Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Pakistan’s floods are now considered to be more damaging than the massive earthquake that devastated its part of Kashmir in 2005, not least because of the inability of the administration to respond quickly to the crisis. Pakistan is not alone in the region ill-prepared to cope with natural disasters. Bigger, richer India is just as unable to either eliminate or limit the destruction that its bountiful rivers unleash each monsoon, and you hear the same chorus of criticism of government apathy. Bangladesh, too, gets more than its share of cyclones and floods each season, and yet successive governments are overwhelmed each time disaster strikes.
But the one difference in Pakistan is that Islamist charities, some believed linked to militant groups, are ready to step into the breach. And that is worrying a lot of people, as the flood waters sweep over Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, the province in northwest Pakistan which has been the main battleground in the fight against militants, down to the heartland province of Punjab and into Sindh.
The concerns centre on Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity arm of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the banned Pakistani militant group blamed for the 2008 attacks on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed. The Jamaat, which was banned by the U.N. Security Council last December, is working with Fatah-i-Insani Foundation, which is also suspectedof links to extremists, setting up relief camps and sending medical camps to the flooded northwest. It had also organised medical ambulances for emergency treatment, survivors said.
While foreign and government officials debate the security risks from venturing into the troubled northwest, the Islamists groups have penetrated even remote villages with ease, they said. As our correspondents report, they may not bring huge resources to bear, but they establish a presence in the affected areas, often setting up a canvas awning beside a road, with a banner appealing for donations and table covered with bottles and jars of basic medicine. At one village near the swollen Indus in Punjab province, our reporters saw workers of the Jamaat preparing food in huge pots over a smoky fire while four burqa-clad women sat at a charity medical post.