Quake Aid and Lashkar Politics. By Yoginder Sikand


According to news reports, militant Islamist groups, most notably the deadly Lashkar-i Tayyeba, are playing a major role in providing relief to thousands of survivors of the deadly earthquake that struck Kashmir and parts of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province last month. It is feared that this new role adopted by these groups might provide them with new sources of recruitment and funding for their ultimate jihadist agenda. So it seems from the claims being made in the online magazine Ghazwah (www.jamatuddawa.org), the official organ of the Jama‘at ud-Dawa (JuD), the parent body of the Lashkar, the new avatar of the Markaz Da’wat wa’l-Irshad that changed its name soon after the events of 11 September 2001 fearing international repression for its consistent support to Osama bin Laden.
If the Ghazwah is to be believed, no other organisation, government or other, is so heavily and seriously involved in the ongoing relief efforts in the quake-devastated parts of Pakistan and Pakistani-administered Kashmir as the JuD. Page after page in every recent issue of the magazine extols the relief activities that the JuD claims its workers are engaged in, braving the stiffest odds. These descriptions are carefully calculated to press the claim that the JuD is the single most effective and dedicated organisation working for the survivors of the quake, surpassing even the Pakistani Army and the Pakistani state. As Hafiz Abdur Rehman Makki, JuD deputy head, boasts, the JuD ‘alone could undertake the entire relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation work’ in Pakistan. He makes so bold as to ask the Pakistani government to ‘hand over the charge of relief work’ to his outfit. That much of this talk is sheer propaganda is undeniable, but it reflects the urge of the JuD to present itself as the only viable alternative to the Pakistani state, which, the Ghazwah seems to suggest, has paled into insignificance in the face of the JuD’s ‘relief jihad’. Presumably, therefore, to readers of the Ghazwah it would appear that the JuD ought to take over the reigns of power in Pakistan, especially because the present rulers of the country, so the magazine claims, have fallen into the ‘trap of anti-Islamic forces’.

The quake has provided the JuD with an opportunity to try to shed its image as a terrorist outfit and to replace it with a more benign visage, as being seriously committed to what it defines as the ‘Muslim cause’. Presenting itself as a humanitarian agency in order to garner funds and support, the JuD now claims, as several articles in recent issues of the Ghazwah announce, that it is not the political wing of the Lashkar-i Tayyeba, that it is a ‘purely a religious and welfare organization’, and, as JuD head hafiz Muhammad Saeed piously proclaims, that it ‘has never engaged in extremism’. As ‘proof’ of this claim the Ghazwah cites the numerous schools and hospitals that the JuD runs, to which it adds the ongoing quake-relief work that it is said to be engaged in on a war-footing.

The sheer hypocrisy of the claim is reflected in the numerous other articles in the magazine that extol the Lashkar’s ongoing jihadist activities in Kashmir and Pakistan and that exhort Muslims to launch armed jihad against a host of what are described as ‘anti-Islamic disbelievers’, who are said to have ‘made life unbearable for Muslims’. It appears, however, that the JuD’s farcical denial of having anything to do with the Lashkar has had some impact, enabling it to rope in some notable international organisations to help it in its relief efforts in the quake-affected regions, thus providing it with the respectability and legitimacy that it so desperately craves as well as much-needed resources. Thus, the Ghazwah proudly announces that the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Food Program, the UN Organization for Refugees and the Sikh welfare organization Khalsa Aid, among other foreign groups, are helping the JuD in its relief operations. It claims that ‘These international agencies were very impressed with the strong, well-linked and organized network’ of the JuD and, accordingly, ‘provided huge relief [sic.] goods to it’.
That the quake and the suffering of the tens of thousands of people devastated by it are being used by groups such as the JUD to promote their own political agenda in Kashmir and Pakistan is obvious. As the JuD views it, the quake is a divine punishment meted upon Muslims for allegedly straying from the path of Islam. It is ‘the result of the rulers’ sinful policies’, Hafiz Saeed announces. Presumably, the Hafiz suggests that Pakistan’s ‘sinful rulers’ need to be replaced by pious believers like himself. Analysts who believe that in the wake of the killer quake that also destroyed several militant training centres in Pakistani-administered Kashmir radical Pakistani Islamists might soften their hardline stance might well be mistaken. In fact, as various articles in the Ghazwah indicate, the quake has come as additional fodder for the JuD for its campaign for establishing what it calls an Islamic state in Pakistan. This, the Ghazwah claims, is the only way to avert any such mishaps as the recent devastating earthquake in the future. JuD leaders insist that for Muslims to win’s God’s pleasure and to avoid similar disasters is to rally behind the JuD and its agenda of establishing what it calls an Islamic state. As an immediate task, they declare, Pakistani Muslims must struggle to establish such a state in their country. But that alone will not suffice, they say. Rather, they argue, if Muslims are to be spared similar natural and other disasters in future they must now immerse themselves in a global jihad. As Hafiz Makki insists, ‘The Muslims’ glory was in jihad. As long as they dedicated money and sons for jihad, they ruled the world. They were trapped in the quagmire of humiliation when they abandoned jihad’. One reason for God having engineered the quake, he argues, is that the Pakistani state has, under pressure from ‘enemies of Islam’, abandoned its support for jihad. Hence, he stresses, the jihadist agenda must be revived. Likewise, Hafiz Saeed announces, ‘We can rise again. We can rule the world again. I give you a simple recipe. Donate money and sons for jihad and your glorious days will return. The entire world will be under your control. Bush and Blair will become your slaves and lick your boots’.

