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Floods Opening The Floodgates For Pakistan’s Extremists- By Daud Khattak

Nowshehra

Devastating flooding in northwestern Pakistan has now taken more than 1,400 lives and a left about 1 million people homeless. Although the government has announced it is stepping up relief efforts, it has been widely criticized for its slow and poorly coordinated response.

The perceived failure of the government has opened new vistas for pro-Taliban religio-political parties and outlawed militant organizations to win the hearts and minds of locals in this war-weary region.

The current catastrophe marks the third time since late 2005 that jihadist and pro-Taliban elements in Pakistan have been able to cash in on natural or man made disasters to broaden their base of support and win the sympathy of the public by extending support to battered people.

On October 8, 2005, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Despite a major international relief effort worth billions of dollars, certain religious and jihadist organizations also moved into the affected areas to offer aid.

In April-May 2009, the Pakistani security forces launched the massive Operation Rah-e Raast to dislodge militants from the Swat region. Hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted from their homes and forced to endure sweltering heat in tent cities while waiting for the government to provide them with proper shelter and reliable food supplies. Religious and pro-Taliban groups took the lead by distributing prepared meals door-to-door and providing free health care, drinking water, and shelters.

A Gift To The Islamists

The current deluge has submerged whole villages and towns, once again providing an opportunity for religious extremists and jihadist outfits to get the jump on the authorities by extending a helping hand to people in dire need.

The vast majority of locals had earlier distanced themselves from those elements because of their violent tactics, including bombings, targeted killings, and suicide blasts that killed and maimed many bystanders in the name of Islam. In February 2008, a six-party religious coalition called Muttahidda Majlis-e Amal ran under the banner of Islam in general elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, but was defeated by secular rivals the Awami National Party and the Pakistan People’s Party.

Known for their “street power” in the perplexing Pakistani political arena, the religious parties could not organize a single major political gathering, despite the failure of the secular parties’ government to consistently provide basic services, including health care and education.

However, the current flooding — to which the secular government failed to respond with sufficient urgency — has once again enabled the religious parties and their welfare wings to reach out to the masses and win their sympathies. Prominent among the religious organizations active in the disaster zone are the Al-Khidmat Foundation (welfare wing of the hard-line Jamaat-e Islami party) and the Falah-e Insaniyat (a group believed to be a renamed version of the banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa of jihadist leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who previously headed the banned Lashkar-e Taiba).

These organizations have already established camps in flood-hit areas in Nowshera, Charsadda, and Peshawar, as well as in the Swat region. In addition, they are actively soliciting donations to support their work from across the country, thus creating the impression nationally that they are more concerned about flood victims than the government is.

Boots On The Ground

The provincial government has been appealing desperately for assistance from the national government and the international community, but few promises of assistance have been forthcoming. The United States, the United Kingdom, and China are the only countries that have pledged financial assistance so far.

In what was widely seen as an act of desperation, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government suspended the province’s annual development plan on August 3 and diverted 60 billion rupees ($700 million) from it to the flood-relief effort.

Nonetheless, the impression on the ground is that the religious charities are more active, both in terms of actual services to victims and of public relations. They seem well on their way to using the crisis to regain much of the support they lost in 2008 and 2009.

At a news conference in Peshawar on August 2, the deputy head of Jamaat-e Islami, Sirajul Haq, promoted his party’s relief effort and said he believed the local government had failed in its obligation to help the flood-ravaged region.

Haq’s party generally hesitates to condemn terrorist attacks in Pakistan or abroad and is believed to be sympathetic to the Taliban struggle against NATO forces in Afghanistan. Because of these stands, the party had lost the support of many Pakistanis, particularly Pashtuns. But that could be changing now.

Daud Khattak is a broadcaster with RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal.

Source: Radio Free Europe

About the author

Ali Arqam

4 Comments

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  • Its becuz your el-presidente is busy vacationing in europe that the extremists are filling the void. you first neglect pakistani people, and when someone else comes to help, you make complains. you naughty naughty boy!

  • I agree with Mr. Daud Khattak and would like to repost the comment i posted a few days back.
    aley says:
    August 4, 2010 at 3:26 am
    http://criticalppp.com/archives/20796
    Natural Disasters and the Terrorist Connection: Government needs to be on the watch!
    The recent floods in Pakistan have resulted in a colossal loss of life and property and require the government to go an extra mile for the rehabilitation of the victims. Yet a very important aspect which needs attention from media as well as the government is the terrorist connection. This may sound unusual but the militant organisations, terror groups and fundamentalist groups like Jamaat-e-Islami, LeT, Jamaat e Dawah, LeJ, etc. have thrived in multiple ways in times of calamity and disasters.
    These organisations use multiple covert and overt means to exploit the times of human misery and distress caused by natural disasters for their own benefits. This calls for an extra vigilance from the state as well as the media. As the state functionaries as well as most of the people are involved in responding to the calamity these scourge of the land have an ample opportunity to operate freely.
    Foremost of these activities is the establishment of Fund Raising camps all around the country in every street and every town as well as in other countries where the Pakistani community is present by their clandestine operatives. The irony is that most of the people who even don’t subscribe to the views and activities of such groups are ensnared just for the sake of helping the victims of disasters. There is no check on such activities and nobody knows from where they crop up, one fine morning you will see the camps appearing in your nearby markets and streets and after some days these are gone. The receipts provided in lieu of cash/kind are spurious too. And how these collected funds and goods are used is anyone’s guess. In the disaster areas the most heinous activity by these groups is enlisting, with consent or coercion, of the stranded, abandoned and poor. Moreover the kidnappings of children for being trained were also widely reported in case of EQ 2005. So is the case in recovery and relief which provides them ample opportunity for propagation of their ideologies as well as recruitment of unemployed and distressed. The welfare faces of these bandits also provide them a perfect disguise for monitoring and conducting surveys of their potential victims and targets.

    This connection becomes of particular importance in the present context of actively operating religio-political terrorist outfits in civilian areas in Pakistan. As in the times of disaster most of the state agencies have more attention to provide relief and rehabilitation of the victims and this lax environment provides sectarian/terrorist outfits an additional opportunity to make good of the misery of people.
    Besides other things this scenario underscores the failure of state as well as the political parties to provide means for the citizens to be part of the response as well as recovery and rehabilitation effort. And as such events gain attention and sympathy of all and sundry these are also used to gain political weightage by the marginal political groups. Pakistan Peoples Party is the only party with national presence and it’s really sad to see that in such times we fail to see its cadres work. This provides a big time opportunity to the minions to act big as well as to use the situation for their ulterior motives.
    So to make people aware of nature and dynamics of such actions of these groups should atleast be a part of LUBP’s efforts for flood victims.
    With Best Regards,
    aley

  • @ aliarqam
    Thanks for posting it as a separate post, i appreciate it but feel it was just a comment only meant to highlight an aspect of Disasters and has been rewarded more than that.