Jihadis in The Time of Earthquake
A number of religious organizations, including those known for their intrinsic connections with the jihadist groups, have infested Awaran, a district that was devastated by two powerful earthquakes in September. Apparently, these organizations are out there to carry out relief operations and assist the victims of the earthquake. But their presence has raised eyebrows given that the federal government is restricting credible, non-religious international humanitarian groups.
The government does not specifically state why these groups have received official consent to operate in Awaran while their non-religious counterparts, both local and international, have been outright denied non-objection certificates (NOC) from the Ministry of Interior Affairs.
At a time when sufficient assistance is not reaching the earthquake victims because of the mistrust that exists between security forces and the Baloch insurgents, religious groups are the only ones taking advantage of the situation. Their presence may temporarily help the local population but it will have long-term negative repercussions for the secular Baloch society. Jihadist groups take such occasions as an opportunity to exploit people’s plight. They use aid to win the hearts and minds of local communities.
Dr. Hafeez-ur-Rehman (pictured in this article), the president of Al-Khidmat Foundation, which is connected with the Jammat-e-Islami, confirmed with the local media that at least 300 workers of his organization were currently busy in assisting earthquake survivors. The B.B.C. Urdu also recently reported about the activities of religious groups known for their ties with jihadi organizations. Prominent among these organizations are Falah-e-Insaniat, Al-Rehmat Trust and Al-Khair Trust. While the Falah-e-Insaniat is closely associated with Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the welfare wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba, B.B.C. also reported that some of the banners prominently displayed the name of Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad, an Islamic extremist group that operates in Indian-administered Kashmir.
The increasing presence of religious groups in Awaran also contradicts the official claims of security threats posed by Baloch insurgents. If the nationalists have even tolerated these religious groups to assist the masses despite clear ideological differences, there is no reason why they would attack international groups. Chief Minister Balochistan Dr. Malik Baloch has said at least three times that his province needs international assistance to grapple with the aftermath of the earthquake. It is sad that the analysis of the provincial chief executive holds less weight and importance than some army officers and bureaucrats in Islamabad who are doing whatever it takes to keep the international community away from Balochistan.
When an earthquake of lesser intensity hit Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 2005, the federal government immediately called for international help and engaged American helicopters for rescue operations. In Balochstan’s case, on the other hand, there is deafening silence. It is unfortunate how the country’s security establishment converts natural calamities into opportunities to patronize religious organizations. This time, the government is endeavoring to manipulate the people’s vulnerable situation. The long-term goal is to counter the Baloch nationalists with radical Islamists.
Surprisingly, there has been too little opposition from the Baloch nationalists to the religious groups and their activities in Awaran.
However, the nationalists have spoken more vocally against a fresh military operation in Awaran district. Even before the earthquake, the security forces conducted a massive operation in the area; whisked away several people to unknown locations and burnt people’s homes. In the latest operation, the forces besieged the house of Dr. Manan Baloch, secretary general of the Baloch National Movement (B.N.M.). According to a report published in Daily Intekhab, the forces also arrested Dr. Baloch’s ten-year old son and many relatives in Gajjar locality in Awaran District.
Mohammad Ejaz shahid, the Inspector General of the Frontier Corps (F.C.), congratulated his forces over the “successful operation against anti-state elements” and ordered them to take “indiscriminate action” against them wherever the forces found them.
Yet, the Pakistan army, on October 20th, issued a statement through its media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (I.S.P.R.), saying that the army was not carrying out any military operations in Awaran and Mushke. The statement acknowledged the presence of forces in the district but insisted that they were there “only for relief operations”. The army says 6 of its soldiers have been killed and 12 injured while carrying out relief operations. The army, according to the I.S.P.R. statement, “has exercised utmost restraint…despite repeated attacks by miscreants on troops busy in relief work.”
The statement further added, “there is no Military Operation in Awaran and Mushke as being propagated by miscreants. DG [Director General] ISPR also appealed to the general public, to beware of miscreant’s propaganda.”
In some parts of the world, natural disasters provide an opportunity for rival groups to temporarily give up their differences and work with each other in the greater interest of the people in need. This newspaper had previously called for an immediate ceasefire between the government and the insurgents.
We wish the earthquake in Balochistan were not used to further deepen and complicate the already existing crisis. Populating Awaran with jihadists and conducting anew military operations will only multiply the challenges Balochistan already faces. It is futile to expect the government or the army to monitor the activities of the Jihadi groups operating in Balochistan since the state itself is in bed with these elements. The religious groups are responsible for causing more pain to our society than mitigating people’s suffering.
Published in The Baloch Hal on October 21, 2013