Relief workers in Pakistan say that Islamist charities affiliated with terrorist groups are competing with international efforts to provide relief to the millions of Pakistanis affected by massive floods.
“Charities affiliated with militant groups, especially LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba], have always exploited such crises, and this one is no different,” a humanitarian aid worker in Pakistan said on the condition of anonymity, citing security concerns.
Another relief worker in Pakistan, who also requested anonymity for security reasons, said that while the charities affiliated with militant groups are active in the country, the scale of the disaster is too big for them to deal with on their own.
The floods so far have killed nearly 1,500 people in Pakistan, and are expected to affect 6 million by the weekend, as more rain is predicted.
“There are always in situations like this NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] that are associated with what we would call extremist groups,” Anne Patterson, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, said in a conference call with reporters on Friday.
However, Mrs. Patterson added that “they are totally, in my view, overcome by the enormous number of local and highly reputable NGOs and international NGOs that have already mobilized for this crisis.”
Mrs. Patterson said the U.S. is trying to get money to legitimate international aid groups as quickly as possible so they can provide services throughout the country.
The U.S. designated Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) a foreign terrorist organization in December 2001.
Soon after LeT was branded a terrorist group, its founder, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, changed the group’s name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which began humanitarian projects to avoid restrictions.
LeT coordinates its charitable activities through JuD and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation, which spearheaded humanitarian relief to the victims of the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and is said to be active on the ground once again.
According to an annual terrorism report released by the State Department this week, LeT and its founder have “spread ideology advocating terrorism, as well as virulent rhetoric condemning the United States, India, Israel, and other perceived enemies.”
But Mrs. Patterson said LeT’s impact during humanitarian crises in Pakistan has been “wildly exaggerated.”
She said reports of LeT assistance during the refugee crisis in the aftermath of the Pakistani military operation against the Taliban in Swat Valley last year “turned out to be, if not flatly untrue, then wildly exaggerated.”
Meanwhile, torrential conditions hampered relief operations in Pakistan on Friday.
“Monsoon rains arrived with a vengeance … the consequence has been the worst flood in Pakistan in 80 years,” Mrs. Patterson said.
The earthquake and the displacement of 2 million people from the Swat Valley was more localized, she said, adding that while the loss of life in this disaster may be less, its economic could be far greater.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is providing an additional $25 million to assist Pakistanis affected by the flooding. It already had committed $10 million to this effort.
“The need for response to this disaster is urgent, and even as we triple our financial commitment we remain flexible so we can meet new needs as they arise,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.