Islamist Leader in Pakistan Says Accepting Flood Relief From U.S. and India Is Like ‘Poison’

By Patrick Goodenough | August 25, 2010 | 4:33 AM EDT

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) head Syed Munawar Hasan (Photo: JI Web site)

( – Accepting emergency aid from the United States or India amounts to taking “poison,” the head of one of Pakistan’s leading Islamist political parties said Tuesday.
The remarks by Syed Munawar Hasan, head of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), evidently were intended to apply new pressure on a government already walking a tightrope between dealing with the flood crisis and antagonizing radical elements.
He spoke on the same day the United Nations appealed for more helicopters to help reach hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis cut off by the “unprecedented floods.”
The U.S. has been the largest donor by far to the aid effort, committing 19 U.S. Marine and U.S. Navy helicopters to the task of delivering relief and evacuating people stranded by floodwaters. Apart from Pakistan itself the only other countries known to have provided military helicopters are the United Arab Emirates and Japan.
According to a statement released by JI, Hasan said Pakistan should not be taking aid from the U.S. or from neighboring India.

A U.S. Army Chinook helicopter unloads flood relief aid on August 24, 2010. (Photo: State Department / courtesy Asif Jilani)

“The U.S. and India are the biggest tyrants and terrorists on the face of the earth and aid or assistance from them would be hazardous and would lead to an epidemic,” it quoted him as telling JI workers at a relief camp set up in Karachi.
JI and other Islamist parties in Pakistan are highly critical of Islamabad for its cooperation with the U.S., especially in combating radical groups. Hasan called earlier this year for all Pakistanis to “unite against America” and the group has held rallies under the banner “Go America Go.”
JI also reviles India, Pakistan’s longstanding rival which controls part of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region claimed by both countries.
India offered $5 million towards the flood relief effort, but despite the scale of the emergency – the U.N. says as many as 20 million people have been affected – Pakistan dithered over the offer for almost a week.
Last Wednesday, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley urged Islamabad to accept India’s help, saying that “in terms of responding to a disaster, politics should play no role.”
Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman responded by saying the matter was under consideration, adding, “Pakistan is a sovereign country and we will take a decision according to what we believe is a right thing to do.”
Eventually on Friday, Pakistani diplomats at the U.N. thanked India for the offered assistance, and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi denied there had been political reasons behind the delay in accepting.
Visas, but not for Indians, Israelis
Another sign of the Pakistani government’s wariness about radical sentiment at home was seen this week in a decision to ease visa requirements for foreign relief workers – with the exception of Indians and Israelis.
Indian media reported Wednesday that an interior ministry letter, now being sent to Pakistani missions abroad, provided for special three-month relief work visas for international aid workers, but said the facility would not be available to Indian and Israeli nationals.

Children line up for food at a camp for people displaced by floods on the outskirts of Sukkur, southern Pakistan, Wednesday, Aug 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

Some aid agencies had said earlier that delays in visa applications were hampering their efforts.
India’s NDTV television reported last week that nearly 400 Indian doctors were awaiting visas to enter the country to help flooding victims. Medical help is a high priority, as health officials expect outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne disease epidemics, especially among children and vulnerable groups.
Israel frequently has sent humanitarian aid to countries in the wake of natural disasters, even offering help to hostile or unfriendly countries. (Iran turned down an Israeli offer to send a highly-regarded rescue squad to search for survivors of the Bam earthquake in 2003. It did on that occasion accept aid from the U.S. and Britain.)
Pakistan’s former military government accepted help from Israeli non-governmental organizations after the huge earthquake in Kashmir in 2005.
One of the NGOs, Israeli Flying Aid, reported later that its delivery of food, blankets, clothing, heating kits and temporary building materials had to be undertaken “under complete confidentiality” with team members required to have “a local-Muslim appearance due to great personal risk.”
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow