The headquarters of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), near the historic monument of Chauburji in Lahore, is adorned with banners of the organisation’s welfare wing, Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF). A camp set up by the FIF volunteers in front of the main entrance of JuD’s multi-storey building is collecting donations, food, and clothes for people in the country’s disaster-hit zones.
The JuD, whose primary area of operation is the Indian-held Kashmir, is gaining popularity as a “saviour” of Pakistani people through its extensive relief and rescue work across the country.
The scope of FIF’s rescue operation has gradually expanded, from natural disasters to bomb blasts to accidents, where JuD volunteers wearing FIF jackets and caps are seen working parallel to state-run rescue departments and teams. As recently as December 16, 2014, when 150 children and teachers of the Army Public School in Peshawar were ruthlessly killed, FIF volunteers were shown on TV rescuing people together with the rescue workers from the armed forces.
After 9/11, with the global pressure on Islamic militant groups and Pakistan’s inactive Kashmir policy, the JuD operations became multi-dimensional – it expanded its focus from jihad to relief and rescue work; started the ‘Pakistan Water Movement’ to propagate against India; spearheaded Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, an alliance of various Salafi and Deobandi religious factions, to protest against blasphemy; and initiated health and education-focused welfare projects.
“The JuD started relief and charity work in early 1990s. However, it started placing more stress on it after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when it became difficult to operate as a jihadi organisation openly. It set up several charity trusts and front organisations, such as Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation,” says Arif Jamal, author of a recent book Call for Trans national Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Salman Shahid, media officer of the FIF, says the organisation has broadened its network in 118 cities of Pakistan with more than 1,000 trained and dedicated volunteers. The number of total ambulances is 177, with 32 in Lahore and 20 in Karachi, and the rest in other cities of the country.
They also have around 100 boats to rescue people during floods.
The FIF’s biggest pride is its trained divers. “Official rescue teams always seek help from us for rescuing people from water. We are also planning to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Rescue 1122 in Punjab to get our volunteers further trained and help the official divers improve their skills,” says Shahid.
He adds that the plan is also underway to get a toll free number for the FIF rescue service.
Tariq Pervez, former director general National Counterterrorism Authority (Nacta), says that relief activities of groups labelled as militants show gaps in state governance in times of crisis, when these organisations are able to create a soft image among people through relief and rescue work.
This, he adds, is a global phenomenon — “Hizbullah and Hamas do the same things in Lebanon and Palestine, where they have welfare wings to improve their image and get public support. Once mainstream militant wings become dysfunctional, they come up with welfare wings as soft faces. This has a deep impact,” says Pervez.
He recalls the works of FIF in Awaran earthquake in Balochistan when the state was nowhere to be seen to help the affected people. “It is also being said that this is a sort of mainstreaming of the JuD towards politics and peaceful activities but I am not sure how the group will come out of anti-India and militancy geneses. This is an open question”.
The foundations of FIF as a welfare organisation were really strengthened in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake.
A recently printed 62-page book, titled Insaniyat ki Khidmat ka Safar, published by the Foundation, states that every year around one million people benefit from the FIF services in different parts of the country. The services include daycare centres, medical camps, water projects mainly in Thar where Hindus are in a sizeable number, and post-disaster rescue operations in remote areas of Balochistan, Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan.
“In disaster zones, we rescue people, give them cooked food, and if they need we also provide them monthly ration. Also, a team of clerics visits the affectees and tell them that they should correct their deeds because Allah is not happy with them and that’s the reason they are facing a calamity,” says Shahid. “Obviously when you are there for them in their hour of need you win their hearts and they always remember you in good words.”
Recently, the JuD held a big congregation at the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore. The event was held in Lahore after a break of almost 12 years. While talking to people attending the congregation, it was apparent that JuD workers are convinced about their outstanding relief work, which they think is almost always the first organisation to reach the disaster-hit areas in the country, bringing with them tents, huge pots to cook free meals, vans, tractors, mobile hospitals and doctors.
Arif Jamal says until recently, they were coming to help people in times of natural disasters such as earthquakes and huge tragedies such as the displacement of people because of the military operations. “The fact that they are now reaching out to people in moments of their personal loss shows that they have huge human and financial resources. This will help them establish more personal and closer links with people they can recruit. This is a very good strategy to deeply penetrate the society.”
On Thursday, Jan 22, Pakistan’s Foreign Office announced that the bank accounts of the Hafiz Saeed-led JuD have been frozen. Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said that the JuD was amongst the list of banned organisations that has come under the UN Sanctions Committee.