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Militant Groups Aid Pakistan Flood Victims

September 15, 2010 at 9:12 PM EDT
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The U.S. is said to be the leading donor in the Pakistan floods for humanitarian aid. But militant groups are also stepping up their efforts. Suzanna Koster of GlobalPost reports from a town in Punjab.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Next: an update on the Pakistan floods. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke visited a relief camp in Southern Pakistan today, highlighting U.S. relief contributions. His tour came as militant groups are also stepping into the aid effort. We get more on that now from the Punjab in Central Pakistan. The reporter is Suzanna Koster of the international Web site GlobalPost.

SUZANNA KOSTER, GlobalPost: Humanitarian efforts are in full swing on the outskirts of the town of Layyah, 250 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad. It was hit hard by the massive flooding. And dozens of relief workers have come to provide food and medicine.

But most are not from an international aid group or the Pakistani government. They are from a hard-line Islamic charity called Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation. Atta ur Rehman is a senior representative of the group.

ATTA UR REHMAN, senior representative, Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (through translator): I came two days later, but our local people started working from the first day. The first day, we didn’t have this tent. We were assessing.

SUZANNA KOSTER: On the other side of the road, the medical team gets ready.

ATTA UR REHMAN (through translator): This spot is ours. We sit here, some of us have breakfast here, and we plan and hold meetings here.

SUZANNA KOSTER: Falah has strong links to the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is blamed for the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed over 160 people. Lashkar’s charity division was called Jamaat-ud-Dawa. It was shut down by the Pakistani government, but still appears to be alive and well and operating under the banner of Rehman’s organization.

ATTA UR REHMAN (through translator): Jamaat-ud-Dawa was our main donor of our work during this disaster. It was Jamaat-ud-Dawa that gave us most of the needed material. They gave truckloads of full of rice and sugar. We got a lot of support from other people, but most of it came from Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

SUZANNA KOSTER: Rehman and his colleagues are here doing more than providing relief. They’re also preaching.

MAN (through translator): Do you know with what hand you should eat? Put up your hand. It’s your right hand. And what do you say before you start? “In the name of God.”

SUZANNA KOSTER: Falah is capitalizing on the fact that it can provide flood relief that the Pakistani government can’t. In just this area alone, more than 300,000 people were affected by the flooding in August. Many lack clean drinking water, food, and shelter. The devastation can be seen everywhere. This used to be a road through sugarcane fields.

SHABIR UL HASSAN, recently recruited volunteer (through translator): The water didn’t let us take our things. The houses started crumbling down. We quickly took our kids and a couple of animals, although we lost most of them. We saved our lives and came here.

SUZANNA KOSTER: Through their robust relief efforts, Falah has been able to buy loyalty.

MAN: These people reached at my village, and I see that these are the people, they’re working actually, really. I’m astonished by the work of these people, Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation. For this reason, I join these people.

SUZANNA KOSTER: Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani army general, says that groups like Falah and its predecessor, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, use disaster relief as a recruiting method.

TALAT MASOOD, retired pakistani army general: They have a grassroots network which operates in several parts of the country. And, so, they’re — always, actually, you find them, you know, the first ones, because the government takes much longer to respond. And, as it is, this government has never been very inefficient — efficient.

I would say that, basically, it’s the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and one or two others which have always been trying to assist or in the forefront whenever anything like this happens.

SUZANNA KOSTER: And so Rehman and his men preach on.

ATTA UR REHMAN (through translator): All misery a man meets in his life is because of his own deeds. He is responsible. God says, if you receive something good, it is mine. If you lose out, it is your own fault. Because we believe in this, we advise everyone to become good followers of God.

SUZANNA KOSTER: It is a message that is turning locals into believers.

HAMID GULACHI, former school master (through translator): We know the work of this organization Lashkar-e-Taiba for a long time. They take the pain and suffering of others as if it is their own.

SUZANNA KOSTER: Meanwhile, some three million flood victims have yet to receive aid, and international donor funds have nearly come to a standstill, according to the United Nations. To address the crisis, Pakistan’s prime minister announced he will hold an international donor conference shortly. It’s something that might help the government itself fill the aid gap, instead of terrorist-linked charity groups.