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November 3, 2010 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 643

Conspiracy Theories on the August Floods in Pakistan

November 3, 2010 | By Tufail Ahmad
Pakistan | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 643

Introduction

On August 10, 2010, President Asif Zardari returned to Pakistan from his state visits to France and the UK and a stopover meeting with Bashar Al-Assad, the ruler of Syria.[1] The Pakistani president was roundly criticized in the UK and Pakistan for proceeding with the state visits as the country's worst floods in 80 years were unfolding.

By the time President Zardari returned, more than 1,500 people were killed by three weeks of monsoon-triggered floods. Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, estimated a day before Zardari's return that 13.8 million Pakistanis were affected, a figure now revised to 20 million.[2] While the international community and the Islamic nations were yet to respond, the U.S. had rushed rescue helicopters, more than half a million halal meals, and water for the flood-affected people.[3] The U.S. was leading the way in relief efforts, having pledged $35 million in aid, which was soon raised to $70 million and then to $150 million.

Three days before Zardari returned to Pakistan, Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Aid, was asked by a reporter if the U.S. flood relief will help change the negative image of America in Pakistan. He responded: "I hope so, of course."[4] However, a month after the floods, some trends in the Pakistani opinion can be noticed: lack of appreciation in the Pakistani media of the U.S. relief efforts, the Taliban's and other religious groups' harsh criticisms of the U.S. aid, and mushrooming conspiracy theories, including allegations that the floods were artificially caused by the U.S. military.

Taliban Spokesman: Despite the Aid, "Our Jihad Against the U.S. will Continue"

The Taliban were first to criticize the U.S. flood relief. Azam Tariq, spokesman of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or the Movement of Pakistani Taliban), urged the Pakistani government to reject American aid, offering $20 million in aid if the government agreed to the Taliban demand. "The government of Pakistan should not accept the U.S. aid, and if it does so, we will provide it with $20 million for flood victims," the spokesman said, adding: "We condemn the support from the U.S. and other foreign forces, as their aid will lead to subjugation [of Muslims] by foreign forces. Our jihad against the U.S. will continue."[5]

The Taliban spokesman's warning also elicited an appreciation of the U.S. relief work – a rarity in the Pakistani media – from Tanveer Qaiser Shahid, a senior editor with the mass-circulation Urdu-language daily Roznama Express. In an article, Shahid wrote, "The oppressors say that Pakistan should not receive aid from the United States. Why should we not accept it? I would like to 'submit' to these people that the U.S. is the only country that has extended more aid than any other country. It did not confine to making rhetoric and raising hands in prayers, but it practically helped the flood-affected people of Pakistan."[6] However, pro-U.S. comments like Shahid's are rare in Pakistan.

Qari Ziaur Rehman, a Taliban commander who is based in eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistani border, expressed satisfaction that the floods in Pakistan had cut off the U.S. and NATO trucks' supply routes through the Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan. Rehman, who is known for his pro-Pakistan comments, observed: "It's great news that the floods in Pakistan have cut off supplies to [the U.S. and] NATO troops in Afghanistan."[7]

Declaring that the Taliban attacks on the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan will continue during the holy month of Ramadan that began on August 11, he added: "Now we are in a position to confront the U.S. and allied troops' Kandahar operation, because the NATO troops' supplies coming through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan have been suspended completely. This is beneficial to us."[8]

Senator Saleh Shah: Floods Are "Allah's Wrath" for Not Protesting Against the U.S. Drone Attacks

While mainstream Pakistani politicians have not generally issued any positive statements, religious leaders and some parliamentarians have not only condemned the U.S. flood relief but have also engaged in conspiracy theories.

Saleh Shah, a senator from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs), argued that the floods are "Allah's wrath" on the Pakistani nation as a result of the Pakistani people's failure to protest against the U.S. drone attacks on militant safehavens.[9] Shah, who belongs to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) party, criticized all ruling political parties and the army for "reinforcing the U.S. policies in Pakistan."[10]

Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, another senator and prominent Deobandi cleric, accused the Pakistani government of drowning the residents of Jacobabad city by destroying a road in order to save the city's Shahbaz airbase from floods, and charged that the airbase was leased to the U.S. to carry out military operations in Afghanistan. Ahmed, who belongs to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), demanded an investigation to expose the government officials involved in the incident and urged the superior courts in Pakistan to take a suo moto notice – i.e. on their own – and order an investigation.[11]

