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Led by Jihad commander, Lashkar defies FATF threat to carry out flood-relief work in Pakistan

Lashkar’s efforts, which include distributing blankets and opening food kitchens, come at a time when Islamabad is preparing for visits by inspectors of Financial Action Task Force.

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New Delhi: A jihad commander sanctioned by the United States for financing terrorism is leading fundraising and flood-relief efforts in Pakistan involving thousands of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) cadres, government sources have told ThePrint.

The massive flood-relief effort is being run from Lashkar’s Masjid al-Qadsia in Lahore, of which the government claimed to have taken control four years ago, as part of a crackdown on the jihadist group.

Led by Hafiz Abdul Rauf — a cleric sanctioned by the US government on terror-financing charges — Lashkar’s flood-relief push comes at a time when Islamabad is preparing for visits by inspectors of the multinational Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The FATF had announced in June that it would conduct on-site inspections to evaluate Pakistan’s request to exit a list of states at risk of terrorism-related sanctions.

Estimates suggest that FATF’s decision to include Pakistan in a grey list of states found to be complicit in terrorism-financing cost Pakistan USD 38 billion in lost investments since 2018.

But Lashkar volunteers are now openly raising funds in Lahore and smaller cities across Pakistan’s flood-ravaged southern Punjab, sources said. The organisation has also been distributing blankets, opening food kitchens and promising to help rebuild tens of thousands of destroyed homes.

Images gathered from pro-Lashkar social media feeds by the South Asia Monitor show volunteers wearing safety-vests with markings identifying them as members of the Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, a political party founded by Lashkar chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. 

A relief camp for flood victims organised by Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek | By special arrangement

“The devastation caused by the floods has given all kinds of religious groups an opportunity to assert their influence,” scholar Ayesha Siddiqa told ThePrint, adding: “The devastation is so widespread that people aren’t asking questions about who is helping them.”

Also Read: Ukraine’s munitions might be coming from unlikely source — Russia’s new friend Pakistan

Leaders of the Lashkar resurgence

Listed by counter-terrorism authorities in the United States as head of LeT’s charitable wing, Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, Rauf is believed to have been born in Sialkot in 1973.

There is little documentation of Rauf’s role in the organisation, but US government records suggest he was appointed to lead the LeT’s charitable wing in mid-2010. The Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation was designated by the United Nations Security Council as a front for Lashkar in 2012.

Footage obtained by ThePrint, though, shows Rauf regularly delivers sermons at the Masjid al-Qadsia, years after the district administration in Pakistan’s Punjab took control of the mosque, along with Lashkar’s sprawling headquarters at Muridke.

In a speech on 22 July, days after Pakistan notified the FATF that it had secretly tried and convicted key 26/11 perpetrator Sajid Mir, Rauf had urged a congregation to show it was “unafraid of punishment put in the way of inviting the world to Islam”. Following the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last year, Rauf had given another speech, attacking the United States and hailing “the victory of Islam and the Muslims”.

Talha Saeed — Hafiz Saeed’s son and likely successor — has also been seen delivering speeches at Masjid al-Qadsia and other mosques in Lahore on more than one occasion. In 2019, Talha had survived an assassination attempt at Masjid Ali-o-Murtaza, on the outskirts of Lahore, where he was delivering a sermon to Lashkar supporters.

Leveraging misery

Lashkar has been known to use charitable operations to expand its influence.

The organisation’s main campus at Muridke includes the al-Dawa Model School, a science college, and the al-Aziz Hospital, all of which provide high-quality services to the poor. Free education, medical treatment and ambulance services enable it to reach out to constituencies across Pakistan, according to expert Animesh Roul.

The group even took advantage of the misery caused by the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, and floods in 2010, to expand its reach.

Contrary to claims made by Islamabad, all evidence points to the fact that Lashkar’s charitable infrastructure continued to grow after 26/11, with the group even setting up drinking-water infrastructure in southern Pakistan and providing relief to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Prior to the 26/11 attacks, front organisations for Islamist groups linked to terrorism — Lashkar, Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and the Jama’at-e-Islami — were raising upwards of USD 100 million each year in charitable donations from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a leaked US diplomatic cable had recorded on 13 November 2008.

Large parts of these charitable donations, the cable said, were being used to pay compensation to jihadists killed in counter-terrorism operations in regions like Kashmir, as well as to recruit cadre from “families with multiple children, particularly those facing severe financial difficulties in light of inflation, poor crop yields, and growing unemployment”.

Among these recruits was Muhammad Ajmal Kasab, the 26/11 attacker later hanged for his role in the attacks. Similar cases, like that of arrested teenage terrorist Ali Babar Patran, have surfaced regularly.

Lashkar impunity

Faced with international pressure after the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan jailed Saeed and other Lashkar leaders at least nine times — only for him to be released weeks or months later. 

“Even if Saeed is technically not roaming the streets, the Government of Pakistan’s inability to win the legal case against him is embarrassing,” then US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, wrote in a 2009 diplomatic cable.

The threat of FATF sanctions, though, forced Pakistan’s hand, resulting in Saeed’s conviction in 2020 on terrorism financing charges. Lashkar leaders Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Abdul Rehman Makki also received prison sentences, along with several second-rung figures.

However, following the 2020 conviction, Saeed was quietly moved out of Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail and moved back to his white, three-storey home at 116E Johar Town in Lahore. His whereabouts were revealed when he was targeted in a bombing on the eve of a meeting of the FATF in October 2020.

Lakhvi, for his part, was reported to have unlimited access to visitors and the internet while in prison. He was even rumoured to have fathered a child.

Key Lashkar commanders, like 26/11-accused trainer Muzammil Bhat and Sajid Saifullah Jatt, have remained active.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Modi’s flood tweet, Jaishankar’s statement show something has thawed in India-Pakistan ties


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