Lahore: The Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) has established an extensive network in Punjab province to collect funds and relief materials in the name of flood victims despite the Pakistan government`s contention that hardline groups will not be allowed to operate in garb of charitable organisations.
Observers say the JuD, described by the UN Security Council as a front for the banned Lashker-e-Toiba, has emerged as the most organised "NGO" in flood relief operations in Punjab. The group has set up 67 camps in Lahore alone, more than any other organisation, to collect relief goods and cash.
Though the UN Security Council banned the JuD in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the Pakistani government is yet to follow suit. This loophole has resulted in the JuD openly mounting relief efforts and using the floods as an opportunity to muster public sympathy, observers said.
During a recent visit to the flood-hit areas of Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan, Kot Addu, Bhakkar, Layyah and Mianwali, a correspondent found a majority of relief camps were run by the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation, the new name adopted by the JuD for relief work after authorities cracked down on it in 2008.
At some places, the JuD did not bother to hide behind the name of the Falah-e-Insaniyat. The camps are decorated with JuD flags, which feature a black sword on a background of black and white horizontal stripes.
Even in Lahore, the group has set up scores of camps in the name of both JuD and Falah-e-Insaniyat to collect relief goods and cash.
"We have received a tremendous response from the public, especially in collecting Rs 3,500 as an Eid gift for every person affected by the floods," said Abdul Hafeez, a volunteer at one such camp in Samnabad.
Though there are several other religious groups like the Jamaat-e-Islami, Dawat-e-Islami and Al-Khamini Trust that are collecting relief goods in Punjab, the general impression among people is that the JuD has got a better response.
"We trust JuD in this activity," Ishfaq Ahmed, a resident of Layyah, said. He said people were giving goods and cash to the Jud as they believed the group would distribute the materials among deserving flood victims.
The JuD also claims it has sent hundreds of trucks loaded with relief goods to flood-affected areas. "This is not the time to think which is a banned organisation and which is not, but to work to provide relief to the affected people," volunteer Abdul Hafeez said. Some government officials working in relief camps in flood-hit districts were of the same view.
"They are not doing any anti-state act. They are providing relief to the flood-hit people and it is noble work," Hasan Shah, an official of Mianwali district, said.
The flood-hit districts of southern Punjab are considered to be the breeding ground of the Punjabi Taliban. The JuD too has a strong hold in these areas and security officials fear its "relief" activities will help it garner more recruits for future activities.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently announced that hardline and militant groups would not be allowed to operate in the name of relief operations for the millions of people affected by floods across Pakistan.
He directed all provinces to form special task forces to act against such groups. The government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province has closed some camps run by such groups but it could not immediately be ascertained if any arrests had been made by authorities.