Khushnood Lashari, the boss of Pakistan's Ministry of Health, also told the Pakistani Senate's Committee on Health that relief operations could not be conducted in the areas of Jacobabad town as the Shahbaz airbase was "controlled by the U.S.," a charge later denied by the Pakistan Army.[12] Semeen Yusuf Siddiqui, a member of the Senate Committee on Health, observed: "It is very unfortunate that Americans can launch a drone attack from the Shahbaz airbase but the government is helpless even in using the country's base for relief operations."[13]

Jamaat-e-Islami Emir: "To Accept Aid from the U.S. and India is Tantamount to Eating Poison"

In the flood-affected areas, a number of religious organizations have moved in to offer relief to displaced people, especially in areas where the Pakistani government has failed to provide immediate relief, and are exploiting public opinion to their advantage. Jamaat-e-Islami, which is the largest religious-political party in Pakistan, as well as the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) of Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S) of Maulana Samiul Haq have blamed the floods on the straying away of the Pakistani rulers from the teachings of Islam.

Liaqat Baloch, Secretary General of the Jamaat-e-Islami, accused the U.S. of seeking to restore its reputation in Pakistan through flood relief while simultaneously killing scores of civilians in air raids.[14] In an interview with the Iranian news agency Fars, he said: "The United States wants to improve its image through its aid to Pakistan... The U.S. aids Pakistan not for humanitarian purposes, but to protect the interests of the U.S. administration."[15] The religious leader, while urging Iran and China to provide flood relief, added: "A glance at the number of the victims killed by the U.S. in Pakistan under the pretext of the war on terrorism makes it very clear that the U.S. has, in fact, rendered no help and assistance to Pakistan."[16]

Syed Munawwar Hasan, the Emir of Jamaat-e-Islami, went to the extent of describing Pakistan's acceptance of flood relief from the U.S. and India as tantamount to eating poison, saying: "To accept aid from the U.S. and India is tantamount to eating poison. The U.S. and India are worst tyrants and terrorists. And there is no barkat [increase/auspiciousness] in the aid given by tyrants; rather diseases are born from it."[17]

Qari Hanif Jalandhari of Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia, a federation of more than 12,000 Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan, offered 3,000 Islamic seminaries in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh provinces as shelters for the displaced people.[18] He also declared that the Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia is ready to take orphans into its custody and provide them with food, shelter and religious education.[19] According to another report, Jalandhari condemned the secular non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for their flood relief work, arguing that they are anti-Islam and are forwarding a Western agenda.[20] While condemning the mainstream NGOs over their work, he also lauded the role of Islamic relief organizations such as the Deobandi charity Maymar Trust, saying: "Through a comprehensive transparent system, Maymar Trust is providing relief to the flood victims. The workers and administration of the trust will be paid highly by Allah in the Hereafter."[21]

Hizbut Tahrir Pakistan: Allowing U.S. Marines Inside Pakistan for Relief Work is Haram (Forbidden in Islam)

Among all religious and militant groups, one charity that is most active is Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation. This organization emerged after the militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba and its charity arm Jamaatud Dawa were outlawed by the UN Security Council following the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation is considered by the Pakistani media to be a new edition of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Emir of Jamaatud Dawa, asked Pakistanis to seek "forgiveness" from Allah, saying: "The widespread devastation caused by flood waters shows that it is due to our sins."[22]

Unlike the other anti-U.S. organizations, Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation issued a suave media statement, saying that it will accept U.S. aid for flood victims in Pakistan. Mian Adil, vice chairman of the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation, said, "There is no truth in media reports that quoted me as saying that we had refused U.S. aid for flood victims. We are experiencing the worst situation in Pakistan's history and will appeal to the Muslim Ummah, European Union, and the United States to generously help us in this hour of need."[23]

A day before Pakistan's Independence Day (August 14), which was muted this year due to the floods, Pakistani newspapers reported the arrival of 1,000 U.S. marines and 19 helicopters off the coast of Karachi to provide flood relief.[24] However, Hizbut Tahrir Pakistan, the Pakistani chapter of the British international Islamist organization, issued a press statement in Lahore, condemning the U.S. marines arriving in the "guise of humanitarian aid workers" and warning that the "entry of such a big number of U.S. soldiers is not in our national interest."[25]