Curiously enough, despite its shrill anti-American rhetoricâ€"the JuD confesses to passionately support Osama bin Laden and is known to have called for armed jihad against Americaâ€"the JuD has been willing to work with American and other Western relief agencies in the quake-affected areas. The Ghazwah speaks of American soldiers visiting JuD relief camps, and of American agencies providing them what it describes as large amounts of relief material and using their boats to cross rivers, citing this as an indication that the Americans and others have allegedly realised that the JuD is the ‘most efficient and organised’ group active in the ongoing relief efforts. ‘Europe and America were shocked when they saw jihadis, whom they branded as terrorists, and whose only work, they claimed, was to spread terror, being so active in the relief work. This has shown has that the jihadis have been and are dedicated to establishing peace, sharing in the misery of humanity and helping the oppressed’, the Ghazwah argues.

The JuD’s willingness to cooperate with American organisations in Pakistan in relief work does not appear to represent any shift in its fierce opposition to the USA, which it is has consistently described as the key player in what it calls the grand ‘Crusader-Zionist Alliance’ against Islam. It appears, rather, as simply a pragmatic strategy, on the part of these organisations and the JuD, given the ground realities. It is also no novel development, given the history of close cooperation between the Americans and various right-wing Islamist groups in the past, particularly during the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. At the same time, however, JuD spokesmen maintain a different public image for their audience, whom they have fed on a steady diet of hatred for all non-Muslims, particularly Westerners, and especially Americans. Urging the rulers to reject the aid being provided by the international community and secular NGOs while at the same time conveniently ignoring the fact that the JuD now claims to be working with several of these organisations in providing relief, JuD leader Makki appeals to Muslims thus: ‘Remember brothers, by accepting their aid, you will lose your honour. You will become their slaves. They will ask you to follow their evil agenda. The UN, the US, and the EU are not the friends of humanity. They are the worst enemies of the Muslims. You should seek help from Allah only’. Several articles in the Ghazwah also lament the pathetic amount of aid actually given by the Americans to Pakistan and claim that in the name of providing aid to survivors of the quake American forces are actually scouring the country for Osama bin Laden and other anti-American mujahidin, thus ‘proving that America is not our real friend’.

While the JuD thus appears to be willing to work with American and other Western organisations for providing relief in the quake-hit areas despite castigating them as ‘anti-Islamic’ and ill-intentioned, it continues to fiercely oppose any effort or offer by India to help out in the relief work. This is hardly surprising as allowing India this would obviously bring into question the image, so sedulously cultivated by the JuD and other radical Islamist groups in Pakistan, of India or Hindus allegedly being, by very definition, ‘anti-Islam’ and ‘anti-Muslim’. This image is so central to their hate-filled propaganda, and, indeed, to their very existence, that any move, no matter how well-intentioned, that might appear contrary to it threatens to seriously undermine their very basis as well as the legitimacy and justification of what they bless as their jihad in Kashmir.

Accordingly, even the opening of certain points along the Line of Control to enable relief to reach hitherto inaccessible villages has been denounced by the JuD as a nefarious Indian ploy to ‘send spies into Pakistan’ and to ‘spread anti-Pakistani propaganda’. The fact that the Indian Army and some Indian NGOs as well as the Indian state have provided some relief in the parts of Indian-administered Kashmir affected by the quake is totally denied in the Ghazwah, which quotes Hameed Gul, former head of Pakistan’s dreaded secret services agency ISI as saying that ‘In Indian-occupied Kashmir India has done no relief work at all, whereas Pakistanis have responded to the crisis with open hearts. This proves that India has no interest in Occupied Kashmir and that Azad Kashmir resides in the hearts of Pakistanis and is part of Pakistan’.

Accordingly, there has been no reduction at all in the JuD’s anti-India rhetoric, as is evident from the pages of the Ghazwah, which insists that ‘No government [in Pakistan] can survive for even a day if it reneges on Kashmir, for the quake has proved that the Pakistani nation has realised that it cannot live without Kashmir’. It stresses that what it calls the jihad in Kashmir against the Indians must continue. Hopes of a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan in the wake of the quake and the opening of crossing points along the Line of Control thus appear premature in the face of the relentless anti-India rhetoric of the JuD, which, presumably, most other radical Islamist groups in Pakistan also continue to echo.

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