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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2737

Charity with a cause from Pakistan

By James Douglous Crickkton
London, 20 May (Asiantribune.com):

On Wednesday, Nov 25, 2010, the United States added Pakistan's Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) to its official list of blacklisted terror organisations. “The move shows the United States will not tolerate any support to this organisation”, Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's coordinator for counter-terrorism said in a statement. He dubbed FIF as an ‘alias’ of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), which is already on the State Department's list of “designated foreign terrorist organisations”.

FIF was year old by then. Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) leadership had established FIF as a charitable organisation after UN added JuD to its list of proscribed terror groups.

JuD took shape in 1985. Hafeez Saeed, who today carries a $10 million US bounty started it mainly to promote Ahl-e-Hadith version of Islam. JuD transformed itself into a much larger preaching enterprise, Markaz-ud Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI) in 1986 following the decision of Zaki-ur Rehman Lakvi –led group of anti- Soviet jihadis to merge with it.

Lakvi had seen action by then in Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq and South-east Asia, and was an established name in Islamist militancy. It is this expertise that made the MDI to setup Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to exclusively focus on jihad. But in practice, there is no firewall between the two, since, ‘in Islam, religious preaching (dawa) and jihad are inseparable and are equally important’, according to Hafeez Saeed. And the State Department used the same logic to hit at the FIF, after declaring LeT as a dreaded terrorist organisation.

“LeT has attempted to use FeF as a way to evade scrutiny. This designation will help put to an end to that attempted evasion,” Benjamin said.

Hafiz Abdur Rauf, who heads FIF and two others associated with LeT, namely, Mian Abdullah and Mohammad Naushad Alam Khan have been added to the US list of “specially designated global terrorists”. Rauf has graduated to FIF from LeT where he worked since 1999, and headed LeT’s charity wing, Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq (IKK).

It is natural to ask: Did the ban on FIF, LeT or JuD prove effective? The short answer is no. And to the question, why, the long answer is that the obscurantist narrative of the Pakistani state, has legitimatised the jihadi groups as tools of state policy.

Neither LeT nor Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), is cut in the mode of Pakistani Taliban, which is determined to punish the State for joining the US-led War on Terrorism after 9/11. Hafeez Saeed and JeM’s Maulana Masood Azhar are strongly opposed to rebellion against the Pakistani state.

For both the primary goal is liberation of the people of Kashmir from “Indian oppression” and establishment of an Islamic state in the region through Ghazwa-i-Hind — a grand war against India. The survival of LeT in different forms proves this beyond an iota of doubt. So does the continued ISI patronage of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), which also has its own incarnations.

Take the FIF. It today boasts of a countrywide network from Gilgit-Baltistan in the North that is close to China’s restive Uighur Muslim region to the impoverished Tharparkar District in the desert region of Sindh on the borders with Rajasthan and Gujarat provinces of India.

What took FIF to the Gilgit were earthquake (2002) and floods (2012). And to Tharparkar and adjoining region are floods (2010 & 2011) and drought (2015 & 2016). Where the lethargic government machinery has failed, the energetic FIF teams imbued with missionary zeal provided succour to the victims of natural calamities. They provided food and shelter to nearly two million flood-affected people.

In drought hit Sindh, FIF volunteers have been digging wells and installing hand pumps by the dozen to quench the locals thirst. Three lakh food packets were distributed and about two lakh people were treated in 300 medical camps. They have been paying attention to educational needs of children, and religious needs of elders alike.

FIF is helping the poor and marginalised sections of Hindu minority with economic incentives. It is scoring brownie points by facilitating admission of Hindu children into Madrasas without converting them to Islam. In fact, it is opening new seminaries for the purpose.

Hafeez Saeed was at his eloquent best while touring Badin in Lower Sindh during early May. The new seminaries, he said, are for the poverty stricken people’s benefit, and added that these are for neither converting people nor promoting extremism.

To drive home his point to his largely Hindu audience, he declared that it is Muslims’ responsibility to safeguard holy places of their Hindus brethren. “We will not allow destruction of temples and other holy places of non-Muslims in the country,” he warned.