Hizbut Tahrir Pakistan is an outlawed militant group in Pakistan that continues, like many such organizations, to work without any hindrance. Warning that "the entry of such a big number of U.S. soldiers is not in our national interest," the Hizbut Tahrir Pakistan went on to offer a religious declaration, saying: "allowing soldiers from non-Muslim countries into the territory of an Islamic country is Haram [forbidden in Islam]."[26]

Pakistani Website Blames U.S.-Based Research Program HAARP for Causing Artificial Floods in Pakistan

Expectedly, a bulk of anti-U.S. comments and conspiracy theories is being published in the right-wing, pro-military Pakistani media. In Pakistan, where the tiny liberal commentariat is arguably limited to two English-language newspapers Dawn and the Daily Times, the mainstream public opinion is molded by the Urdu-language press and right-wing English websites, which are led by the Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt and its sister English-language daily The Nation.

Pakistani leaders recently took a full week before deciding on August 20 to accept India's offer of $5 million in flood relief – a decision that came after P. J. Crowley, the U.S. State Department spokesman, warned, "In terms of responding to a disaster, politics should play no role. You have a country [India] that's willing to help, and... we expect that Pakistan will accept."[27] After Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announced that Pakistan would accept India's aid, Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt wrote an editorial, titled "Acceptance of India's Aid – Under American Slavery, Do Not Barter Away Our National Dignity."[28] The editorial blamed the floods on India, saying that the floods resulted after water was released by India into the Chenab, Jhelum, and Indus rivers and by Afghanistan-based Indian engineers into the Kabul river, all of which flow into Pakistan.

Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt published another report accusing the U.S. and British flood relief agencies of raising false alarms to pressure the Pakistan Army to launch military operation against the Taliban in southern Punjab and North Waziristan, the latter being one of the seven tribal districts where the military has not carried out operations against the militant safehavens.[29] The report noted: "The NGOs are raising false alarms of Taliban attacks and [militant] control in the flood-hit area as a tactic to increase international pressure on the Pakistani government to carry out an army operation. Another propaganda that the relief organizations are carrying out is that there is a fear that mines and ammunition stored by the Taliban can come down to the cities with the flood water."[30]

While it is normal in the Pakistani media to blame the U.S., India, and Israel for almost all major problems confronting the Pakistani people, a number of new websites have sprung up over the past few years in Pakistan. These websites are generally pro-Pakistani military and pro-militant groups, and are leading concerted campaigns and conspiracy theories against the U.S. Pakistankakhudahafiz.com, a rightwing website, recently published a report, arguing that the floods are "more manmade than natural."[31] In another report, titled "Reject U.S./Indian 'Help,"' the website accused the U.S. of "forcing" the Inter-Services Public Relations department of the Pakistani military to ensure "media coverage to [the role of] U.S. helicopters."[32]

Another website, pakalertpress.com – which was created on May 4, 2009 – is at the forefront of the anti-U.S. campaign. Several of its reports have recently blamed the U.S.'s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and HAARP (High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program)), a U.S. defense research project based out of Alaska, for causing the floods by artificially manipulating Pakistan's environment. It published a conspiracy report as early as August 6. The report, titled "Pakistan Flood: HAARP Used in Pakistan? – Urgent," observed: "All started suddenly and thousands died, millions displaced, hundreds of villages vanished in the matter of just 4 days!…strangely there were no weather warnings, no alarms… none of the global met offices was able to predict torrential downpours that precipitated the worst floods in Pakistan's history. Was HAARP involved?"[33]

The unidentified authors of the report went on to add: "We have investigated this matter and concluded that HAARP is being used in Pakistan… [the HARRP] is designed to submerge entire Pakistan and bring up the worst crises and chaos ever happened.. they know they can't win a war with nuclear-armed Pakistan – it would be a mutual destruction, so, they have other ways to do it!"[34]

Provincial Minister: "Terrorists are Joining the Flood Victims; They are Posing as Flood Affectees And are Regrouping in the Flood-Hit Areas"


Source: Al-Hayat, London, August 23, 2010

In the above cartoon, published by the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat of August 23, 2010, a Taliban militant casts a fishnet to catch the flood-affected people in Pakistan. The cartoon reflects a growing concern that due to the failure of the Pakistani government to rush immediate flood relief, several militant and religious organizations are filling in the vacuum. On their part, Pakistani government officials have acted irresponsibly, dithering for a week to accept India's $5 million in aid for flood victims and twice setting up fake relief camps in the towns of Mianwali and Dera Ismail Khan on the visits of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.[35]

