Saturday, 17 September 2011
Islamist organisations are exploiting the devastating floods to hit Pakistan using relief efforts to build support and win converts in Hindu-dominated areas.

Western aid groups say the floods, which have so far killed 230 people and destroyed or damaged 1.2 million houses, are at least as intense as those that caused a major humanitarian crisis last year although not as widespread.

Record rainfall in Sindh has overwhelmed defences, flooding almost 5 million acres, most of it for the second year running. But although the crisis has been growing for the last month Pakistan’s Government only allowed foreign aid workers to start operations this week. Until now, the only help available to many victims was supplied by Islamic charities, some with links to extremist jihadist groups.

“We were the first to come here to help people on August 15, 2011 after the heavy rains hit the area” Yahya Mujahid, a spokesman for Jammat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which is affiliated to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) a terrorist outfit, told The Times.

He said the organisation had been operating a relief motorboat service which had rescued more than 12,000 people and their cattle as well as feeding and providing medical services to thousands more.

More than 80 per cent of total Hindu population in Pakistan lives in five districts of lower Sindh, all of which were badly hit by the floods. Islamist organisations deny reports of forced conversions.

Aijazullah Khan, of Al Khidmat Foundation Pakistan, the humanitarian wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, said his organisation, which has no links to violent jihadis, was concentrating on helping the victims. “There are certain cities in lower Sindh where one will hardly find a Muslim. We need to spread the message of our religion there but at present we are focusing only on relief work,” he said.

Others insist that the groups are exploiting the victims’ desperation, however. “Extremist organisations were already forcefully converting Hindus in these areas. Natural calamities always provide them a window of opportunity to expand their influence and accelerate their mission,” said Zulfiqar Halepoto, who works with a Sindh-based think-tank.

“If they are so concerned about humanity, they should help people through government. On the one hand they are trying to show their human face while on the other they are building their influence in Hindu majority areas” said Dr Govind Ram, General Secretary of the Pakistan Hindu Foundation.

Traditional Sindhi culture is more religiously tolerant than other parts of Pakistan. “Perhaps this culture will be destroyed as more and more religious fanatic organisations are busy in building their influence in these areas in the guise of relief operations” said Ali Akbar Rahimoon, an activist based at flood-hit Badin district in Sindh.

He said that the Hindu minority could not refuse to accept the relief items from fanatic religious organisations as the Government has nothing. “When their children are dying, how can we refuse relief goods on the basis of who is giving them?” said Mr Rahimoon.

Hufeez Tunio, a journalist in the flood-hit areas, said he had seen more activists of Islamic relief organsiations than other NGOs and even government officials. “Some of them have been focusing more on Hindu-majority areas,” he said.

Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, cancelled a visit to New York and will tour the affected area in the province of Sindh tomorrow. But his visit coincides with that of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the chief of JuD.


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