VIEW: Flood jihad —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad\09\17\story_17-9-2010_pg3_4

Jihad is a profitable business in our part of the world. Like any business, there are major corporations, companies and smaller groups operating in the sector

It is said that war is good business. Floods are not bad either. The great flood of 2010, while devastating the lives and livelihoods of many, has succeeded in creating opportunities for many others. Statements, counterstatements and allegations abound. Politicians of all shades and forms are exchanging accusations about who is playing ‘flood politics’ and who is not. Pakistan’s bubbled and cocooned civil society, primarily consisting of project-focused nongovernmental organisations, is scrambling for relief and rehabilitation-related financial support. They are involved in ‘flood aid money’ generation. Members of the executive are involved in ‘flood tourism’ as they survey the areas from helicopters, visit camps and wrap Eid gifts for the flood victims themselves at considerable loss to the exchequer — these are expensive gift wrappers. The media is involved in raising their programme ratings as they parade the flood victims who make for a good story. Thus they are involved in ‘flood ratings’. The militants, being a part of our society, are not far behind. They are involved in ‘flood jihad’.

Jihad is a profitable business in our part of the world. Like any business, there are major corporations, companies and smaller groups operating in the sector. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ud-Dawa are a brand unto themselves, and major ones at that. However, there are also smaller groups that are important plugs in this network. There are some that focus more on providing logistical support to the bigger militant organisations, others focus on public relations, some on recruitment and others on making inroads into the community through development work. One such organisation is the Al-Akhtar Trust. If one surveys the relief camps, the major names that are seen unabashedly flying their flags are those belonging to the Falah-e-Insaniyat, which is the new name of the banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa. There is, of course, the Al-Khidmat Foundation, which is associated with the Jamat-e-Islami and the Islamic Relief, both of which are not militant organisations and certainly not banned.

However, when we study the operations of Falah-e-Insaniyat, it is discovered to have a large support network of its own but also makes use of the services of smaller organisations like Al-Akhtar Trust. Formed in 2000, the Karachi-based Al-Akhtar Trust had the clear and focused objective of providing financial assistance to Islamist extremists, including the Taliban, and to feed, clothe and educate the children of religious martyrs. I used the past tense because in October 2003, the Al-Akhtar Trust was banned for providing financial and logistical support to a number of militant organisations, both international and Pakistan-based. It is interesting to note that the Pakistani Taliban were banned recently but Al-Akhtar was banned three years after its formation in 2000. The banning proved to be a mere hiccup in its operations. It continued to provide logistical and financial support to al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq, local logistical support to the Pakistani Taliban and affiliated groups, as well as being involved in the Daniel Pearl murder.

Leaders of the Al-Akhtar Trust were associated with the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a militant group to which the Kashmiri jihad has been outsourced. However, when their leader Maulana Masood Azhar was placed under house arrest in 2000, in order to carry out the work, two new organisations were set up, the Al-Akhtar Trust and the Al-Khair Trust. Legal smokescreens were created initially and then reinforced after the banning of the Al-Akhtar Trust to demonstrate that these were two separate organisations with no connections to either the Jaish-e-Mohammad or each other. Therefore, it is not surprising that when I contacted the Al-Akhtar Trust on the numbers provided on their website, I was told that the trust had been banned by the US. The number was that of a house now. When probed about their activities, the response was that the Trust was not active during the flood relief activities apart from “nominal relief work”, and that too only in Ramzan. However, the Al-Khair Trust is a different story. It proudly states that, “The Trust continues its relief operation in flood-hit areas of the province by distributing more than Rs 20 million amongst 45,000 flood victims in districts Charsadda, Nowshera, Swat, and Sindh and Punjab provinces as well. It has also provided relief assistance to more than 3,000 to 5,000 on a daily basis and has distributed cooked food, other essential commodities and cash amounts amongst flood victims throughout the country.” This is a classic case of the organisation being banned but still living on.

It is also important to note that the Al-Akhtar, Al-Khair and Al-Rashid Trust, now called the Maymar Trust, were responsible for extending logistical, financial and social services to the families of al Qaeda militants when the latter fled Kandahar in 2001. Thus, while the social services system of the states of Afghanistan and Pakistan might be defunct, the militants’ social services structure is alive and well.

These organisations are still active in providing financial, logistical, social services to the militant organisations active in flood relief work. Development aid is a tool that they use extensively to penetrate, influence and recruit the local population. Presently, the flood victims are in dire straits and in need of every morsel that they can find. However, it is also important to appreciate that, in addition to these challenges, they are also vulnerable at the hands of these militant groups.

We cannot lay everything at the government’s door. It is rather simplistic to state that the government should pursue these groups. We need to support this endeavour not by creating peace lashkars or jirgas but by providing local information to governmental agencies. In addition to this, we, as people, aid groups, politicians and the media, need to stop enchasing the flood catastrophe for our own corporate ends and actually help the flood victims. Our silence and inactiveness serve as windows of opportunity for the militants and their aid groups. We cannot afford armchair activism, flood politics and flood tourism, as the consequences are deadly.

The writer is an Islamabad-based consultant. She can be reached at

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