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

By Mohammad Shehzad
Last updated on: October 24, 2005 15:55 IST
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Jihadis are doing much of the relief work inĀ earthquake-hit areas across Pakistan.

The Jamatud Dawa (the reincarnation of Markaz Dawatul Irshad whose armed brigade was the Lashkar-e-Tayiba) has emerged as the most organised and well-equipped outfit in far-flung areas, providing relief through motorboats and mules.

The Jamat set up mobile X-ray machines and operation theatres in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Its 350 workers were connected with each other through wireless in Muzaffarabad and Bagh that are left with no communication infrastructure.

The difference between India and Pakistan

They are being assisted by orthopaedic surgeon Dr Amir Aziz who was arrested in 2002 for treating Osama bin Laden. Dr Aziz has set up a mobile orthopaedic unit at the Jamat's relief camp near the Sangam Hotel where he treats victims.

Jihadis to adopt quake orphans

Mohammad Shehzad approached Lashkar-e-Tayiba founder Professor Hafiz Saeed and interviewed the jihadi leader. This is what he discovered:

The world knows him as one of the most dreaded jihadis. India wants him dead or alive. His name is on India's list of most 'wanted terrorists'. He is the architect of suicide attacks in Kashmir. At his call, women in Pakistan donate ornaments and men stack currency notes at his feet.

He is the founder of the largest jihadi network in Pakistan, currently known as Jamatud Dawa.

On Saturday, October 22, evening, I dined with Hafiz Saeed -- a rare opportunity -- at his Islamabad headquarters, the Jamia Mosque Quba, in I-8 Markaz.

Just 24 hours ago, I had attended his lecture at the Green Palace Hotel in Rawalpindi.

I had requested an interview. He was willing to speak, but his bodyguard wanted him to leave for Bagh, one of the worst hit districts by the October 8 earthquake in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

"Let us do it some other time," he said.

"Hafizsaheb, could it be done tomorrow after your address in Islamabad?" I enquired. "I am not sure I would be able to make it because I will be travelling back from Bagh," he replied and sat in his van.

Saeed moves around under strict security. A convoy of vehicles guards him.

The next day, I arrived at I-8 Markaz. To my surprise his guards gave me a warm welcome. They took me to his room where he was having his iftaar dinner along with close aides, squatting on the floor. The guards asked me to sit besides him. He served me food.

"I am pleased to see you eating with a spoon and fork. At least you have dispelled this propaganda that jihadis are uncivilised," I said.

"We use spoons and forks when they are available. But we are not after them!" He was referring to the term chamcha! (or spoon that denotes a sycophant).

"When (Afghan President )Hamid Karzai eats on the floor it is called culture and when we do that it is tantamount to extremism," Saeed, who has a sense of humour, said. "The same Newsweek and Time that call our struggle terrorism used to declare it a holy war during the Afghan jihad. The US was earlier uncomfortable with our jihad. And now it is uncomfortable with our relief work!"

"Start the interview. I have to drive back to Lahore," he said. "But I won't discuss controversial issues today. Your questions should be earthquake-specific," he warned.

Saeed spoke for 30 minutes.

How do you look at the earthquake?

The earthquake is the result of the rulers' sinful policies.

They wanted the women to abandon hijab; run with men nude in bikinis; and learn dance and music. They were not afraid of Allah but (US President George) Bush. At his (Bush's) behest, they wanted to purge our schoolbooks from verses on jihad; befriend India and recognise Israel.

They banned all the jihadi outfits and abandoned jihad. They made jihad an abusive term.

They wanted all the Pakistanis to adopt the 'get-up' of Bush. They blatantly ridiculed the commandments of Allah. Thus they invited the wrath of God in the form of the earthquake.

But the earthquake didn't kill the rulers?

Allah knows better why He didn't kill the rulers. He has warned the rulers by killing a section of the population.

He wants the rulers to learn a lesson from the quake and become pious Muslims.

There is also a lesson for common folk like us. We too are sinful. We too should seek Allah's forgiveness and adopt the right path.

Otherwise, a bigger devastation will completely ruin us.

You have been visiting the affected areas. What have been your observations?

The biggest issue is rehabilitation.

The quake has either completely destroyed houses or rendered them unsafe for living.

People are fearful to take shelter in their half-destroyed houses. They prefer to stay in the open and get wet. The entire Kashmir has to be reconstructed.

With schools destroyed, madrassas beckon

What is Jamatud Dawa doing in this regard?

We will construct fibre houses consisting of a big room, a toilet and a kitchen for each family. Each house will cost 50,000 rupees. It is cheap, easy, immediate and sustainable for three years. It is better than tents.

The earthquake has destroyed all the mosques. We will construct 400 fibre mosques. We want to move on it very quickly before snowfall.

Most of the people have received bone injuries. Therefore, we have set up mobile orthopaedic and surgical centres in Muzaffarabad, Bagh, Dheerkot (three districts in PoK), Mansera and Balakot (the North West Frontier Province). We are providing people all the necessities of life. In inaccessible places, we are reaching people through mules.

Do you have the money to undertake these tasks?

It requires a lot of money. We don't have it. But we are raising funds. We are motivating people to donate money for fibre mosques and fibre houses. I am visiting every town of Pakistan and setting targets for the people -- for mosques and houses. People are cooperating and the task is deliverable.

Is the government helping Jamatud Dawa?

The government is not helping at all. In fact, it created hurdles in our work initially. Our camps in Multan, Lahore and Peshawar were removed.

The government did not realise the magnitude of loss. It thought it would do the relief work singlehandedly. It realised later that it cannot do everything alone.

At least, it is not stopping us from working now.

However, impressed with our wonderful job, some foreign countries are working with us very closely. Singapore donated 10,000 tents. The Turkish team donated $5,000 to purchase mules. Indonesian and Turkish doctors are working in our camps.

Let me share that during the tsunami, we helped Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government wrote us a letter of appreciation. We wanted to help the US during the hurricanes. We offered the Americans help through a letter to the US embassy in Islamabad, but we never heard from the embassy.

Some clerics are propagating that accepting foreign aid is unIslamic. What are your thoughts on it?

Accepting foreign aid is not unIslamic or against the Shariat. But we should not beg for it. We should not degrade ourselves. We have the resources to start from zero.

General Musharraf has solicited help from Israel. Is that unIslamic?

We should not solicit help from Israel.

It is the question of Muslim honour and self-respect. The Jews can never be our friends. This is stated by Allah. Instead of Israel, we should seek help from Muslim countries and we should depend on our people.

General Musharraf has agreed to open the Line of Control for free movement of Kashmiris to help each other in the aftermath of the earthquake. How do you look at that?

We don't accept the LoC. It should be finished. Kashmir should be a one unit. And it should be with Pakistan because its geographical location supports its union with Pakistan.

Kashmir and Pakistan are the same sides of one coin.

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

'Quake has strengthened jihad'

India will use it as an opportunity to send the spies of RAW (Research And Analysis Wing).

The Indian media reported that around 3,000 militants have died in the earthquake.

It is malicious propaganda. I urge you to fight it.

There are no militants in Kashmir. Every Kashmiri is a mujahid. And the mujahideen are helping the people.

If they are dead then who is undertaking the relief work? Ghosts?!

In fact, the Indian lobby is very active to use the earthquake as an opportunity to malign Pakistan. It is demonising the Pakistan army by propagating that it is not helping the people. The loss is on a very wide scale. The army cannot reach everywhere. But this does not mean that it should be criticised. We should praise the army's role even if we have disagreements and disputes.

This is the time to forget the differences, unite and work together.

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Mohammad Shehzad