Devil reading the scripture, one may say but the statement, as also the FIF’s humanitarian and relief activity provides a perfect alibi to spread the core ideology, which is rabid Salafism.

Gilgit is home to minority Shias, while the Sindh has been the cradle of Sufism, which lays stress on love and devotion to experience the Truth.

LeT/JuD brand of Salafism is attracting huge funds from the Middle East and Saudi donors. Another off-shoot of the government patronised service to humanity is rapid Punjabisation of the Pakistan. FIF is essentially Punjab-centric outfit, and has become an extension of Punjab dominated civil bureaucracy, and the Armed Forces.

Increasing acceptance at home has enabled FIF to spread its wings abroad – Middle East to South-east Asia and Africa.

FIF made its first overseas foray into strife-torn Syria in 2014. Its volunteers distributed winter items particularly in the worst-hit Norther Syrian province. They moved into the Gaza Strip during Ramadan and presented gifts among the locals, who were surprised by the munificence of Pakistanis, since the TV screens have been projecting Pakistan as a land of fanatics steeped in abject poverty and ignorance of Three Rs.

Of late FIF’s focus has shifted to Syria-Turkey border. It is providing shelter to Syrian refugees in coordination with Turkey based NGOs. Likewise in Indonesia and other parts of south-east Asia, it is partnering with local and international NGOs since last year. It has provided shelter homes in North Aceh to Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, who have become refugees. It also made forays into strife torn Afghanistan and earth quake devastated (2015) Nepal.

It is difficult not to see a pattern in FIF’s transnational humanitarian service. It fits in with the JuD/LeT’s jihadist activities in the Philippines, India, Chechnya, Bosnia and beyond.

By all means this is a well-crafted strategy to give an image maker to the parent body – JuD. It banks heavily on social media. One to achieve a global foot-print backed by a pan-Islamic vision of jihad. Two to attract more funds and cadres.

From the beginning of this year, JuD is making its presence in the cyber world with a young team adeptly juggling their cameras, laptops, and smart phones. Styled as Cyber Team, these skilled techies are very much in attendance at all JuD rallies and functions providing live stream and live tweets.

Hafeez Saeed offers a ready justification for LeT becoming Net savvy. “Social media has permeated people’s lives and is being used for psychological warfare against Pakistan, as well as by organisations such as Daesh, for recruitment in the country,” he was quoted as saying in Dawn on Feb 19, 2016. “It is our responsibility to counter threats of sectarianism and the negative portrayal of Islam, even by Muslim groups.”

Well, this is yet another service to the cause dear to the permanent establishment of Pakistan. JuD’s web presence is bilingual, where it discusses issues such as whether or not JuD is banned in Pakistan.

In his seminal work on LeT, “Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Toiba”, (published jointly by Hurst & Co. and Columbia University Press), American Professor, Stephen Tankel, cites several instance to drive home his case that JuD/LeT has close ties with al Qaeda.

Abu Zubaydah, an al Qaeda operative was captured in March 2002 from a JuD safe house in Faisalabad. He was a recruiter for both groups. LeT’s operational chief, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakvi, is said to be a brother-in-law of a bin Laden lieutenant, Abdur Rehman al-Sareehi.

This narrative answers the question: how Osama bin Laden got a secure place to live in Abbottabad undetected by the preying eyes in the sky till May 2011.

LeT - al Qaeda axis and Osama’s safe haven had the blessings of the establishment. LeT’s Mumbai mayhem too had the official clearance, going by Hussain Haqqani’s new book - India vs. Pakistan. “Log hamarey thhe, operation hamara nahin thha” (Our people did it but the ops was not ours), Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence at the time of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was quoted as telling the author in the book.

Put simply, there is a convergence of ideology and goals between the army, which has made jihad a state policy for bleeding India, and the LeT in all its incarnations. It is this convergence that has given a free run to FIF humanitarian campaign in the Sindh, and thereby has enabled it to explore new infiltration routes into India. No surprise therefore JuD has been helping the Army’s cause of sabotaging any effort initiated by the political executive for a turnaround in Pakistan’s ties with India.

-Asian Tribune-

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