Kashmiri Guerrillas Now Waging A 'humanitarian Jihad
3 April 2006
Muzaffarabad: The Kalashnikovs and battledress are gone. The guerrillas now wage a 'humanitarian jihad' for survivors of last year's deadly Kashmir earthquake which is praised by some and denounced by others. The organisations, even those officially banned in Pakistan for their links to terrorism, have jumped at the chance to regain prestige and win favour with the authorities and recognition from the public. In the first hours after the quake on October 8, while the army was counting its dead, they were mobilised, in camouflage with weapons at their shoulders. Six months on, now in civilian clothes, they have become impossible to avoid. 'We were already on the spot, in the area, to preach the Islamic faith. We had offices, doctors, volunteers,' explained Ghulamullah Azad, Kashmir spokesman for Jamaat- ud-Dawa, in the courtyard of a country hospital here. Jamaat-ud-Dawa is an incarnation of the Kashmir militant group Laskhar-e-Taiba, officially prohibited in 2002 by the Pakistani authorities for terrorist activities. 'We received reinforcements from all over the country. There were more than a thousand of us in the area,' he said. 'We distributed the American assistance. An American surgeon operated here... Our relations with the army and international NGOs are excellent. We are welcome everywhere. People thank us, listen to us,' he added, smiling through his long black beard. With deep wrinkles creasing his face, framed by a white beard, Wali Alam appears much older than his 50 years. In a Jamaat camp in Balakot, a neighbouring town which was 95% destroyed by the quake, he said: 'That evening even, they were there, with pots of food. God bless them! I will never forget!' In Muzaffarabad, Mohamed Shafiq directs the Kashmir operations of the Al-Rashid foundation. Its accounts were frozen by the Pakistani government after it was added to a UN list of terrorist organisations. 'Since that blow, we only operate with ready cash,' explained Shafiq. 'The money is collected around the country and brought here by couriers. With our bank accounts, we could have done much more.' On the wall is a list of different groups' activities in the various disaster sectors, drawn up by the UN. The foundation figures prominently. 'We work with all the international NGOs. They can see that we are not killers,' said Shafiq. 'I do not say that all the Muslims are good, but the idea spread in West that all of them are terrorists is false. Our work here shows that.' The Jamaat-ud- Dawa flag - a sabre and black bands - flies above the one of the refugee camps close to Balakot. Camp leader Saif Ullah, 24, was delighted 'to have improved our image with the population. We gave them dates when they did not have anything to eat. We have fed them since. Looked after them. You believe that they will forget?' Near the entrance, a large panel details the group's good deeds: 'Tent villages - renovation of houses - construction of mosques - schools - widows and orphans - field hospital - free dispensaries - free ambulance service.' If some, including among the highest Pakistani authorities, praise this work in the disaster zone, others fear that it only reinforces Islamist influence in the area. 'Officials have identified as many as 17 groups that have either been banned by the Musharraf government or placed on its terrorism watch-list but are involved in relief activities,' the International Crisis Group said in a report published on March 15 in Islamabad. 'Should jihadi groups that have been active in relief work remain as involved in reconstruction, threats to domestic and regional security will increase,' the Brussels-based think tank said.