The Falah-i-Insaniyat's aggressive fundraising during Ramzan could help the jihadist group expand its reach
“Sharing is caring,” reads a cheerful logo on the website of the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation, soliciting charity from pious believers across the world during the holy month of Ramzan.
The website promises that just ‘1,800 will pay for one poor person's iftaar, when Muslims break their day-long fast'; ‘3,000, it says, ‘will cover the cost the morning suhoor meal as well.' There are advertisements for rural drinking water schemes, medical services and relief for victims of last year's floods.
But this message of mercy has set off alarm in India, and concern among counter-terrorism institutions worldwide: the Falah-i-Insaniyat, whose name translates as “the foundation for the prosperity of humankind,” is known to be a front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the November 2008 massacre in Mumbai, as well as several other lethal attacks.
The Falah's fundraising operations are raising fears that the organisation could divert charitable donations to fund terrorism, and expand its already-formidable reach across Pakistan.
Operates with impunity
Though Pakistan's Interior Ministry prohibited 25 terrorism-tainted organisations from soliciting funds during Ramzan, the Falah-i-Insaniyat operated with impunity, organising rallies, distributing pamphlets, and sending out bulk text messages.
Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the Lashkar's chief, addressed multiple rallies —accusing India of “trying to flood Pakistan by deliberately releasing water into its rivers,” and asking for aid for the victims.
Pakistan's The Express Tribune reported that Saeed had addressed followers at the Moon Market in Lahore on August 6, following it up with another rally at the Shahdara stadium.
The Lashkar chief's polemic hasn't been consistent: last April, during a similar charity drive, he claimed India had built dams in Jammu and Kashmir in a bid to “turn Pakistan into a desert.”
But the polemic makes clear Saeed sees the Falah-i-Insaniyat's operations as a tool with which to further his anti-India politics.
Even though the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation claims to be unconnected to the Lashkar, the United States State Department's Country Reports on Terrorism for 2010 states the terrorist group “coordinates its charitable activities through its front organizations Jamaat-ud-Dawa and, more recently, Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation.” It is used to collect donations from “Pakistani expatriate communities in the Middle East and Europe, particularly the United Kingdom.”
The organisation operates from Lashkar offices nationwide: its address, in Lahore's Chauburji area, is identical to that of the terrorist groups, and photographs obtained by The Hindu show a Falah-i-Insaniyat ambulance parked inside the terrorist group's office in Bahawalpur.
Pakistani officials have been telling the United States and India that they are working to rein in the Lashkar, but the Falah-i-Insaniyat's continued fundraising raises questions about their seriousness.
The Lashkar threat
Ever since 2006, India's intelligence services have known that the Falah's operations are closely integrated with the Lashkar's military aims. Rashid Abdullah — the Lashkar's long-standing commander of operations on the Indian ocean rim, who is also known by the aliases ‘Rehan' and ‘Wali'— is believed to be among the key figures in these efforts. The Falah operations were used by Abdullah to recruit operatives in Maldives, after the 2005 Indian ocean tsunami, and in Bangladesh.
In December 2008, counter-terrorism police in Bangladesh held Karachi-based Mubashir Shahid Mubin, Abdullah's top organiser, who is alleged to have run a textile business as a cover for operations targeting India.
The arrest was followed by a string of arrests in India: among them, of Muscat resident Sarfaraz Nawaz, who is alleged to have participated in the 2008 serial bombings in Bangalore; Hyderabad resident Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who, the National Investigation Agency says, was seeking to bomb the offices of the multinational firm, Deloitte; and Bashir Ahmad Baba, a Srinagar resident held in Gujarat on charges of conducting reconnaissance of potential targets in Gujarat.
Each of these men, intelligence sources told The Hindu, was tied to Abdullah's networks — which are also suspected of having supplied the military-grade Research Development Explosive used in the 2009 bombing of the German Bakery in Pune.
In a recent investigative, researchers Waleed Ziad and Mehreen Farooq noted that the Lashkar was gaining “popular support amongst low income families by providing free food, medical facilities and education.” They recounted the case of a poor family in Multan, which had its power supply cut off in the sweltering summer. An extremist cleric then “promised to indefinitely cover their electricity bills — as long as the family switched mosques.”
Pakistan's all-powerful military may not be unhappy about this project. The Hizb-ut-Tahrir, thought to have influenced several recent jihadist plots in Pakistan, was also banned from collecting charity during Ramzan this year — but it has put up banners on Lahore's Mall. The military also did little to rein in the Falah-i-Insaniyat, despite international concerns voiced after its role in last year's floods, the 2005 earthquake and among refugees in Pakistan's troubled northwest.
In the long-term, some experts argue, the jihadists could be seen by the military as reliable political allies, against the country's democratic politicians.