If you are a victim – would you be choosy who helps you?

Hardliners and flood relief

Dawn Editorial

Volunteers of Falah-e-Insaniyat foundation, the charity wing of militant group Jamaat-ud-Dawa supervise the cooking of food for flood affected people in Nowshera. – Photo by AP.

As the country struggles to cope with the floods, the debate on the role of hard-line religious organisations in the relief effort continues. Just as in the case of the 2005 earthquake, various religious organisations — some with ostensible links to banned militant outfits — have been very active in the relief effort and in some instances have reached places the government hasn’t.

President Zardari recently remarked that the world needed to step up its relief efforts in order to prevent extremists from exploiting the situation — a lacklustre response from the state and the international community can well give extremists a chance to fill the vacuum. On the other hand the Foreign Office has offered guarded praise for the religious charities’ efforts. However, it appears that many in the foreign press have particularly played up the hardliners’ contribution to relief work and blown the perceived consequences out of proportion.

Many private organisations are taking part in the relief effort, and religious groups are just one component of it. To suggest that the hardliners’ efforts will result in a recruiting bonanza for the militant groups is far-fetched. While the religious groups’ relief work might earn them better PR and even give them the edge in the battle for hearts and minds, there is little evidence that it will swell their ranks with fresh jihadi recruits or give them greater political mileage. If anything, this is yet another reminder that the state needs to improve its response when dealing with disasters in particular and looking after the people’s welfare in general. Also, the concept of charity is a major motivational factor with all religious organisations, not just Islamic ones. So the hardliners’ response to the floods is more likely to be guided by a sense of religious obligation than an opportunity to win more recruits.
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