A supporter of terrorist Masood Azhar stands guard as people offer prayers led by him

Rome: A few weeks ago President Donald Trump, with no sarcasm intended, tweeted about the so-called 'arrest' of Mohammed Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan "after a 10-year search". The tweet, coming days before the visit by Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan to the US, appeared to indicate the beginnings of a possible thaw in the relations between the two countries.

However, what Donald Trump was probably (and purposely) overlooking was that terror groups, be it the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) or the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), have not gone out of business at all, despite the widely trumpeted measures announced by the Pakistan government.

The JeM fundraising activities are mainly coordinated through its front NGO, Al Rehmat Trust (ART), headquartered in Bahawalpur.

The Trust was launched by Masood Azhar in 2002, immediately after the Jaish-e-Mohammed was (in theory) proscribed in 2002 and has been flourishing since then. It has regional centres in Muzaffarabad, Peshawar, Quetta and Hyderabad apart from smaller branches all over Pakistan. The NGO officially claims that its objective is to obey Islam, to serve Islam, to spread Islamic education and to help others. Unofficially, like it happens in the case of the NGO's linked to Lashkar-i-Toiba and Mohammed Hafiz Saeed, the fund collection for the organisation is mainly done for waging 'jihad' and to assist families of those who are killed while 'waging jihad' or in more simple terms to carry out terror acts and assist families of dead terrorists.

In the past, the organisation has been providing services to the Taliban as well. On May 10, the Pakistan government banned the ART in order to demonstrate their compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations.

Authorities also released notices asking the general public to refrain from donating to these terror outfits. Yet, the groups were permitted to collect donations under pseudonyms or under the cover of religion throughout the last Ramadan period (May-June 2019). The JeM has also continued their fund collection in Pakistan without issuing receipts to donors, thereby leaving no trails that funding was still continuing to these banned groups.

Apart from donations, the collection of hides of animals sacrificed on the eve of Eid-ul-Azha also provides large sums of money to JeM. In 2018, the JeM generated Rs.700 million (approx. Euro 3.9 million), just by selling these animal hides.

During Ramadan, appeals are made to Muslims to spend generously in the name of Allah and to donate for the cause of jihad in Kashmir and to support the jihad in Afghanistan against US/NATO forces. ART's advertisements and writings on different issues like jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, regularly appear in JeM's Al Qalam newspaper, edited by one Masood Azhar's younger brothers, and their web/Facebook pages.

Apart from collections within Pakistan, a large chunk of ART's funding is received from overseas, especially Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar. These funds are collected in the name of 'Zakat' or for charity work and often the donors are Pakistani diaspora living in these countries. The scale of the collection through donations can be seen from the fact that in 2018 the JeM is reported to have collected Rs 600 million (approx. Euro 3.3 million) just from donations.

Banning a group or freezing the bank assets or another, and usually announcing it weeks and months in advance, is just an eyewash. Truth is in Pakistan jihadi groups have received and still receive funds from abroad, from people inside the country and, in some case, also from the state.

Many madrassas, or at least most of them, function as centers of ideological propaganda, sorting and training for jihadi of all kinds but, above all, the finance groups of fighters. The fundraising support palm for jihad goes to Karachi, closely followed by Lahore, Faisalabad and Sialkot. Terrorism is financed, through religious schools, not only with state funds like in the case of Muridke or Haqqania but also by individual donations.

Not only that, practically every jihadi group, and every madrasa, has very close ties with the local mafia with which it manages the business of large estates in connection, it seems, with chunks of the Army. Operating checks on the transfer of funds by banks or any legal means, as requested by the law, is, in any case, useless: the money is transferred mainly via hawala or delivered in their hand luggage by this or that mullah returning home from some triumphant tour abroad.

The problem is serious, and it touches the roots of the so-called fight against terrorism. Evidently, to defeat the jihads the first thing to do is to close the taps of the financing received by the groups in question. Judge Giovanni Falcone (killed by mafia in 1992 after he delivered the biggest and still only big mafia trial) could corner the Sicilian mafia 'following the money', as he used to say.

And the theory proved to be true, for example, in the case of the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka: once the fundraising abroad was completely stopped, the guerrilla war ended. But of course Pakistan does not have the slightest intention of giving up the so-called 'strategic assets' constituted by terrorists operating in India or Afghanistan and which for decades have been part of the country's foreign policy and consequently no one is trying to investigate and trace the origin of the funds of seminars and religious schools.

'Following the money' transferred via hawala or through the mafia is difficult but not impossible, as long as there is the political will to do so. In the case of Falcone, was only the individual will of a small number of Judges: they paid with their lives, but someway their work and their death changed the history and the culture of Sicily. Pakistan, on the contrary, and its Army and intelligence in particular, still choose the path of deceit and ambiguity.