WITH a scorching sun above, barbed wires flanking both sides to maintain an orderly queue, and policemen patrolling with sticks and guns, Rizwanullah has been waiting for his turn for 10 hours. He is at this sports-complex-turned-relief-camp in Bannu to receive the government’s promised ration package. It’s 3pm, and he is nowhere near to getting his turn. The camp closes down at 5pm.
“I have eight family members to feed,” he says. “I left everything behind, and now I have to stand in this heat. I don’t even know whether my turn will come at all today.”
Normally a resident of North Waziristan, Rizwanullah is one of the over half a million locals that have fled the army offensive. His hometown is in the tribal belt known to be home to Afghan Taliban, members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and their local and foreign affiliates.
As the line crawls along slowly, a young volunteer sporting a neon green jacket with the initials FIF (which stands for the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation) is giving water to the thirsty IDPs. Dozens of hands reach out to him at the same time, men with parched lips and clothes drenched in sweat, just like Rizwanullah. The FIF volunteer quickly serves one IDP after another, and then moves back to the relief camp set up just outside the sports complex — the only one in the vicinity — for a refill. There’s a huge banner which states: “In these tough times, we are standing with you [the IDPs] — Jamaatud Dawa.”
|A closer shot of the medical camp|
The Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), which changed its name to FIF after it was accused of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was recently identified by the United States as a front for one of the world’s largest terrorist groups. It was accused of carrying out an attack on an Indian consulate in Afghanistan in May. But in Pakistan, the group once also known as the Lashkar-e-Taiba continues to enjoy state patronage.
“The Pakistan Army is really cooperative towards us,” says Mohammad Sarfaraz, the chief organiser of the JuD camp. “We were the first ones to set up a greeting camp to receive the IDPs even though that area was in the red zone. This is the time to win the hearts and minds of these refugees, whom the government is failing. And the North Waziristan people are grateful to us. Many of them have promised to work for us — and that too for life,” he proudly adds.
The organisation has over 200 volunteers distributing aid across Bannu, with 25 ambulances on standby. Sarfaraz says they have given out more than 112,000 food packets, and provided medical treatment to over 10,000 patients.
And it is not just JuD that is free to operate in this region. Just half a kilometre before the sports complex, a large banner in blood-red colour bears the name of Masood Azhar, and calls him the Ameer-ul-Mujahideen. The camp, which provides water and medical facilities, also has a queue of people waiting to see the doctor.
“There are too many patients at the hospitals so we came here,” says an IDP whose child is suffering from diarrhoea. This man is waiting to get medicine from the camp’s pharmacist.
|A close up of the poster of Jaish-e-Mohammad - Photo by Taha Siddiqui|
At first this camp’s organisers are reluctant to speak to me. “We don’t talk to the media because you publish anti-Sharia stories,” says one of them, identifying himself as Maqsood. But upon my insistence he opens up and even tells me that his organisation is involved in jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan. “We are the soldiers of Allah and we are here to help our Muslim brothers,” he says.
Also read: The return of Masood Azhar
Behind him, a poster bears a picture of the Eiffel Tower with “Eurabia” written across it in English, below which there is an appeal to contribute to jihad in Syria. “We are carrying out a countrywide donation drive through mosques for the IDPs,” he tells me when asked about his source of funding for the relief efforts.
|A close up of the poster that has Eurabia written on it. - Photo by Taha Siddiqui|
After a few minutes, their senior camp organiser appears and asks me to leave. I head out to a nearby school that has been turned into an IDP camp with the help of a humanitarian organisation. As I share my experience with the man there, he tells me that the organisation he heads is not being allowed to set up relief camps.
“The local authorities are asking us to apply for no-objection certificates while allowing religious and extremist organisations to operate freely,” says Nizam Dawar, who hails from North Waziristan and heads the Tribal Development Network which operated in the tribal belt. “These extremists are penetrating the vulnerable IDP population to brainwash and recruit them for their purposes,” he adds. “Also, these militant organisations may be giving safe passage to the fleeing terrorists who have links with them. Why is the government silent about them?”
Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2014