Jamat-ud-dawa, designated by the United Nations Security Council as a terrorist outfit in the wake of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, has resurfaced as a charity organisation providing food and other relief to the thousands of people fleeing the fighting in Swat valley of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.
Massive numbers of people have been displaced by the fighting between the military and the Taliban in the Malakand regions of Swat, Buner and Dir, and the government and aid agencies are struggling to cope with a crisis that is growing by the minute.
Aid agencies estimate more than 5,00,000 people have fled these areas. Over a hundred thousand are in camps in Mardan and Swabi districts of the NWFP, while the remaining are trying to find shelter wherever they can in various cities in Pakistan. Eyewitnesses told The Hindu that the JuD — a U.N. declared front organisation of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed by India for the Mumbai attacks — is active in Mardan where most of the refugee camps are located. They are distributing food and medical care. One eyewitness who visited the area last Saturday said the JuD workers were organised under a charity organisation called Falah-i-Insaniyat. They had set themselves up at a roundabout in Mardan town called College Chowk, where they were collecting food donations for the displaced.
The eyewitness, a journalist, said he saw bags of uncooked rice and cartons of juice at the stall.
Despite the government crackdown on the group after the U.N. terror designation, the canopied stall was openly flying the black-and-white flags of the JuD, with the insignia of the sword and the Kalma, the Islamic doctrine of faith .
The bearded workers were wearing the traditional salwar-kameez with waistcoats. The JuD insignia was prominently sewed on to the front of the waistcoats, and on the back they carried the label of Falah-i-Insaniyat, a charitable trust of the JuD. When the journalist asked them who they were working with, the men said they were from JuD.
The organisation has also set up a relief distribution centre at a village called Rustam, on the outskirts of Buner, they said.
The group’s work among the refugees recalls similar activity by several groups banned by the Musharraf regime in 2002, which resurfaced to provide aid to the victims of the 2005 earthquake.
Following the JuD’s U.N. designation as a terrorist outfit in December 2008, the Pakistan government ordered a crackdown against the group, detaining more than a hundred of its activists and its leadership, including founder Hafiz Saeed, who also set up Lashkar-e-Taiba, which Pakistan banned as a terrorist group in 2002.
The Punjab government sealed many of its offices across the province. JuD offices in the NWFP were also sealed but the group was not formally banned. The JuD describes itself as a charity organisation. The leaders of the group have challenged their detention in court, and four of six top leaders have been released. Only Mr. Saeed and another top leader by the name of Colonel Nazir remain under house arrest, and petitions challenging their detention are being heard in the Lahore High Court.
As concerns were expressed about the fate of the JuD-run schools, hospitals and other charity works following the crackdown, the Punjab government announced in late January that it would take over the charity works of the organisation and run them so that the beneficiaries would not be affected.
The Falah-i-Insaniyat group was last seen during the February 5 Kashmir Day demonstrations in Lahore. The Daily Times reported that activists of the group were carrying JuD flags and collecting donations.
The receipts carried the name of Falah-i-Insaniyat, and the address printed on it was the same as that for one of JuD’s most important centres: Markazul Qadsia, Chauburji, Lahore, the Daily Times said.