Suspected militant-linked charities help Pakistanis displaced by fighting

By Jibran Ahmad

By Jibran Ahmad

NARRARI Pakistan (Reuters) - Charities that the United Nations says are linked to militant groups are helping hungry Pakistanis fleeing a recent military offensive as the official number of those seeking aid reached nearly 900,000 on Monday.

Bureaucratic mixups mean some families did not receive food, the families told Reuters, despite queuing for days in the sun.

Groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a charity that both the United Nations and the United States say is a front for a banned militant group, are filling the gaps, raising fears that the towns and cities in the northwestern region of Bannu could become a fertile recruiting ground for militants.

Most families fled to Bannu after the military launched an anti-Taliban push in the border region of North Waziristan last month.

‎ "The government bombed our villages and forced us to leave our homes but failed to register us and give us shelter and food," said father Qurban Ali in the village of Narrari.

"These people of JuD are better than the government. First they gave us cooked rice and cold drinks and now they are providing us rations."

The National Disaster Management Agency said nearly 900,000 people had registered for aid. But aid groups say the true number of needy is estimated to be below 600,000 as many entries are fraudulent.

The government says that families are getting food and cash and registration is being improved. The World Food Programme said it had provided 4,000 tons of food to 544,000 people. The army has also given out rations.

"It was like hell in the initial days but things are improving," said Abbas Khan, the commissioner in charge of aiding the displaced. "Now it is better. There is no scarcity of any sort. We just need to distribute fast and effectively."

Some families told Reuters they knew people who had received triple rations while they had received nothing. While the system is sorted out, religious organizations accused of having links to militants are increasingly active.

"Some of these groups follow what Osama bin Laden stood for, a transnational ideology that uses force," said Imtiaz Gul, the heads of the Islamabad-based think tank the Center for Research and Security Studies.

"Not many in Pakistan agree with that. But such campaigns do help in the recruitment of people to this type of view."

Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation wing are among the groups active in Bannu. The U.N. and U.S. say the self-proclaimed charity is a proxy for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a militant group banned in Pakistan and blamed for killing 166 people in 2008 in Mumbai.

Hafiz Saeed, who used to head LeT and now heads JuD, insists the organization had no militant links. Mohammad Sarfaraz, the local JuD leader, also said the group was purely humanitarian.

They provided cooked food to 80,000 people, gave 5,000 families food packages and paid for others to leave North Waziristan, he said.

"Don't look for other (aid groups) to come and help you. They aren't sincere with Muslims and work only for the western agenda," he told families as he passed out dates and flour last week.

While most welcome food from anyone, the JuD's activism has perplexed some villagers.

"We left our homes due to militants but now we are receiving food and ration from another militant organization," said displaced tribesman Shah Wali Khan.

(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Nick Macfie)