- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Muslim charity linked to Kashmiri terrorists sent truckloads of relief goods yesterday to northern Pakistan’s earthquake-hit region, in what it described as a new “jihad” or holy war to help victims of the devastating earthquake.

“Our first priority is to provide relief to our Muslim brethren,” said Yahya Mujahid, a spokesman for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the charity arm of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which Pakistan outlawed in 2002 for terrorist activities. “It is a jihad, and all our members are busy in this jihad now.”

Twenty-five Jamaat-ud-Dawa trucks left Rawalpindi, Pakistan, yesterday carrying blankets, tents and food to quake-affected areas and the group has promised more humanitarian aid. The group also set up three field hospitals in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

There is concern that the militants’ aid could provide an opportunity to win broad support for their cause.

“If the government is slow in helping, and the militants are helping them, the sympathy levels for the militants’ cause could become higher,” said Miriam Rajkumar, South Asia specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The earthquake area is characterized by deep valleys and steep mountain roads. Four days after the 7.6-magnitude earthquake devastated the region, killing as many as 40,000 and injuring more, many of the hardest-hit villages have yet to see any aid or medical supplies. Militants bringing any sort of relief will be welcomed, Ms. Rajkumar said.

On Monday, Islamist militants fighting Indian rule in the divided Kashmir region announced a temporary cease-fire in the region affected by the earthquake.

“We are temporarily suspending our activities in the areas hit by the earthquake,” said Saleem Hashmi, spokesman for the United Jihadi Council, an umbrella organization representing 14 militant organizations.

Some analysts saw this as a sign that the earthquake had weakened the insurgents’ ability to wage war.

“It is well-known that the infrastructure for the insurgent operations is based in Azad Kashmir [Pakistan-controlled Kashmir], which is the communication base among the militant groups, but the damage is still not clear,” said Selig Harrison, director of the Asia program at the Center for International Policy. “The ability of the ISI [Pakistan’s intelligence agency] and the other groups could be greatly hampered if these communication hubs are destroyed, and the role of Pakistan in the valley could change.”

The charity said its main Taiba hospital and several offices and mosques in Pakistani Kashmir, mainly in Muzaffarabad, had been destroyed. It said around 100 of its members and their families had been killed by the earthquake.

The State Department said it was too early to tell if the earthquake would help or hinder the insurgents’ cause, or affect the Pakistan-India peace talks.

“Violence is not a solution … . Whether the militants will back off, we have to wait and see,” a State Department official said on the condition of anonymity.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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