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The great eyewash

Is the recent crackdown on Jama’at-ud-Da’wah and its charity wing Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation, after the threat of being placed on the terror financing list, anything more than purely optics?

The great eyewash

Late on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif tweeted that Pakistan had been given a three month reprieve over its nomination in a terror financing watch list — a motion brought forward by Washington, and backed by Britain, France and Germany. “Our efforts have paid off,” said the Foreign Minister. “Grateful to friends who helped.”

At the heart of these ‘efforts’ is a crackdown on the Jama’at-ud-Da’wah (JuD) and its charity wing, the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), which was carried out after the Interior Ministry issued a notification against the two organisations. The notification came a day after President Mamnoon Hussain amended the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 via an ordinance to proscribe entities banned by the United Nations Security Council.

However, a couple of days after the ‘crackdown’, Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the JuD, delivered a fiery Friday sermon Feb 16 to a packed crowd at the organisation’s headquarters in Lahore, in which he said that the crackdown on the JuD is “by our own people and we will talk it out with them, however we must not lose sight of on who’s behest they have acted (America, India and Israel) and we will fight it out with them in the battlefield.”

“What’s not been covered in the press so far is that the JuD’s training camps in the Hazara division are being taken over by the provincial administration.”

Speaking to The News on Sunday, the Jamaat’s deputy secretary information, Ahmed Nadeem Awan took great pains to elaborate on the crackdown. “The government has installed their own administrators at our religious seminaries, schools, dispensaries and hospitals — our relief work has almost stopped.”

A statement issued by the Jamaat in the aftermath of the crackdown read: “Seizing educational institutes, ambulances, dispensaries and other assets over Indian and American dictation, is cruel and abusive. In any independent and autonomous country, such measures are not taken as the ones by Pakistani rulers.”

To be fair, the Jamaat does have an extensive charity network spread out across the country. Their workers have historically been at the forefront of emergency relief efforts, working shoulder to shoulder with the police and the armed forces. According to Awan, “In 2017, the dispensaries, hospitals, doctors and free medical camps run by the Jamaat served a whopping 1.7 million people across the country — in the same time period, our network of ambulances helped at least 64,000 people.”

These are no small figures.

At the same time, there are thousands of people who earn their living through the Jamaat’s various functions — “roughly 50,000”, says Awan. “This includes drivers, doctors, and teachers, who are all now worried about the future — will they be allowed to continue or be replaced by the new administration?”

But that’s just one side of the story.

“What’s not been covered in the press so far is that the JuD’s training camps in the Hazara division are being taken over the provincial administration,” says Mujahid Hussain, journalist and author of the banned book, Punjabi Taliban. “This includes the camps in Uggi, Battagram, Mansehra and Baffa — and the Chela Bandi camp in Azad Kashmir.”

To Hussain, the takeover is not to shut down the camps, but more about minimising the control and involvement of the JuD, as more and more evidences are being put on the table about both the JuD and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

Elsewhere, however, the takeover is purely optics.

Take the JuD’s headquarters in Muridke as an example. A single administrator has been sent by the provincial government, along with a few policemen to take over a base that sprawls across 150 acres. It is learnt that there are at least 100 armed guards at the markaz as well. How much impact the administrator and his two sidekicks will have is anyone’s guess.

“It seems that there is an understanding [between the state and the JuD] that we won’t let anything happen to you,” says Hussain. However, the state will portray the installation of administrators as a “complete takeover of a banned organisation.”

And there is no way to countercheck the government’s claims. Unless, of course, you visit one of the JuD offices. Which we did, and what we saw was exactly as Hussain portrayed — a token police presence at the markaz, and business as usual.

While there is an understanding that the eyewash crackdown on the JuD had a single agenda at play — to somehow not be put on a global terror financing list, there is another point of view — that the effort would be used to take attention away from a key demand from Washington — to take action on the Haqqani Network. “The US won’t fall for this,” says Usman Zafar, an academic and lecturer of Political Science at Iqra University, Islamabad.

Back to the JuD. In 2017, there was an attempt to bring the group into the political fold via the Milli Muslim League (MML). However, their party registration application was rejected by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on the basis of the founder’s ties with the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

“This is an eventuality,” says Hussain. “All the JuD has to do is take out two names, Abdul Rehman Makki and Hafiz Saeed, and they should be good to go.”

The moment this happens, “the MML, together with the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) will be able to collectively act as a bulwark against the PML-N in central Punjab where traditionally the ruling party has a major support base,” says Zafar.

In essence, you build two sections from the mother lode which is the JuD. The first is a political party, as mentioned above, and the other is a rebranded charity network. Rumours already abound about the rebranding of JuD, with the name of Tahaffuz-e-Harmain-Sharifain making the rounds.

Still, most experts are of the opinion that the ‘crackdown’ on the JuD is nothing more than an eyewash. “The takeover was forced upon the government, and there is collusion between them [and the JuD] to hide the infrastructure better under its garb,” says political scientist and author Ayesha Siddiqa.

At the core of its popularity and funding is sympathy, which is earned through the relief work that they do. They operate in areas where either the state is not present or if it is, then its infrastructure for providing relief is weak. A great example is the earthquake of 2005, where according to Hussain, volunteers and workers of the FIF were in the forefront rescuing not only common citizens but also army officers from the affected areas.

“And besides, they help out in our strategic interests outside our borders,” says Mujahid Hussain. “And I don’t think anyone is ready to let that go at this point in time.”

Aasim Zafar Khan

Aasim Khan
The author is a Lahore based journalist. He may be contacted at [email protected],

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