Sat, Sep 20, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Pakistani extremists use floods
to turn opinion against India

Deadly floods supply talking points for militants and extremists dedicated to demonizing Pakistan’s nuclear rival

By Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Asim Tanveer  /  Reuters, MULTAN, Pakistan

Illustration: Lance Liu

Hafiz Saeed, widely considered one of South Asia’s most dangerous militants, has no doubt who is to blame for devastating floods that have submerged sections of Pakistani countryside and claimed hundreds of lives.

“India irrigates its deserts and dumps extra water on Pakistan without any warning,” Saeed said as he surveyed a vast expanse of muddy water from a rescue boat just outside the central city of Multan, Pakistan.

“If we do not stop India now, Pakistan will continue to face this danger,” he said.

His comments would surprise few in India, where Saeed is suspected of helping mastermind the 2008 Mumbai massacre which killed 166 people, a few of them US citizens. Saeed, who also has a US$10 million US bounty on his head, denies involvement.

However, his presence in the flood-hit area is part of a push by Pakistani extremists, militants and organizations linked to them to fill the vacuum left by struggling local authorities and turn people against a neighbor long viewed with deep mistrust.

Water is an emotive issue in Pakistan, whose rapidly rising population depends on snow-fed Himalayan rivers for everything from drinking water to agriculture.

Many Pakistanis believe that India uses its upstream dams to manipulate how much water flows down to Pakistani wheat and cotton fields, with some describing it as a “water bomb” designed to weaken its neighbor.

There is no evidence to prove that and India has long dismissed such accusations as nonsense. Experts say this month’s floods, which also hit India’s part of the disputed Kashmir region, were caused by the sheer volume of rainfall.

In fact, some Pakistanis accuse their own government of failing to invest in dams and other infrastructure needed to regulate water levels through wet and dry seasons.

However, others agree with the narrative pushed by Saeed and Syed Salahuddin, head of the militant anti-Indian Hizbul Mujahideen group and also one of India’s most-wanted men.

“India wants to turn Pakistan into an arid desert,” Salahuddin told reporters in a telephone interview, describing another scenario feared by some Pakistanis — that India will cut off supplies of water in times of shortage.

“If this continues, a new jihad will begin. Our fighters and all of Pakistan’s fighters are ready to avenge Indian brutality in whatever form.”

FOOD, IDEOLOGY

Saeed’s charity, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), has sent hundreds of workers to areas of Pakistan worst affected by the floods, where they distribute food and medicine at the same time as spreading the organization’s hardline ideology against India.

JuD is believed by many experts to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group which India says carried out the Mumbai attack. Saeed was a cofounder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, but he has played down his links to the group in recent years.

“This is a premeditated plan by India to make Pakistan suffer,” said Abdur Rauf, who has worked as a JuD volunteer for 16 years, as he prepared to distribute medicine and syringes at a relief camp near Multan.

“Do not be fooled. This water bomb is no different from the atom bomb. It is worse,” he said.

Officials in India’s water resources ministry this week declined to respond to charges of “water terrorism,” saying the charges were being stoked by militants, not the Pakistani government.

Much of the Indian-held side of Kashmir has also been hit by flooding, the worst in that region for more than a century, and officials have put the death toll there at more than 200.

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