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Pakistan's extremists whip up frenzy over Burma's Muslims

The exaggerated version of truth about violence in Myanmar propagated by religious groups in Pakistan to recruit and fund their own agendas.

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Jamat-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam are political parties with a strong presence in rural areas of Pakistan. They believe in a conservative Islamic ideology and propagate the same in their political vision. Jamat-ud-Dawa, which is alleged to be the political arm of the Islamist militia group Lashkar-e-Toiba, is a charity organization banned internationally and is under strict watch in Pakistan as it has been accused of being involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, an allegation it denies. 

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 In a conversation with Ayub Munir, the head of foreign affairs at Jamat-e-Islami, one of the oldest Islamist parties in Pakistan, Mr. Munir repeatedly referred to the situation in Myanmar as a genocide of Muslims. “Our biggest concern is the mass killings of Muslims there. This genocide should immediately stop,” says Munir.

Like others, Jamat-e-Islami has announced they are collecting charity for the affected Rohingya community.

“We have opened a bank account, and we have received immense response,” Munir says.

But, as of yet, he does not know how they will be sending this help to Myanmar. “No one can access that area. So we have been unable to send anything. But we plan to talk to the United Nations to help us send food, medicine, and tents,” the Jamat-e-Islami representative adds.

According to him, Muslims have been pushed out of their homes and are living in the jungle, and therefore they need immediate shelter. “We have some workers on the Bangladesh side, and we have asked them to reach out to the Rohingya community,” he claims.

The recent TTP threat to carry out attacks in Myanmar is even more logistically unlikely. Analysts in Pakistan say the aim of the message is more to raise their global brand and attract recruits.

An intelligence official working on counter-terrorism, who is not authorized to speak to the media, says such issues are raised by extremists to gain popularity. “This gets them in the goods books of the Pakistani masses,” the official added. He further said that he has come across evidence where groups in Pakistan doing social welfare work in the country have been involved in funding international "jihad," as he liked to refer to it.

But the romance of "ummah," or the unity of the global Muslim community, has been historically pervasive among South Asian Muslims, says Raza Rumi, a noted columnist.

"There have been instances in our history when funds for Islamic causes have been raised even in the early 20th century when a movement to save the Turkic Caliphate was launched in undivided India," Rumi added.

Fund raising however has acquired a new dimension given the spread of political Islam in this region since the 1980s. Most Islamist organizations have been involved in cross-continental transfers to support various causes.

"On the issue of Burma there is a concerted campaign in place now which is collecting funds without a clear ideas as to how these funds reach the persecuted minority in Myanmar," said Rumi. In fact, one major area of concern is that Pakistan's weak enforcement of rules, which in theory allow the government to restrict banned or controversial groups from raising funds, allows such groups to operate and "raise funds with impunity," Rumi adds.

"This is a cause of concern for many rational Pakistanis who want more effective controls on extremist outfits." opines Rumi.

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