In Pakistan’s Punjab, a struggle to run seized militant charity network

In Pakistan’s Punjab, a struggle to run seized militant charity network
Pakistani forces in Karachi sealing an office door at Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a militant-linked charity. (AP/File)
Updated 04 May 2019

In Pakistan’s Punjab, a struggle to run seized militant charity network

In Pakistan’s Punjab, a struggle to run seized militant charity network
  • Hundreds of seminaries, colleges, pharmacies, ambulances, hospitals and offices of banned outfits seized in crackdown
  • Interviews reveal government does not have a plan or necessary manpower and funds to manage the infrastructure

LAHORE/RAWALPINDI: A crackdown on militant groups launched this year has seen Pakistan arrest hundreds of people and seize a vast network of Islamic charities, religious schools, offices, pharmacies, hospitals and ambulances in the country’s richest and most populous Punjab province.
Almost three months later, interviews with provincial officials reveal that the government neither has a clear plan, nor the necessary manpower and funds, to manage the booty, reinforcing critics who say such indiscriminate clampdowns rarely solve long-standing security problems.
Pakistan is facing pressure from global powers to act against groups carrying out attacks in India, including Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which claimed responsibility for a Feb. 14 bombing in Pulwama in Indian-controlled Kashmir in which at least 40 Indian troopers perished. In the aftermath of that attack, a UN security council committee blacklisted JeM chief Masood Azhar this week, subjecting him to an arms embargo, assets freeze and travel ban.
Indeed, the Pulwama attack led to the most serious conflict in years between the nuclear-armed neighbors, with cross-border air strikes and a brief dogfight over the skies of Kashmir.
In response, Pakistan’s interior ministry says it has cracked down harshly against militant groups, seizing nearly 200 seminaries, 34 schools and colleges, 163 pharmacies, 184 ambulances, five hospitals and eight offices of banned outfits in Punjab.
Interviews with Pakistani officials across the provincial government machinery revealed that there is as yet no clear plan on what to do with the vast infrastructure impounded and little clarity on which ministry is now responsible for handling it.
Peer Saeed ul Hassan Shah, the minister of Punjab’s Auqaf and Religious Affairs, gave Arab News several varying accounts of who was in charge of seized schools and colleges, initially saying they were directly under his control, but then saying only “four or five” seminaries were under his care while the others had been “divided and handed over to other ministries, I think.” He would not specify what the other ministries he was referring to were. 
“There is no clear mechanism as yet,” Shah said. “The policies are still being made.”
Shah said there was a shortage of officers and staff at the ministry to run the large number of buildings seized. Over 400 people, for instance, are employed just at the headquarters of one of the groups being targeted, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Combined, the organization has more than 50,000 volunteers and workers across the country. Other groups also employ a large number of workers and volunteers and it is as yet unclear how they will be adjusted into the government machinery or elsewhere, if at all.
Raja Basharat, the provincial law minister, tried to provide some clarity, saying the seized JuD infrastructure, for instance, had been handed over to relevant departments: the ministry of health would run the outfit’s health units, schools would go to the ministry of school education, seminaries to the ministry of auqaf and religious affairs, while ambulances had been handed over to the Rescue 1122, a state-run emergency ambulance service.
“Budget has already allocated by the finance department for one year, which is a large amount,” Basharat said, declining to give an exact figure for the budget. 
Pakistan will pass its national budget in May this year and it is as yet unclear if funds to manage the seized seminaries and other infrastructure will be earmarked in the document.
The minister of school education did not reply to repeated requests for comments. However, an official of the ministry who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a policy on how to handle the impounded schools was still being drafted.
“The madrassas have been given to us but right now we are only supervising them, while existing staff works there,” he said. “Till a policy is made and a budget allocated, this will be continued.”
On the ground, several JuD facilities in Punjab have been padlocked shut, without any clarity on when they will become operational again. A JuD dispensary in Islamabad has been closed for over two months.
“People routinely come and ask when it will reopen,” a guard at the door said. “But I don’t have any answer for them.” 
Punjab’s minister of health did not respond to Arab News’s request for a comment on the status of the JuD infrastructure.