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The Pakistan State fails, jihadis prevail
Mohammad Shehzad in Islamabad
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November 11, 2005

Pakistan's military regime and its chief patron, the United States, could have exploited the October 8 earthquake -- that killed more than an estimated 100,000 in Pakistan -- to better their image among the masses.

Thousands of hapless people trapped under the wreckage of their homes could have been pulled out alive, had the huge Pakistan army come to their aid swiftly. Thousands of people would not have succumbed to their injuries, had the big fleet of American choppers parked in neighbouring Afghanistan flown them promptly to hospitals.

The army and the US swung into action too late, when all hope had died. The jihadis exploited the opportunity the army and the US missed.

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The Hizbul Mujahideen pulled out 450 girls from the wreckage of the Garhi Habibullah Secondary School in Hazara, in the North West Frontier Province.

"There were around 800 children in the school at the time of earthquake, including 13 teachers. The first shock flattened the school and the next moment Hizbul Mujahideen were here to rescue the children," said Niaz Akhtar, the school's watchman.

"The earth was still trembling but they were working fearlessly to remove the rubble. They saved 450 lives. About 285 (children) died instantly. Hundreds of army soldiers around us did not come to our help," Akhtar added.

Hizbul has a camp in the neighbourhood at Hasari called the Saifullah Khalid Shaheed camp just a few kilometres from the school. The camp's chief, Abdul Basit, would not speak to me, because I had not taken permission from the 'authorities' -- an Inter Services Intelligence colonel whose office is close to the camp.

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Jamatud Dawa -- formerly the Lashkar-e-Tayiba -- was the first jihadi outfit to reach the collapsed Margala Tower in Islamabad. Together with civilians, Dawa cadres used heavy hammers in a bid to pull out people from under the rubble. Volunteers complained the army did not help them.

"Seventeen people were rescued alive from the tower by the volunteers and the British team RAPID (Rescue And Preparedness In Disasters). The army and the police were spectators," said Kamran Durrani, a volunteer who worked at the Tower for 10 days continuously.

Dawa has the most organised and disciplined setup in Muzaffarabad and Bagh. Three hundred and fifty jihadis connected with wireless phones; 16 ambulances, mobile X-ray machines and operation theatres; kitchens to feed 3,000 people daily; motorboats to rescue people from inaccessible areas; an orthopaedic unit under the supervision of Dr Amir Aziz (who was arrested after 9/11 for treating Osama bin Laden and later acquitted by the Pakistan supreme court).

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Jaish-e-Mohammad and Al Badr are working in the quake-hit areas under the names of Al Rehmat Trust and Al-Safa Foundation respectively. Jaish has set up two main camps in Haripur and Balakot in NWFP. Its cadres walk for miles everyday to provide relief material to the people living on the mountains.

Hizbul has set up a big langar (open kitchen) in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

Dawa's founder Hafiz Saeed has come up with a solid 'rehabilitation strategy'. He plans to build schools, houses and mosques in the affected areas and look after all the abandoned and orphan children until adulthood. His deputy, Abdur Rehman Makki, claims confidently that Pakistan does not need foreign aid. Dawa alone can undertake the entire reconstruction and rehabilitation, provided it is given a free hand by the government, he claims.

People in the affected areas praise the jihadis to the skies and criticise the army and the US vehemently. In their opinion, the US is a selfish friend with a track record of abandoning Pakistan in emergencies.

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The complaints are widespread and analogies are being drawn from history: just like the Seventh Fleet that never came to 'rescue' Dhaka, US choppers did not arrive on time to rescue the critically injured; the Americans are nobody's sons, brothers, or friends; they are just wedded to their 'vested' interests; the Pakistan army is to 'rule' the people, not to serve them; its officers still wore starched uniforms, ate rich meals and puffed imported cigars when the ordinary people in Muzaffarabad desperately needed food, water, medicines and shelter.

Dawa's jihadis have sought to placate the people, even as they forbade them from chanting anti-army slogans.

Even the detractors of the jihadi groups have been favourably impressed by their relief work. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf [Images], the BBC, The Washington Post, CNN, ambassadors of European countries in Islamabad, among others, have appreciated Jamatud Dawa's work.

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More credence was attached to Dawa when a team of doctors from its ideological enemy, the Aga Khan Foundation, started working in its clinics. At present, international organisations like the Red Cross, World Health Organisation, United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, World Food Programme, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Khalsa Aid and Singapore Relief Agency are working with Dawa.

The army's callousness has disappointed even its most committed supporters.

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Irfan Siddiqui, a noted columnist, wrote in Nawa-i-Waqt: 'On October 8, the nation came to know that the lashkar (the army) it had been 'feeding' for the last 58 years did not have even a dozen helicopters to rescue a handful of its benefactors.'

One of the country's top India-baiters, Siddiqui surprisingly appreciated India. 'Nations who have faith in their people refuse foreign aid even when they need it desperately. India is one of them. It did so at least on two occasions. Sri Lanka [Images] turned down Israeli aid saying that its acceptance could hurt its Muslim population's sentiments.'

Anti-US sentiments are running very high even among the highly educated classes. In Bagh, PoK, Dr Shamim Khan, a Pakistan-born British doctor, responded sarcastically and with hostility to questions about the US contribution in the relief work: "We set up an operation theatre in a tent. A US Chinook landed here and the theatre disappeared. This is the Americans' contribution."

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Khan was also upset about the Pakistani government arresting Dr Amir Aziz at the Americans' behest for allegedly treating bin Laden. "A doctor can treat anybody. Although I wish to kill President Bush, but I would still treat him if he comes to me for treatment."

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's presence has further fanned anti-US sentiment. The jihadis, the right wing and the Opposition groups look at NATO's 1,000 soldiers in Muzaffarabad as a threat to Pakistan's security. They fear that these forces will remain in Pakistan permanently to protect 'US interests' in the region.

The earthquake has immensely strengthened the jihad-mongers. The Dawa has slowly and gradually been emerging as a State within the State, and the earthquake has accelerated that.

'The quake has strengthened jihad'

After providing education and health facilities to the poor masses in far-flung areas, Dawa had, just before the earthquake, launched a 'judicial system'. Like health and education, the Pakistani State has failed to provide its citizens quick justice, with courts taking decades to dispose of simple civil and criminal cases.

Taking advantage of the State's incompetence, Dawa had set up three arbitration courts at Hyderabad, Bahawalpur and Muridke. According to Hafiz Saeed, the results of these courts were 'very encouraging'. He claimed that Dawa's people approached these courts voluntarily and even accepted decisions in murder cases.

'If the LoC is opened, more harm will be caused to Pakistan'

The day may not be far when the mainstream population would also be forced to approach Dawa's courts.

If the Dawa is perceived as providing true justice, it will move closer to its agenda to establish a khilafat (caliphate), and a unique phase of Talibanisation will commence under the emarat (leadership) of Hafiz Saeed.

Mohammad Shehazad is an Islamabad-based journalist. Courtesy: South Asia Intelligence Review

Photographs: Getty Images

Also see:
Peace bus to be back on road soon
Second point along LoC opened
35 Kashmiris to cross LoC on foot
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