Beginning in August 2011, monsoon rains hit large swaths of Pakistan – in Sindh, Balouchistan, and Punjab – causing devastating flooding for the second consecutive year in the country. According to recent reports, the floods have affected 8.9 million Pakistanis and destroyed 1.5 million homes in Sindh alone. Over 400 people have been killed as a result of the floods, including 107 children. Currently, about 660,000 people are living in refugee camps.
After last year’s floods, the Pakistani government was (relatively) better prepared to deal with this year’s natural disaster (see article in Dawn on improved institutional and infrastructural preparedness; also see National Disaster Management Authority response in Sindh here and here).
However, despite these improvements there remain serious deficiencies in the delivery of humanitarian aid services, which are being filled by several different types of organizations including national and international NGOs and charitable organizations. As noted in other posts on this blog, illicit charities affiliated with several of Pakistan’s violent extremist organizations have become adept at exploiting the humanitarian deficiencies of the Pakistani government as opportunities to raise funds and cultivate sympathy and support among local audiences. This year’s floods are no different.
Since the beginning of this year’s floods, Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) and Al-Rahmat Trust - charitable front organizations for Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, respectively – are using the floods as a means to raise funds and cultivate local support for their groups. Their activities on the ground have included providing emergency healthcare, food items, shelter, and trafficking individuals from flood affected-areas to safe camps. FIF in particular has been especially adept at using the internet, specifically its website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel to advertise its activities to a broader, more global target audience across Pakistan and the Pakistani Diaspora community around the world for raising funds and gaining support.
Let’s take a look at some of FIF and JeM’s online efforts.
The flyer below was posted on the FIF website and calls on Pakistanis to donate money to the efforts of FIF. In an effort to solicit support, the flyer cites a verse from the Quran that states, “He who saves one man’s life, it is as if he has saved entire humanity.” Also included on the flyer are the phone number and address of the group as well as its email address for those interested in making a donation.
The two flyers below are from JeM’s online weekly magazine al-Qalam. The first flyer provides a list of humanitarian items and their respective costs. For example, the flyer says that weekly rations for a family can be fulfilled with a donation of Rs. 1,700, beds for winter cost Rs. 2,000, new clothes are Rs. 700, and a water cooler runs Rs. 1,000. The second flyer includes similar information and indicates that the group needs five ambulances that cost Rs. 600,000 each.
The pictures below are from the FIF Facebook page and show the LeT affilate openly providing humanitarian services.
Picture 1: A FIF aid distribution camp.
Picture 2: Members of FIF collecting donations.
Picture 3: FIF shuttles people from flood-affected areas to dry land.
Picture 4: FIF camp
Picture 5: FIF medical relief camp.
Picture 6: Flood victims receive medical care from FIF ambulance.
Just over a month ago, this blog examined the Ramadan fundraising efforts of a Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) charitable front organization, Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF). At the onset of Ramadan, FIF published several new flyers on its website soliciting readers for money to fund its humanitarian efforts and to pay for the suhoor (pre-fast meal) and iftaar (breaking of the daily fast) meals for those who cannot afford them.
With the conclusion of Ramadan (Eid ul-Fitr) and reports of flash flooding in areas of Pakistan, FIF has issued yet another solicitation for financial support. In its newest flyer (copied below), the group asks its supporters to donate money for Eid ul-Fitr to flood victims and the poor so that they may also celebrate the holiday with food and new clothes. Specifically, the flyer states that with a donation of Rs. 5,000 (approximately USD 57.00) individuals can purchase an Eid Package that would pay for food and new clothes for one family in need.
The United States should work with Pakistani stakeholders to ensure that the operating environment for illicit charities, particularly those with ties to violent extremist organizations (VEOs), is minimized. This action is critical to thwarting VEOs’ ability to use charities to raise and move funds, provide logistical support, and recruit followers. Additionally, charitable abuse can undermine donor confidence and endangers the integrity of the entire charitable sector, which in a country like Pakistan provides essential services to large populations. Put simply, providing secure avenues for donating money to trustworthy charities could also increase giving within Pakistan and across the Pakistani diaspora. (Great report on Pakistani diaspora philanthropy by Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy)
Next, as mentioned in a previous blog post, shutting down organizations such as FIF is not easy, nor is it the complete answer. Shutting down FIF is not easy because ties between Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment and FIF’s “mother ship” organization LeT remain murky. Therefore a clear and verifiable severance of ties between the “establishment” and the VEO is a sine qua non. Lastly, in addition to limiting the operating environment of illicit charities, the U.S. must work with the Pakistani government, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations to ensure viable alternatives to FIF exist. These alternatives are key to filling the humanitarian void left by weak institutions, corrupt leadership, and a lack of functioning infrastructure.
With Ramadan just around the corner, over one billion Muslims around the world will turn their focus to religious reflection, fasting, and charitable donations to alleviate the suffering of the poverty-stricken and hungry. While most of these donations are intended for and received by legitimate recipients, abuse of the charitable sector remains a source of income and community support for violent extremists groups around the world.
Charity abuse is especially a problem in Pakistan, where the banned group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) – responsible for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai – continues to operate its charitable arm with little hindrance across the country. It seems that the ban has had little effect on the group other than forcing it to make multiple name changes to avoid prosecution. Known as Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), LeT’s charitable arm also operates as Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF). The U.S. State Department and Treasury have designated Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (and its aliases to include FIF) a terrorist organization.
To demonstrate the extent of the impunity with which the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation operates, you need only to navigate your web browser to the group’s website. On its website visitors will find three new flyers posted in preparation for Ramadan 2011.
The three flyers (pictured below) cover information regarding the projects that FIF plans to undertake, lists of needs, as well as how and why one can and should contribute to the group. For example, the first two flyers enumerate the services that FIF is planning such as medical centers, ambulance service, and water projects. They also list the amount of money the group needs for these projects.
Also, the first flyer encourages donors to give during Ramadan, citing hadith it states that the Prophet Muhammad was known to give generously to the needy during Ramadan. Next, specifically for Ramadan, flyer three indicates that FIF is accepting donations to pay for the suhoor (daily pre-fast meal) and iftaar (breaking of the daily fast) for those that cannot afford it. The flyer states that donors can pay for someone’s iftaar with a donation of Rs. 1,800 and a Rs. 3,000 donation can cover both iftaar and suhoor.
Lastly, all three flyers provide address, phone number, website, email address, and instructions for writing a bank draft to “Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation.”
Unfortunately, the problem is not as simple as shutting down FIF. First, there remains a lack of clarity on the relationship between Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment and LeT (and its aliases). A true severance of ties between the “establishment” and LeT (and its aliases) is a critical first step. Next, Pakistan is plagued with weak public institutions, corrupt leadership, and is crippled by a lack of functioning infrastructure. The combination of these factors severely limits the ability of the state to provide key services for much of its population, especially those in the rural areas in Pakistan’s north and northwest. For this reason, in addition to pushing for shutting down FIF, the U.S. must work with the Pakistani government, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations to ensure viable alternatives to FIF exist.