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VIDEO: Hafiz Saeed Distributing Eid Gifts in Muzaffargarh

September 22, 2010

As they had done in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, once again it was Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)’s men who were the first to reach the affected areas, bringing with them tents, huge pots to cook free meals, vans, tractors, and even mobile hospitals, doctors and medical camps. They are currently providing temporary shelters in tent-villages, medical assistance, warm meals, food rations, clothes, rescue and transport services and filtered water to hundreds of thousands of flood affectees all over Pakistan.

“They were the first to come with tractors and vans to evacuate our people,” said Shafaatullah Khan who lives in a village near the Indus in Punjab province. “If they hadn’t been many people would have died. They worked day and night to get people out and provide cooked food and water.”

Nearby, workers of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) hovered around four huge pots, preparing food over a smoky fire while four women clad in burqas sat at a charity medical post.

The JuD is blamed by India for being behind the Mumbai attacks of 2008, however Pakistani courts have twice thrown out cases against its founder Hafiz Saeed due to lack of evidence connecting his organisation to the Mumbai attacks.

Even then, such connections mean nothing to most Pakistanis.

“Everyone has a good impression of them,” land owner Mohammad Ali Khan said of the religious charity workers.

“They do their part,” Khan said in the village of Isa Khel, as diesel pumps clattered nearby, trying to suck water out of a row of shops over a muddy road and into water-logged fields.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa has over 3,000 workers on ground and are providing cooked meals to over 60,000 people twice a day, and growing. Additionally they have used motorboats for search and rescue operations alongside Pakistan’s armed forces, and have set up hundreds of medical camps manned by doctors and other medical staff and ambulances.

This is not the first time they have mounted a high-profile response to a natural disaster in Pakistan.

In 2005, they established a reputation as a tireless relief group by helping many thousands of survivors after an earthquake struck the north of the country, killing 73,000 people. They have also helped people displaced by fighting against militants.

Many flood victims criticise the authorities for what they see as their failure to bring help quickly.

The support the JuD workers gain from their relief work could further undermine confidence in a government already under suspicion for its alliance with the United States in the global campaign against militancy.

Many Pakistanis are deeply suspicious of the United States, largely because of its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which are seen as attacks on Islam.

But the JuD dismisses any suggestion it is trying to win over the population to the cause of Islam.

“We don’t have any political agenda,” said JuD spokesman, Yahya Mujahid, who declined to comment on links to LeT.

A squat, burly man with a thick black beard flowing half-way down his chest, Mujahid said his group would contest elections if it wanted to get involved in politics.

“Our work is totally humanitarian,” he said, adding that it helped everyone, regardless of religion. After the Mumbai attacks, Pakistani Hindus came out on to the streets and staged public protests against JuD’s ban by the United Nations – saying that the Charity had been helping them for years.

Another JuD official said a government crackdown on the group’s finances had created problems but Mujahid said hostility towards his group bolstered its standing in the eyes of many: “The propaganda against us actually works in our favour.”

Villagers in the saturated flood plains along the Indus are simply thankful for whatever help they get.

“For us they’re angels,” retired policeman Gul Mohammad Khan said of the JuD relief workers.

“We don’t care who they are or what their agenda is. We were in crisis and they were the first to help. That’s it.”

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