In such a situation, militant organizations were first to rush aid. Such groups included Jamaatud Dawa, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Hizbut Tahrir, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation. An official of Jamaatud Dawa, who was identified as Hussain while collecting funds outside the Jama Mosque at the Khalid Bin Waleed Road in Karachi, accused the police of demanding bribes in order for his relief-collection camp to continue, saying: "[The police charge that] we are a terrorist organization, we have to give them a share of our earnings."[36]

Such media reports are eroding the authority of the Pakistani government. On August 20, while Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik was announcing – under the U.S. pressure – that militant groups will not be allowed to visit the flood-affected areas, Abdul Basit, the spokesman of Foreign Office in Islamabad, was lauding the role of religious charities linked to militant groups. Basit added: "It is all very easy to term any particular NGO as a jihadi organization. I do not really know how you define a particular NGO as a jihadi organization."[37] The liberal newspaper Dawn reported that Basit "appeared to confirm fears that these groups might be winning the battle of hearts and minds in the flood-affected region."[38]

Recently, Imran Khan, a cricketer-turned politician, warned that the government of Pakistan has been losing moral authority and a people's revolution is looming in Pakistan in the wake of the floods.[39] Altaf Hussain, the chief of Muttahida Qaumi Movement party which is part of the federal government, recently urged the army to intervene in the country's affairs, saying: "Pakistan needs a revolution like the French Revolution to rid the country of corrupt politicians, retrieve the funds looted from national exchequers…"[40] Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the Information Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, warned on August 22 that the militants are regrouping in areas around Peshawar, the provincial capital, and could launch an attack anytime.[41] Hussain added: "Terrorists are joining the flood victims. They are posing as flood affectees and are regrouping in the flood-hit areas."[42]

*Tufail Ahmad is Director of MEMRI's South Asia Studies Project.

Endnotes:

[1] www.dawn.com (Pakistan), August 10, 2010.

[2] Daily Times (Pakistan), August 10, 2010.

[3] Daily Times (Pakistan), August 8, 2010.

[4] Daily Times (Pakistan), August 8, 2010.

[5] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan) August 11, 2010.

[6] Roznama Express (Pakistan), August 13, 2010.

[7] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), August 12, 2010.

[8] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), August 12, 2010.

[9] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), August 19, 2010.

[10] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), August 19, 2010.

[11] Roznama Express, Pakistan, August 16, 2010.

[12] www.timesofindia.com (India), August 19, 2010.

[13] www.timesofindia.com (India), August 19, 2010.

[14] Fars (Iran), August 22, 2010.

[15] Fars (Iran), August 22, 2010.

[16] Fars (Iran), August 22, 2010.

[17] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), August 24, 2010.

[18] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 15, 2010.

[19] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), August 15, 2010.

[20] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 24, 2010.

[21] Roznama Islam (Pakistan), August 24, 2010.

[22] www.pakistankakhudahafiz.com (Pakistan), August 20, 2010.

[23] The News (Pakistan), August 9, 2010.

[24] Dawn (Pakistan), August 13, 2010.

[25] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), August 15, 2010.

[26] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), August 15, 2010.

[27] www.ndtv.com (India), August 20, 2010.

[28] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), August 22, 2010.

[29] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), August 22, 2010.

[30] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), August 24, 2010.

[31] www.pakistankakhudahafiz.com (Pakistan), August 16, 2010.

[32] www.pakistankakhudahafiz.com (Pakistan), August 16, 2010.

[33] www.pakalertpress.com (Pakistan), August 6, 2010.

[34] www.pakalertpress.com (Pakistan), August 6, 2010.

[35] www.dawn.com (Pakistan), August 18, 2010.

[36] www.timesofindia.com (India), August 18, 2010.

[37] Dawn (Pakistan), August 20, 2010.

[38] Dawn (Pakistan), August 20, 2010.

[39] The News (Pakistan), August 6, 2010.

[40] www.mqm.org (Pakistan), August 22, 2010.

[41] Daily Times (Pakistan), August 23, 2010.

[42] Daily Times (Pakistan), August 23, 2010.

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