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.
Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), which translates to “Army of Muhammad,” is a violent extremist group based in Pakistan and founded by the infamous Masood Azhar in 2000. The U.S. added JeM to its foreign terrorist organization list back in 2001 and Azhar was designated in late 2010. Azhar has made a long career targeting the United States and India. In a public speech in Karachi in 2000 he said, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India.” Like many of its peer groups in Pakistan, JeM has shifted its focus from the Kashmiri insurgency to Afghanistan. In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department noted that, “JeM recruitment posters in Pakistan contained a call from Azhar for volunteers to join the fight in Afghanistan against Western forces.” JeM openly continues its activities – Azhar himself has been arrested and released multiple times by Pakistani authorities – part of which include a weekly, Urdu-language online publication, al-Qalam. (For more analysis on past issues and articles of al-Qalam check out Jihadica)
In the last week’s issue of al-Qalam, contributor Talha al-Saif wrote an article advising the magazine’s readers on acceptable behavior during the month of Ramadan. The article is divided into several subsections. I highlighted some of the more interesting passages below (NOTE: They are not word-for-word translations. They are summaries that touch on the points I found most interesting).
Summary of the Article
The article begins with a brief introduction that uses poetic language to describe Ramadan with several of the repeated themes throughout the article. These include descriptions of Ramadan as the month of the Quran, the Battle of Badr, jihad, and fasting.
“Save Yourself from the Wrong Jump”
Satan is man’s enemy and tries to lead him astray. The true meaning of Ramadan is sacrifice, for example eating less, drinking less, and performing jihad. Satan on the other hand has taught people that the meaning of Ramadan is eating, drinking, and sleeping in excess.
“Habits Recommended to Increase”
This section says that Ramadan is a very valuable month and that individuals should maximize time spent performing acts of worship. These acts include:
- Prayers – To include required prayers and the taraweeh (extra evening prayers performed only during Ramadan)
- Talawat – Recitation of the Quran
- Sadaqat – Charitable Donations. Individuals should donate food/iftaar materials to those who are fighting [e.g. mujahidin] the enemies of Islam head-on.
- Jihad – Ramadan is the month of jihad. The Battle of Badr was fought in this month and therefore one should remember it. Sacrificing life and money. Invitation to jihad.
- Reflecting Upon the Hereafter – We will not remain in this world. The true life is life in the hereafter.
“Habits Recommended to Eliminate”
- Television – Absolutely no television. Neither news, nor anything else.
- “Places of sin” – Stay away from places where there are immoral conversations such as lies and backbiting.
Last 10 Days of Ramadan
Last 10 days of Ramadan are quite valuable. New clothes are not necessary for Eid al-Fitr. Also, the happiness of Eid can be fulfilled even without a new pair of shoes. One should not waste the last 10 days of Ramadan in bazaars. One should not let the last 10 days of Ramadan go to waste, as it is possible that this Ramadan is our last.
“Beware of Iftaar Parties”
Iftaar parties are a wasteful act in which there is gluttony and useless conversation. One should not host such parties, nor go to them. If there is a religious gathering you should attend it. Also, one should send food for Iftaar and dinner to the poor, religious scholars, and the mujahidin.
In al-Saif’s article many of the recommendations (such as increased prayer and reflection and the heightened importance of the last ten days of Ramadan) are standard practice for Muslims during Ramadan and some others are not so standard (including the ban on all television watching and the warning against attending or hosting Iftaar parties). What is most interesting, however, is JeM’s attempt to capitalize on Ramadan as an opportunity to gain recruits and generate support for its mission. This is done in two ways: direct solicitation and generation of sympathy using religious imagery. First, the article directly tells its readers that Ramadan is a month of sacrifice and jihad, and that sacrifice can include the donation of money and food to those individuals fighting the enemies of Islam head-on. Next, the author’s multiple references to the Battle of Badr are important as they highlight a critical battle in Islam’s early history (also mentioned in the Quran) in which the Prophet Muhammad led his forces to an unlikely victory against the Meccans. Using this history and religious symbolism to draw a comparison to current wars may resonate with al-Qalam’s target audience.