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A camp run by Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation where children are eating
A camp run by Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation where children are eatingImage: DW

Pakistani Islamist groups very visible in the flood-affected regions

September 20, 2010

Although the Taliban will not benefit from the floods, as the army will not allow them to operate openly, other groups with closer links to the military have been very visible in the flood-affected regions.


In central Lahore, Jamaat-e-Islami volunteers have been using megaphones to call on people to donate money and goods to the flood relief effort.

Jamaat-e-Islami is an Islamist party with about 25,000 core members who have received special ideological training and some 4.5 million registered supporters across Pakistan.

The party ideology, which is older than the country, supports the parliamentary system, but maintains that supreme power is vested in Allah, not the people.

Mansurah, Jamaat-e-Islami headquarters in Lahore
Mansurah, Jamaat-e-Islami headquarters in LahoreImage: DW

"We think that Pakistan can be changed under an Islamic system of life and under an honest team," explained Farid Ahmed Piracha, Jamaat’s deputy secretary general. "Jamaat-e-Islami has these two things and we are strong believers and preachers of Islamic principles. We also have the solution to all problems."

Largest volunteer organization in Pakistan

Jamaat-e-Islami has a number of affiliated organizations, including a student wing, a workers' union and the Al-Khidmat Foundation for relief work. "Khidmat" means service. The party headquarters in Lahore’s Mansurah looks like a campus.

"I am proud that we are the largest volunteer organization of Pakistan," Ihsan Ullah Waqas, who is the coordinator of the foundation’s flood aid, told Deutsche Welle. "From Kalam, where the flood started, to Karachi, in each and every small or big city, we have registered volunteers with our organization. I can claim that, after the army, we have the largest network of relief activities throughout Pakistan."

Indeed, his figures were impressive – he added that there were 24,000 volunteers working in almost 1,000 Al-Khidmat camps for flood victims.

Ahsan Ali Syed, Secretary General of the Al-Khidmat Foundation
Ahsan Ali Syed, Secretary General of the Al-Khidmat FoundationImage: DW

According to its 65-year-old secretary general Ahsan Ali Syed, the foundation is an independent NGO and Jamaat-e-Islami does not interfere with its work. Ahsan Ali Syed recently handed over his business to his sons and became a voluntary worker for the aid group.

"I have nothing to do with the political side of the Jamaat-e-Islami," he told Deutsche Welle in fluent German, which he learnt during his studies in Zurich. "Honestly speaking, I don’t really like it! I don’t think its right to bring religion into politics because I think everyone is equal. But I do like the social work that I do."

The Al-Khidmat Foundation has a lot of professional experience, running clinics, ambulances and schools all over the country, even if no natural disaster has struck.

Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation and Jamaat ud-Dawa lack transparency

Pakistan's other big Islamist aid group, Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), under whose umbrella, Jamaat ud-Dawa, which has been labeled a terrorist group by the United Nations, runs its social work, follows a similar approach.

"We have about 2,500 to 3,000 dispensaries and about 150 schools all over the country," Jamaat ud-Dawa’s political affairs coordinator Hafiz Khalid Waleed explained to Deutsche Welle. "Besides, we have established thousands of religious institutions and mosques where we preach to the students what a good Muslim is in order to make them good Muslims and good human beings."

Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation volunteers distribute food to flood victims
Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation volunteers distribute food to flood victimsImage: DW/Bärthlein

Compared to Jamaat-e-Islami and the Al-Khidmat Foundation, the activities of Jamaat ud-Dawa and the FIF are not really transparent. The group has used different names ever since India accused the original Lashkar-e-Tayyaba of being a terrorist organization. There are no statistics about its membership and the group’s headquarters, also located in Lahore, are heavily fortified and guarded by the police.

Hafiz Khalid Waleed hinted that Jamaat ud-Dawa felt threatened by India. He is the son-in-law of the movement’s leader Hafiz Saeed, whom India accuses of masterminding the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. Delhi has demanded that he be extradited. But Pakistani courts have held that there is no proof of Hafiz Saeed or Jamaat ud-Dawa’s involvement in the attacks.

In Pakistan, Jamaat ud-Dawa and the FIF continue to operate quite openly and Hafiz Khalid Waleed said the group was using its flood relief camps to preach its version of Islam.

"We think that a Muslim has to live according to his religion in order to become a good human being. Thank God, we do preach to them, and it has its effects, and they are converted. To us, this is social work, too."

No attacks on Pakistani soil

Officially, Jamaat ud-Dawa has condemned the Mumbai attacks, but it supports the so-called "Jihad" against NATO troops in Afghanistan or Indian soldiers in Kashmir.

An Al-Khidmat Foundation stand where donations are being collected from Lahore citizens
An Al-Khidmat Foundation stand where donations are being collected from Lahore citizensImage: DW

Jamaat-e-Islami’s position is similar in this regard. Both groups are said to have strong links with the Pakistani army, which has been using Islamist groups for decades to pursue its domestic and foreign policy agenda.

But important differences remain: Jamaat-e-Islami has a long history and strong identity of its own, whereas Pakistani and international observers tend to see the Jamaat ud-Dawa as a creation of the security agencies that has mainly been involved in militant activities against India.

The two groups condemn attacks on Pakistani soil. In this, they differ from the Pakistani Taliban, many of whom also have a history of being promoted by the military establishment, but who have now clearly turned against their former masters.

Author: Thomas Baerthlein (Lahore)
Editor: Anne Thomas

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