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USAID grants funding to Pak-based terror affiliate

NewsUSAID grants funding to Pak-based terror affiliate

NEW DELHI: A letter written by a United States Congressman, Michael McCaul, who is also the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has brought the focus on the doubtful activities of US government-supported agencies that are financially supporting Pakistan-based terror organizations.
In a strongly worded letter dated 24 January to Samantha Power, Administrator of US Agency for International Development (USAID), McCaul has expressed “deep concerns” over USAID awarding $110,000 (Pakistani Rupees 3 crore) to Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD), a Michigan-based Pakistan-focused organization, which is connected to the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jamaat-e-Islami.
HHRD, as per multiple intelligence agencies that track Pakistan, has ties to Jamaat-e-Islami, a terror network that operates in South Asia. In October 2021, USAID awarded HHRD a grant of $110,000 to reimburse it for shipping costs related to its “humanitarian aid work”. According to reports, 50% of the employees of HHRD are based in Pakistan.
This is not the first time that HHRD’s alleged links to the terrorist group, which has existed since 1941, has come up. In 2019, Representatives Jim Banks, Chuck Fleischmann and Randy Weber wrote to a State Department official requesting an investigation into “the nexus of charitable networks and terrorist groups,” such as Jamaat-e-Islami. HHRD’s alleged links to Jamaat-e-Islami include a 2017 conference it organised in Pakistan, where the attendees included terrorist groups.
McCaul’s letter expresses his exasperation over what he characterizes as USAID’s apparent refusal to review the grant on a priority. He wrote that his team first enquired about the grant in May 2022; USAID’s response provided only limited information and failed to address the substance of the allegations against HHRD in any way.
In January this year, according to McCaul, USAID provided a briefing on the matter: “It was clear that the agency had failed to take any action to investigate the allegations or suspend the award, despite having been provided detailed information by congressional staff months prior.” McCaul stated that one of the State Department briefers had only recently learned about the issue.
McCaul also wrote that USAID told his staff that the matter was being taken up by the agency’s inspector general, and he requested all documents related to the HHRD grant by February.
On 6 February, the US State Department spokesperson, too, was questioned by journalists during his regular briefing on the letter written by Mccaul to Power and how the aid was going to Lashkar and an affiliated organization of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The Sunday Guardian reached out to both HHRD and USAID for a response on these developments, but nothing was received until the time this report went to press.
As per the filings submitted by HHRD with the US agencies, it owns assets in the nine countries of the US, Pakistan, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Jordan, Afghanistan and Nepal. However, it owns the maximum value of fixed assets worth $1,953,286 in Pakistan. It received cash to the tune of $34,972,866 in 2021.
As per HHRD, it is active in India and working with six partner organizations, including one in Delhi. It used this collaboration to provide “relief items” on the ground during the anti-CAA riots in Delhi in 2020. The website of the organization under the section “where we work” carries a map of India that does not include Kashmir as a part of it and further goes on to describe its areas of work as “Azad Kashmir” and “Kashmir valley” apart from India.
The present chief executive officer of this organization is Javaid Siddiqi. Siddiqui has worked as the President of Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) twice, till he demitted his office in December 2020.
It is important to mention that ICNA is a “domestic affiliate” of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which is a banned organization in India. Jamaat’s terror wing is Hizbul Mujahideen, which owned the Abbottabad-based Pakistani compound where Osama bin Laden was living at the time of his death.
ICNA played a crucial role in getting banned the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in 2005. ICNA’s earlier avatar was Halqa-e-Ahbab-e-Islami (HAI), which was set up in 1968. One of the convicts in the Genocide of Bengali intellectuals in 1971, Ashrafuz Zaman Khan, was associated with ICNA Queen’s Chapter New York. He was also one of the co-founders of Burma Task Force, another project in which the organization collects donations for Rohingya Muslims.
In 2016, ICNA felicitated Motiur Rahman Nizami, the leader of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and Al-Badr, who was responsible for the mass genocide of Bengali intellectuals during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. ICNA honored him posthumously for his “Outstanding Contribution” to Islam and his role in the 1971 tragedy.
Later, ICNA, through one of its organizations, “Justice For All”, was successfully able to lobby against India in front of the dubious United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and declared India as a “Country of Particular Concern”.
During the September 2019 “Howdy, Modi” event, ICNA played a major role in arranging funds to disrupt the event. The then Houston unit president of the said body, Sultan Salahuddin personally went to the event to galvanize the paid protesters.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is an independent agency of the US federal government that is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance. With a budget of over $27 billion, USAID is one of the largest official aid agencies in the world and accounts for more than half of all US foreign assistance.
In September 2006, the United States Government Accountability Office (USGAO), which was investigating funding done by USAID and terrorist activities in the West Bank and Gaza, found that USAID did not routinely collect detailed identifying-information on individuals, such as date and place of birth, or verify necessary information. The body also had not established procedures such as requesting some form of identification to verify the accuracy of key individuals’ names provided by awardees.
USAID had also eliminated a requirement to periodically re-vet certain awardees, thus reducing the chances of identifying terrorist connections with more recent intelligence information. The agency left important data fields blank or filled them with inappropriate information. The report also found that in many instances, the grants did not contain the required clauses and no systematic verification was done of the recipients of those who signed the required certifications. In some cases, the required clauses did not appear or were added months or years after award initiation, including after the inquiry by USGAO.
Many US experts have described USAID as a quasi-security agency, an extension of the State Department which was revealed post the 11 September 2001 attacks that led to a reclassification of foreign assistance programmes. Post 9/11, from 2006 onwards, USAID was mandated to work more closely with the US State Department.

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