Should a group associated with Jamaatud Dawa be allowed to carry out earthquake relief work?

In 2005, when a devastating earthquake jolted Pakistan killing more than 80,000 people, banned extremist groups launched an “earthquake Jihad”. In many areas, the activists of such groups were the first to reach. While some praised their relief work, others said they were spreading their message of extremism among the earthquake victims and earning their sympathy, which would eventually help them get new recruits. When another powerful earthquake hit Pakistan last month, Jihadi groups responded the same way they did 10 years ago.

There has been an understanding among the authorities concerned that proscribed outfits engaged in humanitarian work will be ignored, at least for the time being, some officials told me. Is that a defiance of an important clause of the National Action Plan (NAP)?

The NAP, drafted and implemented after a horrendous attack on the Army Public School Peshawar last year, sought a comprehensive ban on the activities of proscribed organizations operating under new names.

Jamatud Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Founation (FiF) – banned by the United Nations in line with Resolution 1267 – began a rescue operation after the earthquake and ran countrywide fundraising campaigns. Being a signatory to that resolution, Pakistan is bound to comply. But since 2008, successive governments have kept the two groups “under watch.”

“The essence of that clause of the National Action Plan is to ban those outfits which continue their terrorist activities under different names,” said Tariq Fazl Chaudhry, a close aide of interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. He said the JuD and the FiF were charity organizations and had a Lahore High Court verdict in their favor to operate. He saw no harm in allowing a banned outfit to reemerge as human rights or social welfare organization.
Nawaz Sharif reportedly assured Obama he would take action against Lashkar-e-Taiba

The authorities know that the three groups are run by the same leadership, an Interior Ministry official said, but the decision to ban them was put on hold “due to certain complications”.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) issued a directive to all TV channels not to “give any kind of coverage” to Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), JuD and FiF. PEMRA said the three organizations were banned under the UN Resolution 1267. TV channels were asked to ensure strict compliance.

Minutes later, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar issued a statement saying JuD was “not a banned outfit”.

The contradiction between the two statements has complicated the matter. Questions are being asked. If the Government of Pakistan did not ban an organization, how could PEMRA ask TV channels to censor its coverage?

The Interior Ministry official said PEMRA did not consult with the ministry before issuing the directive. “Besides, PEMRA issued an old list of proscribed outfits. For example, it does not include the Islamic State, or Daesh,” he said.

In his meeting with US President Barack Obama on October 22, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was reported to have assured him that his government would take action against LeT.

Some officials say the PEMRA directive was part of a strategy to save the prime minister from an embarrassing situation.

“This is height of naivety,” according to Owais Toheed, a senior Islamabad-based analyst. He said the NAP categorically sought a ban on any proscribed outfit which was operating under a new name, and asked if such lenience would be shown for other groups.

But Orya Maqbool Jan, another veteran analyst, criticized PEMRA for hindering the humanitarian work being carried out by JuD and FiF. The Supreme Court had banned the National Awami Party once, he said, for working against the Pakistani state. “Several new political parties were born from that party, with new names. They are now part of mainstream national politics.” He said the UN resolutions should not be binding when it was a matter of saving lives.

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist.

Twitter: @OldPakistan_