Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

The exaggerated role of violent groups in Pakistan’s relief effort

August 25, 2010


Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has once again spoken of the danger of hardline Islamists exploiting the misery of the flood-affected to promote their cause,  which must be cause for worry for security forces in not just Pakistan but over the border in Afghanistan as well, fed by the same  militant fervour. Zardari called it the ” ideal hope of the radical” that the floods would discredit Pakistan’s government and warned that some of these extremist groups aimed to scoop up orphaned children and  “create them into robots.”

Such fears, though,  didn’t stop Zardari from proceeding on a heavily criticised foreign tour just as the flooding was getting worse, even though that was exactly the sort of thing that would  fuel public anger and hand the initiative to the Islamist groups.

But quite apart from Zardari’s fulminations, the question, nearly a month into the disaster is whether the Islamists charities linked to  militant groups have really made a difference to the lives of the millions hit by the floods.  Setting up a tent here, offering food and medicines at another place are all good, but they would seem like a drop in the ocean, literally, given the scale of the devastation Pakistan is confronted with.

If Pakistan’s army, one of the few institutions in the country seen as effective, is struggling to reach aid to the people despite the assets at its command, it’s difficult to see how the Jamaat-ud Dawa, a front  of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, can supplant the state in providing assistance in a sustained manner and over such a vast stretch of territory.

On Wednesday, the head of the United States Agency for International Aid, Rajiv Shah, toured a camp which had received supplies from the Falah-e-Insaniyat, which is the  name the banned Jamaat is using to operate in the flood areas. U.S. officials said the camp was not run by the Falah e-Insaniyat but the charity had independently distributed relief supplies a few days ago.

The effect the Islamist charities may have on the overall relief effort is overstated, America’s NPR quoted Vali Nasr, a senior adviser to the U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, as saying.  The groups face the same problem of logistics as the government or other aid organisations face, and the militants don’t have the means to solve it on any significant scale. “They basically set up a tent and take pictures, but they can’t get meaningful amounts of food and supplies to the disaster areas.”

Jan Egeland, a former U.N. official who managed the international response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, agreed the benefit to violent groups has been exaggerated. For one thing, he said, disaster victims tend not to remember the providers of short-term aid.

After the tsunami and the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, he says, the U.S. military “found that they were enjoying rare moments of popularity because they performed very well. But for the U.S. military as for the violent groups, that popularity doesn’t last.”

What can make a difference, though, is long-term assistance. Whether it is the government or the militants, they can win the people’s support by helping them back on their feet, Egeland said.  The reason Hamas is strong in Gaza or the Hizbollah in Lebanon  is because of the long term social services they provide.  “If somebody gives you your daily bread, your education, your health service, then you do feel a kind of loyalty.”

Besides, the militants after a lull in the first two weeks of the floods, are back to suicide bombings in the turbulent northwest. Three bomb blasts killed 34 people on Monday in northwestern Pakistan, authorities said.

One of the attacks occurred in South Waziristan, the  tribal area along the Afghan border long regarded as a stronghold for the Pakistani Taliban. A teenage suicide bomber appeared at a mosque in the town of Wana where 200 worshipers were praying and detonated explosives strapped to his body, witnesses said. The blast killed 25 people and injured 36, hospital officials said. Among the dead was a cleric who had just finished reading verses from the Koran when the bomber came up to shake hands with him.  He then detonated the explosives strapped to his body.

Killing people while they are praying is  not the kind of thing that can win public support.


Pakistani leadership has perfected the fine art of crying wolf and west has yet to learn to see through their game. Whenever Pakistani PM and others go begging to the West, they always play on West’s fear of radical Islam. And Western leaders have never had the sense or courage of calling their bluff. The result is that for last 8 years they are spoon feeding the monster that is threatening killing and maiming their own kids. Pakistan’s reason for begging may be different this time, but their game remains the same.

Posted by Ghulab | Report as abusive

@ Ghulab

If your home is destroyed and everything you earned in your entire life goes away, I guess you are in need of help then! Looking at people who have been ravaged by the flood, it is painstaking to see how the people (dont give a damn if they are from West or East!) could write such comments. I am not talking about this blog only but also others including yahoo pulse. We’ve surely become savage beasts. May God strike some sanity in us.

Posted by Nisar | Report as abusive

I totally agree with the analysis.Maybe they were busy looking after themselves because a lot of cache of arms and maybe their money may have gone floating as well.they kill in mosques,in the streets.
The flood relief is being highly politicised and even the management of the waters was being by myopic politicians.that was the only reason for the havoc.Kot Addu and environs which were a desert, went underwater because the left bank was breached instead of letting waters go through on the right bank which was the traditional route.similarly,in sindh the river had its basin known as the kaccha.the farmers moved in during the dry period and started cultivating.some even put in orchards;then surrounded them with high embankments.this forced the water to overflow and inundate the right bank thus moving into Rojhan(homes of the Jamalis and Jacobabad..We are responsible partially for the way the destruction took place.
For the future,we should plan accordingly.

Posted by syed faisal imam | Report as abusive

Ghulab are you writing without thinking. Why should the Government get its own people killed by terrorists?

People should have sense when the write such negative letters at this critical time when Pakistan has suffered the worst flooding in its history and the poorest people have been affected.

This letter is in poor taste considering the sad occasion.

Posted by ratee | Report as abusive

I totally Agree with Ghulab, The government of Pakistan is a very clever and a good apportunist they always see apportunities in each difficulties, they don’t care about anyone but thier own pocket. They don’t care about lives of human being, as long as they receive some money they can kill anyone, including their own family and children. Look other side of the border in Afghanistan in the past 30 years millions of people got killed just for the benefit of pakistan. today millions poor and needy people are under flood and the leader was in London for his own enjoyment, the same time many other groups who are not under flood instead of helping those who are under flood they kill each other. check the news in the past one month in Karachi how many groups fought together and how many inocent were killed.


Posted by Khan | Report as abusive

Azam Tariq: “No relief is reaching the affected people, and when the victims are not receiving help, then this horde of foreigners is not acceptable to us at all,” he told The A.P. “When we say something is unacceptable to us one can draw his own conclusion.”

Yes, we are smart enough to draw our own conclusions. Here they are: The Taliban is willing to let millions die to further Taliban goals. Taliban will take hostage or kill humanitarian aid workers who truly do care about Pakistanis because it shows the Pakistani people that other people from other nations care about them – that is the opposite of the Taliban message. Taliban will accept millions of dollars of foreign aid as long as they can control the resources and flow of goods and money for their own benefit.

We understand quite clearly.

Posted by World Watchers | Report as abusive

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