JCPOA, three irrefutable facts must be acknowledged before drawing any conclusions on the merits or demerits of the agreement. First, if Iran abides by the agreement, and this is a big if, Iran will never, repeat never, obtain a nuclear weapon. Second, this agreement is not a bilateral pact between the US and Iran. The other four permanent members of the UN Security Council — the UK, China, France and Russia — plus Germany and the European Union are co-signatories and the UN Security Council voted 15-0 in favour of the JCPOA. Hence, the US is in no position unilaterally to alter that agreement. It is also interesting to ask why support in these other countries is overwhelmingly in favour of the agreement unlike here and why last Friday the leaders of the UK, France and Germany all co-signed a powerful op-ed in The Washington Post reaffirming that support.
Last, like the US and 187 other states, Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As you may or may not know, that treaty guarantees the right of each signatory to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Treaties are part of the law of the land. Hence, anyone calling for Iran to forgo its nuclear capacity is either naïve or uninformed.
Iran will mothball all but 6,500 largely obsolete centrifuges, eliminate 98 percent of its enriched uranium and fill the core of its Arak plutonium reactor with concrete. These actions block every avenue, called by General Colin Powell “super highways”, to produce nuclear weapons material. Are you, Mr Trump, even aware of these facts?
Responsible critics can make their case based on prior Iranian deceptions and the view that Iran can never be trusted, and that it will find a way to circumvent the invasive verification system administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And some object to how the administration bypassed Congress. In my view, other potential weaknesses lay ahead.
This agreement can be likened to an arranged marriage between two distrusting parties. What is needed is a long-term regional strategy for implementing this agreement that includes a Plan B should the JCPOA fail. And a commission of distinguished US citizens of both parties should be established now to oversee the agreement providing its assessment to Congress and the public on a recurring basis.
I would hope — and hope is not a strategy — that you Mr Trump might re-evaluate your worst ever condemnation of the JCPOA using your well-earned business sense to take a more measured position. But admitting mistakes does not seem part of your DNA.
Harlan Ullman is chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and senior advisor at Washington DC’s Atlantic Council. His latest book, due out this fall, is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of an Archduke a Century Ago Still Menaces Peace Today