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- Use emergency aid against terrorism

It is important that there is an alternative support system for what is offered by radical organizations, so that people see that other alternatives exist, says FFI researcher Laila Bokhari


The October earthquake in Pakistan was the worst in man's memory, and the need for help is enormous. Laila Bokhari, who works daily as a researcher at the FFI, believes there is cause for concern when Islamist parties and militant groups exploit the South Asia earthquake in a political power play. At the same time, she points out that they also contribute significant relief to the victims after the disaster. Laila Bokhari will soon travel to Islamabad, where she will work as a guest researcher for a short period of time Islamabad Institute of Strategic Studies.

- Can you say something about the situation on the ground in the earthquake area?

- The situation can best be described as chaotic. Radical Islamist groups can use this situation to strengthen themselves. If one sees that the international community and the government do not manage to offer enough help and to be there for a long time, while they have an alternative aid apparatus present that is there for a long time, then it could increase sympathy for, and support for, these groups in the population.

- Can this be used to whip up an enemy image of the West?

- Yes it can, it is already used as an argument by some Islamist parties and radical groups that while massive aid flowed in during the tsunami, one sees a lack of commitment in this situation. Both political parties and militant organizations then use this further in their argumentation. They also say that the West sees us as friends and allies in the fight against terrorism, but what if we are in need?

The international community is there and is doing a lot. But at the same time, it may indicate a certain fatigue that manifests itself after so many natural disasters that we have seen in the past.

The question is who is there when the media and the international community are no longer there, that is what we should concentrate on. It is the local organizations and among them also the radical groupings. Especially if the authorities do not have the resources and apparatus to put in place.

- It may almost sound like you think that one should increase emergency aid just to stem radical groups?

- Yes, you can say that. Research has shown that it is not a necessary logic that poverty automatically leads to terrorism, but it does at least lead to sympathy and understanding of terrorism. This in turn can be used by the leaders of these radical groupings. For example, there has been an increase in children being sent for religious education, and there is nothing wrong with that, but it is the lack of control over what these children are taught that is the problem.

It should also be said here that the relief provided by these organizations is important and necessary, and that is not the wrong thing. It is important that the help comes, not who it comes from, as President Pervaiz Musharraf has stated several times. It is in the long run that such things become important. What I think is important is that there is an alternative support system, so people see that other alternatives exist.

- So you mean that you thereby reduce the basis of potential terrorists?

- Yes exactly, you reduce the desperation, you reduce the basis and reduce the addiction that can be created in such a relationship. We see this again, for example, in some of the mattresses in Pakistan, the problem is again not that they are there, but that there is no other alternative. You have no control over what is taught on the most radical mattresses. Thus, there is a larger selection of potential recruits for radical organizations.

The earthquake has left many orphans, and there is also concern that radical organizations will be able to adopt these children into their organizations.

At the same time, this is a difficult problem, because when you have orphans, you obviously want it to be a support system that helps these children to have a future, school and welfare services.

In any case, the Pakistani government faces a huge challenge, and Musharraf has said he cannot say no to anyone. With so many innocent victims, it is more important that help arrives, not who it comes from. In the same sentence, he has asked both the international community and the Pakistani diaspora to do what they can to help.

- One thing is that legal groups and parties operate in the area, but what about groups that have been declared illegal?

- Parties such as Jamate Islami are political parties, and have a presence in parliament. But the reason why they are present in the areas is that they also have an aid apparatus and a welfare program. In this way, they are similar to Hamas and Hezbollah, without me comparing them in any other way.

But groups like Lashkare Tayba and other illegal groups are declared illegal, but in these areas they are easily tolerated because there is no one else there.

After all, these groupings have been present in the area for a long time, know the area, and that is why they could be so quick and heavy in the relief work.

A number of these groups are banned, and in recent years have been heavily criticized by the authorities. Training camps are closed, people are arrested. But we still see that groups have survived, emerged with new names, etc.

- How has the earthquake affected these groups?

- The only quotes and references I have found about the number of casualties among militant groups are from Indian sources, and these vary from 300 to 3.000 dead. The fact that they were in the area will mean that they must have had losses, like everyone else, but something more about that is not known.

After all, the Pakistani military has been criticized in Pakistani and international media for not doing enough and not doing it fast enough. Can you say something about this?

After all, Kashmiris say that when Pakistan has been on the brink of war before, the military has come quickly to where they are going, and spent huge resources. Therefore, many people had hoped that the military would do more, and faster in such an emergency. I think the military really does a lot, and has achieved results, is present with infrastructure, but that people might have too high expectations of what they can accomplish.

The fact that Musharraf goes out and says that he cannot and will not prevent anyone from helping is also something that shows the everyday life in which he has to balance the various interests and parties against each other.

- When it comes to the military, do you know how strong these radical groups are in the military?

- It is said that the sympathy for radical Islamism is less than in the Taliban era, but it does take time, so there are probably some who still sympathize with some such groups. It takes time to replace an entire system, and the question is whether Musharraf has the opportunity to replace everyone he wants. For example, Islamist parties are strong in parliament and in the two provinces of NWFP and Baluchistan.

- How does the earthquake affect the support these groups have in Kashmir?

- What I think will be interesting in the future is that many of these organizations that are dominated by foreign fighters have not had much support among the Kashmiris, who see their involvement as that they have taken over a nationalist liberation struggle against an occupier and made it a part of its Islamist global jihad. But through the relief work now being done, people may be gaining more sympathy for some of these groups in Kashmir.

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