Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fear of 'Islamist" charities may hinder aid to Pakistan

Here is the second of our View from Fez special reports from on the ground in Pakistan.

"Aid going to terrorist-funded camps." Variations on this headline have been appearing around the world; a majority of them head stories written by "experts" miles from the scene. However, the one quoted was attached to a story written by respected Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist, Sally Sara. Sara is in Pakistan and been covering the floods with energy and expertise.

Her report went on...
Australian aid to Pakistani flood victims is being distributed at a camp funded by a banned Pakistani terrorist organisation.   The outlawed welfare group Jamaat-ud-Dawa was linked to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and has been blacklisted by the US, Pakistan and the United Nations.

But the UN World Food Program (WFP) is distributing aid, including containers of cooking oil donated by Australia, at a camp which receives funding from Jamaat-ud-Dawa.
WFP spokeswoman Frances Kennedy says the UN is careful when it chooses its Pakistani partners.

At the foot of the story the ABC asked its audience "Do stories like this make you less likely to donate to Pakistani flood victims?" Thankfully, a majority of respondents rejected the premiss of the question. However, the question does require a response.

Here in Pakistan the debate about Islamist charities is a very hot topic. The general consensus is that, given the magnitude of the disaster, any and every bit of help is welcome. Professor Mohammad Ibraheem Khan from Jamaat-e-Islami, states that the Islamic charities have been the most effective in all three stages of rescue, relief and rehabilitation. He pointed to the work of Al-Khidmat. This Islamic group has been active in 15 districts and to date they have rescued 46,907 people. The group has over 10,000 volunteers who have set up 45 relief camps and 6 residential camps. If even a fraction of these numbers are accurate, it is not an effort that can be ignored.

FIF officials at the camp in Sukkur (ABC TV)

Much has been made in the international media about FIF (Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation) who are connected with the Islamist group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (the charity wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba). Their 3000 volunteers have been on the ground since day one of the flooding and provided cooked food and other relief for around 100,000 people. They are also responsible for setting up toilet facilities for women living in makeshift tents along roadways.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa banner openly displayed in Rawalpindi yesterday

While it is true that Pakistan has a series of security problems, the scale of this disaster demands every bit of assistance. And it appears on the ground that with such intense work, the groups are too busy providing aid to indulge in spreading their religious and political messages. What happens in the coming months may be a different matter. But if we hesitate in giving aid now because concerns over Islamist charities, the death toll while be far higher than any insurgency might create.

More reports from The View from Fez in Pakistan will follow in coming days.

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