Whether it is Kashmir, the Maoist belt or disturbed parts of the Northeast, unravelling the patterns of terror finance is the only way for the Government to make substantial progress. Kashmir remains firmly in the headlines with the Army first establishing dominance at the Line of Control, followed by the Centre now going hard after terror finance. Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Ahir told Parliament on Wednesday that demonetisation struck a massive blow to the Pakistan-printed fake Indian currency notes racket, which hit hawala operators, and in turn impacted violence in Kashmir. Ahir however admitted that ‘Left Wing Extremism (LWE) formations’ in the Maoist belt tried to minimize their losses by having their cash hoards ‘deposited into the accounts of sympathizers or simple villagers’ through coercion or threats. The Minister informed about the financial intelligence set-up the Government has in place — primarily the ‘Combating Financing of Terrorism Cell (CFT Cell)’ in the Home Ministry to coordinate with the inter-governmental ‘Financial Action Task Force (FATF)’, the terror funding and fake currency cell in the National Investigation Agency (NIA), agencies like Financial Intelligence Unit and regulatory and enforcement agencies under the Finance Ministry, as well as surveillance mechanisms by State governments to monitor suspicious and foreign funding, hawala and money laundering. But despite the Minister’s optimism, it is clear that the cash ban only had a temporary effect on extremist activities in Kashmir. Over the last few months, the images of stone pelting Kashmiri youths taking on security forces have assumed centrestage. On quite a few occasions, these flash mobs managed to scuttle counter-terrorist operations, helping cornered jihadis make good their escape. It now turns out that these stone-pelters have been operating to a plan, earning their livelihood in a State where employment has long gone for a six. They are paid by agents of separatist leaders, who have made fortunes for themselves through benami investments and properties, with all the dirty money originating from Pakistan.
All this and much more have been revealed thanks to a daring sting by ‘India Today’ in May this year. It blew the lid off how Kashmir Hurriyat leaders get funds from Pakistan right in Delhi, routed through Saudi Arabia and Dubai “by well-wishers after they take their commission”. One leader said that an amount like Rs 300-400 crores “can keep the unrest in Kashmir going for 3 months”. Some stone pelters took off their masks to admit before hidden cameras that they make anything like Rs 700 a day on weekdays and Rs 1,000 on Fridays, adding up to monthly figures ranging from Rs 7,000 to Rs 20,000. These youths get paid more if they throw petrol bombs instead of rocks; their targets are security convoys, police stations, government buildings, schools; they are assembled for an attack through group-messaging services like WhatsApp over the internet. There is a separate pay structure for children, with the strong ones getting up to Rs 7,500, the weaker ones getting Rs 6,000 while those less than 12 years old drawing Rs 4,000 per month. What came through in the media sting is a well-oiled underground economy running for years, with children and youths risking life and limb to make regular income. It is more a question of money than ideology, and here the leaders have shown themselves to be utterly cynical. Top Hurriyat leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Shabir Shah are known to own huge properties and businesses in places like Srinagar, Delhi and some Gulf countries. With the NIA recently raiding houses and arresting second rung separatist leaders, its chargesheet details how they acquired funds sent through hawala channels and under the guise of various cross-LoC trades to finance protests in Kashmir over the last year. Several crores in cash have been seized, revealed to have been earmarked to pay stone pelters, along with account books and letterheads in the name of Pak-based terror groups like Lashkar and Hizbul. Several big businesses in Kashmir are now reportedly under scanner, suspected to be on the payrolls of such terror outfits and routing Pak funds to separatist leaders and their foot soldiers. After sending the strong message to Islamabad that surgical strikes will be employed to neutralise terrorists pushed across the LoC, how the Centre fares in choking off separatist finances in Kashmir will be keenly watched in coming days. It again goes to show that economic intelligence has a vital role to play if an anti-terror policy is to be effective.