ADRIAN MORGAN: PAKISTAN TALIBAN EXPLOITS FLOOD DISASTER
Islamists Politically Exploit Pakistanâ€™s Disaster
Pakistan has been suffering recently from the effects of excessive rains. The worst flooding that the nation has ever experienced has caused a humanitarian disaster. Though the death toll has not been as high as other disasters, the devastation and forced relocation of individuals, and destruction of farmland and livestock, has created massive problems.
When UN chief Ban Ki-moon visited the country recently, he described the situation as â€œheart-wrenching. The scale and magnitude is difficult to comprehend â€“ beyond imagination.â€
Many aid agencies are providing whatever assistance they can, but some groups connected with radical Islamism are trying to exploit the disaster for their own ends.
A senior U.S. official within the State Department, speaking on the condition of anonymity, yesterday told Reuters:
â€œThere are certainly clear indications that the insurgents and affiliated groups are trying to use the flood and the relief from the flood to try to gain support for their broader effort of being able to control large parts of Pakistan.â€
Yesterday, Azam Tariq, the spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban), suggested that foreign aid workers would potential targets. He said that the United States and other nations providing relief effort were not focusing on aid problems and had other â€œintentions.â€ He did not exactly specify what those intentions were, but it would not be unnatural to assume he meant missionary activity. He warned:
â€œWhen we say something is unacceptable to us one can draw his own conclusion.â€
Maurizio Giulano, United Nations spokesman, responded:
â€œThere is a lot of work ahead and millions of people who need our assistance. e would find it inhumane for someone to target us and our work, effectively harming the millions of people whose lives we strive to save.â€
There is something self-defeating and unwholesome about this attitude, but unfortunately it is common among fundamentalist Muslim groups. On August 5 this year, eight medical aid workers from a Christian charity, along with their two interpreters were summarily â€œexecutedâ€ in Badakhshan province, Afghanistan. The Taliban who shot them through the head justified their actions by claiming that the aid workers were engaging in â€œtrying to convert Muslims to Christianity.â€ I wrote of earlier attacks upon aid workers and people accused of Christian missionary activity in Afghanistan.
The issue of a disaster should place humanitarian needs above all others, but many orthodox strands of Islam are opposed to any actions promoting religion other than Islam. In Saudi Arabia, for example, no Bibles, crucifixes or Christian religious services are allowed, and there are no churches. Saudi Arabia has a massive program of funding â€œMuslimâ€ groups, but much of the money goes to groups and mosques that promote an Islamist supremacist outlook. Foreign Muslims who have been educated in Saudi Arabian religious universities often return to their countries with appalling contempt for their fellow countrymen who are non-Muslims. Cases in point include Abdullah el-Feisal who was funded by Saudi Arabia to do missionary work in Britain, until he was jailed for calling for Hindus and Jews to be killed.
In Indonesia, after the tsunami of December 24, 2004 devastated Aceh province, aid workers were threatened, warned that they should not engage in Christian missionary activities. One of these groups is the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defendersâ€™ group) Established in August 1998, they are now active in 22 provinces. Their leader, Habib Muhammad Riziek Syihab was educated in Saudi Arabia. Many of FPI’s leaders are said to be Arabic. They have a paramilitary wing called Laskar Pembela Islam, who operate raids upon bars, cafes, pool halls, massage parlours and gaming halls. During the cartoon crisis, this group mounted attacks upon the American Embassy in Jakarta, and physically attacked the offices of the nudity-free Indonesian edition of Playboy.
The Associated Press, reported in January 2005 in Fox News that the FPI had been threatening aid workers who had arrived to help those affected by the tsunami:
Hasri Husan, a leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, a militant Muslim group that is operating a refugee camp in Banda Aceh, made his feelings clear.
“We will chase down any Christian group that does anything beyond offering aid,” he said before making a slashing motion across his throat.
The Jamestown Foundation had reported that FPI had sent 5000 people to Aceh after the tsunami. Other Islamist groups that had gone to the region were Hizb ut-Tahrir and Laskar Mujahideen (Mujahideen Army). Jamestown reported that:
On January 14 Indonesia’s most influential group of Islamic clerics [MUI or the National Council of Ulemas] warned of a widespread Muslim backlash if international aid groups indulged in Christian proselytizing or attempted to adopt orphans to raise in Christian children’s homes. However, more sinister manifestations emerged with evidence of the participation in the relief work by radical Islamist groups, known more for their militant jihadist activities than any humanitarian functions. Hopes expressed by Secretary of State Colin Powell that the rescue missions would showcase American compassion and improve the country’s image in the Muslim world well might prove to carry some weight on the broad international level, but on the ground radical Islamists demonstrated their equal interest in the disaster’s public relations potential. In Aceh, where the population has been pre-occupied until now with a political struggle, the Tsunami has offered radical Islamist groups an opportunity to establish a presence.
For Islamists, the issue of disasters becomes a battle for influence. Foreign aid workers are seen as a threat, often better equipped than the Islamist groups can be. The Islamists want to be seen by the people on the ground as being superior to the foreign â€œChristians.â€ Recently, one particular group is reported to be exploiting the flood situation to gain respect and converts. This same group has operated in similar fashion during Pakistanâ€™s last physical disaster. The group is called Jamaat ud-Dawa, which has its headquarters in Muridke, Lahore. It was founded by Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the same person who founded the terrorist group Lashkar e-Taiba. Jamaat ud-Dawa was designated as a terrorist group by the United States, but Pakistan refused to act against the group. Jamaat ud-Dawa was said to behind the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, which killed 160 people. Though the current Pakistani government said it had banned the group, it had lied. A court case showed no ban had been issued.
