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Pakistan Tries To Stop Militants From Benefiting From Animal Hides


So if you're trying to raise money for a good cause, you might consider, say, a bake sale, right? In Pakistan, one way charities fundraise is by collecting animal hides and selling them to tanneries. But as we're about to hear, militants also raise money this way. The story comes from NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad. And just a warning - it contains details about animal slaughter.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Over the three days of the Muslim holiday of Eid, Pakistanis butchered some 8 million cows, sheep, goats and camels. It's a religious duty, and they share the meat with poorer neighbors. Many of those animals are slaughtered in gardens, parks and even on median strips by freelance butchers who roam about with knives. That leaves behind a lot of animal skins, and they're worth up to $3 each for Pakistan's leather industry, one of the country's biggest exporters.

So for Pakistani charities, there's money to be made in collecting these skins and selling them on. So they hustle. The Edhi Foundation, for example, runs an ambulance network across Pakistan. But during the three days of Eid, they transform their emergency control room into a call center, and residents dial the emergency number...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: ...For an ambulance to collect their animal skin. Mohammed Javed runs this department.

MOHAMMED JAVED: Because of the Eid festival, that we are getting the calls from the customers - please collect your animal skins.

HADID: Another charity, al-Khidmat, supports seminaries and microfinancing. It pitches large tents across Pakistan. We visited one in Islamabad. Twenty bulls were tethered nearby. The group slaughters them for residents. It saves them the headache, and the charity gets the hides. They also dispatch volunteers to gather up hides in nearby neighborhoods. We followed a volunteer down an alley. Bells tied to goats tinkle as they were led away.

Shafi Ur-Rahman's a math teacher. He called al-Khidmat to pick up the hide of his sacrificial goat.

SHAFI UR-RAHMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: He says, "It's a good deed." The volunteer stashes the hide into a bag and rides away. But it's not just charities that benefit from this trade; terrorists and extremist groups also fundraise this way, even though it's illegal. My colleague Abdul Sattar and I went to a mosque. It's associated with the radical Sunni group Sipahi-Sahaba, which is responsible for deadly attacks against Shiites. The group isn't allowed to collect skins, but a mosque seminary teacher, Farouk Ahmed, sat near about a dozen they'd gathered, and he was waiting for more.

FAROUK AHMED: (Through interpreter) The government imposed some restrictions, but they haven't clearly said we can't collect hides. And people don't pay attention to these bans anyway.

HADID: Another man, Atta Ur Rahman, drives up to donate three skins.

ATTA UR RAHMAN: (Through interpreter) We brought three.

HADID: Three.

He hasn't heard of a ban, either. Pakistan is under intense international pressure to crack down on terrorist financing. An effective action against militant groups collecting hides is one way to show it's serious. Stephen Tankel is a professor at the American University. He's studied Pakistani extremist groups.

STEPHEN TANKEL: This is something that is very, very visible. This is an easy effort for them to make.

HADID: A senior Pakistani official spoke to us on condition of anonymity because this is a sensitive issue for the country. He said they are investigating groups that illegally collected hides, and they will take action. Tankel, the professor, says this is a litmus test of Pakistan's credibility.

TANKEL: If you're not prepared even to do this, then what else are you not prepared to do?

HADID: Back in that alleyway, the math teacher Shafi Ur-Rahman says he's not sure what al-Khidmat, that charity that sponsors seminaries, will do with the money they've raised from his goat skin. He's just glad it's been taken away.

SHAFI UR-RAHMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: Because, he says, he can't stand the sight of blood.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.