LeT's support to Rohingya will worry India: New Delhi must ensure humanitarian donations aren't used to fund terror

Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Saeed may have a clout that's even bigger than what he is accused of. It appears that leaders of disaffected groups abroad find it useful to appeal to the terrorist leader for help with their own issues at home.

Media reports have indicated that Firdous Sheikh, president of the Rohingya Federation of Arakan (RFA), had attended a seminar organised by the Al-Khidmat Foundation of Pakistan with the Hazara University in Manshera in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. This seminar, and another later in Islamabad, were held in support of the Rohingya cause. This cannot be faulted in itself. Given their terrible plight, the Rohingya have every right to ask for help from whoever is offering any. However, asking declared terrorist leaders for assistance is something else and is unlikely to benefit the Rohingya cause worldwide.

The RFA chief is reported to have met members of the LeT including Naveed Qamar, head of the banned group in Karachi, and Nurul Hussain, head of the Pakistan-based Rohingya Solidarity Organisation.

A Rohingya refugee camp in New Delhi. AP

A Rohingya refugee camp in New Delhi. AP

Qamar is designated as a terrorist by the US state department, while the RSO has long been involved in liaising with extremist groups including the Hizbul Mujahideen and the religious Right, among them the Jamaat-e-Islami. However, ever since the LeT began supporting the Rohingya in 2010, these groups have tended to gravitate towards them as a source for funding and support.

The picture gets even more complex. The Al Khidmat Foundation, which invited Sheikh to its seminar, is part of a network that includes the Jamaat-e-Islami as well as several educational fronts, including the Rural Education Foundation of Pakistan that manages 374 schools in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and counts the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) as among its sources of funding.

The ICNA is a resource rich body made up largely of South Asians and is often at odds with the government. The head of Al Khidmat was earlier part of the ICNA. Wikileaks had quoted a US embassy telegram identifying Al Khidmat as one of the organisations involved in recruitment of Jihadi terrorists. The cable mentioned in sickening detail the ways in which such groups recruited and indoctrinated children from the poorest of the poor. The annual estimate of funds collected at the time was around a hundred million dollars.

Now it appears that Al Khidmat is planning to form a coalition of groups to support the Rohingya, and its website is emblazoned with an appeal for donations. Again, this in itself is hardly a crime, since the desperate people of the Arakan need all the help they can get.

The trouble is the organisation and its associates are part of a network that Jihadi groups command, and that the donations that they will get will undoubtedly be siphoned off for other activities.

Furthermore, with an office in Cox's Bazar, there's also trouble ahead for Myanmar soon. Cox's Bazar is the jump off point for the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), which was designated as an alias of the LeT by the US state department. But that hasn't limited the activities of the organisation, which announced that its caravan reached Rakhine state with aid.

It advertised the activities it undertook in Myanmar, and for obvious reasons. After all, its funds come from within the state and also from charitable organisations abroad. Though it has since been careful to edit its web content, the perorations of FIF's leaders reveal its highly extremist mindset, particularly against the US and India.

Trouble for India

If reports are to be believed, there's trouble ahead for India too. The Al Khidmat's proposed coalition — to be called the Rohingya Task Force — will concern itself with Rohingya everywhere, and that will certainly include India. There are reportedly around 40,000 Rohingya in India, according to a count which appears to have been done some years ago. As the conflict rages, more are coming in every day, brought in by human traffickers. They are also provided with fake identity cards by touts and agents, primarily in Guwahati and Kolkata.

Needless to add, political organisations take advantage of the influx to ensure additional votes. West Bengal stands out in this regard, both due to its long and porous border, and for other, less savoury reasons. Fleeing Rohingya have also settled in some of the northeastern states like Mizoram, where they are being cared for by the local administration. No one really knows how many are present in other parts of the country. At one time, several hundreds had arrived in Delhi through the aegis of an unscrupulous building contractor. They were hustled out when the matter came to public notice.

The decision to deport Rohingya by the Union government is being opposed by various sections of society, particularly given the fact that India has traditionally never turned away those in need. From a practical point of view, the sheer impossibility of tracing exactly where the Rohingya are is also likely to be a Herculean task, particularly if they have documentation that shows them as Indian nationals.

But the trouble is not the Rohingya themselves. Those who have settled in India over the decades have shown themselves to be peaceable citizens with no tendency towards militancy. The problem arises from those who would like to change this mindset, with the LeT leading the charge. With their fronts already in conflict areas, there is no time to lose.

India has to be seen to provide generous assistance to the Rohingya, even while making every move to ensure that they are able to return to their homelands safely and securely. This will be no diplomatic cake walk. But the alternative could be a Jihadi soup in the making in the wasted lands of the Arakan.

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Updated Date: Dec 13, 2017 14:34:45 IST

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