When Pakistan was struck by a major earthquake on October 8, 2005, with the worst devastation in Kashmir, Jamaat ud-Dawa was the first group to arrive in the area with assistance. The earthquake killed almost 80,000 people. Within days, Jamaat ud-Dawa had erected field hospitals. Javed al-Hassan was the coordinator for the groupâ€™s network of madrassas across Pakistan. He said:
â€œWe were the first to start operations here. We even treated Pakistani soldiers with first aid on the first day. Their own people could not cope.â€
In Muzaffarabad where Jamaat ud-Dawa had established a hospital, operations were run by Amer Aziz, who had formerly been Ossama bin Ladenâ€™s doctor. The London Times newspaper reported:
The group is not the only militant-linked organisation operating in the earthquake zone to come under scrutiny. Jamiaat-i-Islami [Jamaat-e-Islami], an Islamic political party with ideological links to Hamas, also runs its own relief efforts, as does the Al-Rasheed Trust, which had its US assets frozen in 2003 on the ground that it channels funds to al-Qaeda.
Now, after the floods in Pakistan, Jamaat ud-Dawa is again providing charity relief in northwestern Pakistan, even though it was designated by the UN as a terrorist organization after the Mumbai attacks. It now operates under the official name â€œFalah-e-Insaniyatâ€ but its workers make no attempt to disguise their identity as members of Jamaat ud-Dawa.
The fact that the group operates with impunity is one issue of concern. Pakistanâ€™s president Asif Ali Zardari complained when UK prime minister David Cameron said that Pakistan was an exporter of terrorism. While Pakistan allows the group to continue its activities, the second issue concerns funding. How is Jamaat ud-Dawa able to provide aid, which costs money? It is highly likely that the group gains much of its money from the Middle East. In 2006 a report by Associated Press
On April 28, 2006, the United States State Department had designated Jamaat ud-Dawa as a terrorist organization, under Executive Order 13224. It also designated Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq (IKK), an alias of the group. On May 2, 2006, Pakistanâ€™s Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam had announced that Pakistan had no inention of banning the group:
â€œWe are not required, and we do not put any entities on the terrorist lists, if action is taken under the domestic US law. However, if the UN Security Councilâ€™s sanctions committee were to designate any organisation (as a terrorist group), then it becomes a legal obligation to take action.â€
Perhaps Ali Asif Zardari should now acknowledge for real the United Nations designation of Jamaat ud-Dawa. By denying that Pakistan has a problem of terrorism, while allowing terrorist groups to thrive â€“ not to mention Pakistanâ€™s intelligence agency ISI manipulating and funding the Afghanistan Taliban â€“ that problem is not going to get resolved.
The leader of Jamaat ud-Dawa, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, has avoided trial for his activities. In September 2006, Jamaat ud-Dawa officially issued a death fatwa against Pope Benedict XVI. Five days after the Popeâ€™s Regensburg speech of September 13, 2006, a Pakistani journal called â€œAusafâ€ reported:
“Pakistan’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa has issued a Fatwa asking the Muslim community to kill Pope Benedict for his blasphemous statement about Prophet Mohammad. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa has declared death to Pope Benedict and said that in today’s world blasphemy of the Holy Koran and the Prophet has become a fashion. The leaders of the Jamaat were speaking at a Martyrs’ Islamic Conference in Karachi. Prominent Jamaat leader Hafiz Saifullah Khalid said that in the present circumstances, jehad has become obligatory for each Muslim. Muslims are being declared terrorists and our battle for survival has already started. The Muslim world has rejected the Pope’s apology and decided to continue protests and demonstrations in big cities. The Pope’s apology is just a drama and no political leader has any power to pardon him. It is part of a crusade initiated by the US in the name of terrorism. Instead of accepting fake apologies, Muslims should realise Europe’s enemity towards Islam and Muslim Ummah should prepare itself to defend its faith. Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Abdur Rahman Makki said the West and Europe have started a campaign against the Holy Koran and the Prophet and have abused jehad. We should take appropriate steps to deal with the champions of crusade. It is time for Muslim leaders to open their eyes and understand that the West had never been a friend of the Muslims and will never be so.”
While the fatwa against the Pope had been made, JuDâ€™s leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed had been under house arrest because of his activities inciting unrest during the February protests against the Danish cartoons. When he was released in October 2006, he had announced: â€œDetention and arrest cannot stop me from spreading the message of Allah.â€
It is true that when people are stricken by a disaster, they are not going to question the credentials of those giving aid. When Jamaat ud-Dawa was able to reach earthquake victims in Kashmir in 2005, it was able to do so because of its links to the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group that had an established base in Kashmir from which to attack Indian interests. But for people like Muhammad Mahboob, whose leg had been injured in the earthquake, Jamaat ud-Dawa were saviors. He said:
“If Jamaat wasn’t here we would be dead by now. Jamaat has done everything; the government hasn’t done a thing. It makes you think: what do we need them for?â€
Back in 2005, the Jamaat ud-Dawa even received United Nations funding. Jan Vandemoortele admitted that the UN had operated from camps run by the group. He said:
â€œNo, we never worked with them. We were active in the camps that were run by them. From a humanitarian perspective we did not take a position that we would leave those people aside. We knew those people needed help. We intervened but we never had any direct relationship with those groups.â€
A year after the quake, many orphans from the disaster were in madrassas run by Jamaat ud-Dawa and other groups associated with terrorism. Orphans at one madrassa were encouraged to sing:
â€œWhen people deny our faith, ask them to convert, and if they do not, destroy them utterly.â€
The problems with the current Pakistan flooding are greater than any other disaster to have afflicted the country. The government of Pakistan is corrupt and has little control of the more outlying regions.
People who wish to donate should give to known Western charities, as these will at least try to channel those resources to those who are affected by the flooding.
The Editor, Family Security Matters
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