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Pakistan victims turn to Islamic aid

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- When torrential monsoon rains flooded Pakistan, sparking the world's largest humanitarian crisis, hardline Islamic charities moved fast. Faster than the government.

Banned in Pakistan and on a U.N. terror list, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) has been one of a number of Islamic organizations highly visible in the battle to help provide relief to millions of survivors.

Filling a void created by the perceived failure of the civilian government to mobilize, fears are growing in the United States that such charities are using soft power to propagate extremism in the nuclear-armed state.

Pakistan's Taliban have now urged the government to reject American aid in favor of US$20 million of Taliban aid — without any indication that the militia can or will pay — the battle for hearts and minds has been drawn.

“We are providing food, clothes, medicines, tents, utensils, 5,000 rupees (US$60) cash to each family,” said Atique Chohan, spokesman for JuD in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Taliban have been active.

“So far we have helped 250,000 people,” he told AFP at a camp run by JuD's newly set up welfare organization Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation in the district of Nowshehra, where dozens of bearded volunteers dished out food.

A truck drove up loaded with food, clothes, medicine and toys for victims, none of whom care that JuD chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed is considered a terrorist in India and by the U.N.

He founded Laskhar-e-Taiba, the Kashmiri militant group outlawed in Pakistan and blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead.

Vitriol has been reserved for President Asif Ali Zardari, who returned home only this week from London, and the government — whose cash-strapped departments have been accused of infighting.

“Local religious organizations like JuD help more,” said a 25-year-old taxi driver Ghulam Haider whose home was swept away in Nowshehra.

Villages along the motorway from Peshawar to Islamabad are inundated and women are seen wading through knee-high water.

“The government gave us tents and nothing else. All goods here have been supplied by affluent and ordinary citizens. We're getting help from private organizations,” said Jahanas Khan, 50, who was uprooted from Jangi village.

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