Friday, 27 March 2015

Lessons from Pakistan; solidarity with Muslim charities



Two weeks ago I was in Pakistan, a guest of the Muslim Charities Forum (MCF) and yesterday I joined colleagues at a press conference to report on that visit.  I went with 2 ACEVO members; Jehangir Malik, the CEO of Islamic Relief and Dr. Othman Moqbel, CEO of Human Appeal who were representing all the Ceos of the MCF.

The objectives of this visit were:

1. To show solidarity with the MCF at a time when they face unprecedented challenges to their work and demonstrate a leadership role for ACEVO in standing up for members working to build community leadership in the Muslim community in the UK.

2.  To see for ourselves how the MCF charities work on the ground in relief and development in Pakistan.

3. To publicise the visit in terms of lessons learnt and actions for Government, Charity Commission, the banks and other actors.  

We were there for 8 days. An intensive but highly rewarding visit which combined a somewhat punishing round of visits to projects and official events and discussions.  It certainly exceeded my own expectations. I feel I know much better the challenges our colleagues face, the importance of their work and the need for us to step up our support and our demands that Government builds community leadership. I also had a good chance to learn more about the powerful teachings of Islam, indeed it was the first time I attended Jummah or Friday Prayers.

We visited a number of schools, a health project, a project with orphans, a community leadership project as well as intensive discussions with key MCF charities (Muslim Hands, Islamic Relief,  Islamic Help, Muslim Aid and Human Appeal in particular).

We also had a number of key discussions with Government. We met with the President of Pakistan and President of Pakistani Kashmir.  The later meeting was particularly productive, and is important in the UK context because the vast majority of the British Pakistani community come from Kashmir (indeed a particular part, Mirpur from where Jehangir's family hail).  The Minister for Social Welfare in that Government is keen to pursue discussions and wants to host a conference to follow up.

We also had a meeting with the Minister of Religious Affairs in the central government; there are tensions with minority's like the Christian church (indeed a week after we visited Lahore a bomb went off killing 11 people near a Church I visited), and talked to the Anglican Vicar of Holy Trinity, Murree who emphasised how difficult his job is in tackling extremism and anti Christian feelings.  

The meeting with the President was perhaps more ceremonial than productive but I did have the opportunity to raise with him the concerns of civil society about a proposed Government  Bill which will introduce more regulation on the work of charities there.  The meeting was reported on the main news that evening.  Civil society faces challenges in that country with both Government and military suspicious of soft power and community empowerment.

Whilst there I presided at a ceremony where a memorandum of understanding between Kashmir and the charity Human Appeal was signed.  They are to train all the teachers in state schools in Kashmir, as the level of skill in state schools is abysmal.  Unlike in charity supported schools.  A rather dramatic example of the strength of the charity sector.  I also planted a tree at the office of Human Appeal, spoke to the press (which was reported in Pakistani papers that are printed in the UK), met the Rector of Lahore University and visited an area just 40 mks from where Osama Bin Laden was found and killed.  This emphasised just how difficult the humanitarian task is in a country where terrorism present an ever present threat and where aid workers have been killed.

We attended an event for International Women's Day and unusually at one of the meetings we had the introductory reading from the Koran given by a woman. This would be most unusual anywhere in the UK I was told. There was tight security around all hotels and key buildings which emphasised the background dangers faced by the population and the complexity of delivering humanitarian aid in conflict zones.

The visit ended with a press conference and a conference for all non profit workers and supporters where we talked about the conclusions of our visit.  I also met with a range of the Country leads for INGOs like  Water Aid and VSO.

On a personal level I much enjoyed the visit, not simply because of the experience of meeting and visiting some superb examples of the work charities do, but also because of the privilege of seeing the country and learning more about Islam.  This will enable me to speak with more authority about the challenges our colleagues face and reinforce my determination to show solidarity, support them in their job and speak out on their behalf when they feel unable to do so.

I have written to the Leaders of the 3 political parties with my conclusions on the visit and the need for us to tackle terrorism by legislation and security but also by developing community .

You can read this letter via the link below:


I have also been in touch with the Charity Commission and at her request will be meeting the CEO so that I can discuss the conclusions from my visit, the problem of the perceptions of the Regulator in the Muslim community and the need for proportionate and sensitive regulation for charities delivering humanitarian aid in conflict situations (the recent Lords/Commons Bill report emphasised how important this is).

As I said at the  Press Conference ,

"We cannot have an internationally cooperative future without caring about the work of civil society – charities and campaign groups – on the ground around the world. The mission I led to Pakistan was path-breaking and I hope it will be the first of many.

Britain needs to fight terrorism with both hands – not with one hand tied behind our back. We need high level strategic security measures but also better understanding of the conditions on the ground that breed or alleviate the threat of extremism. There are serious flaws in our current approach.

This depends upon sensible, credible, proportionate regulation and a common approach to issues like financial management and banking. I want to see action from all the major political parties, for them to meet with me and a delegation of international charities to discuss these issues, and to agree an agenda for the new government as a commitment to the fight against terrorism.‎

I have witnessed first hand the difficulties faced by organisations in Pakistan fighting the same battle that we are: for security, for a better way of life and for a better future for our children.”‎

Key to tackling terrorism is a strong security response backed by a major initiative to bolster community leadership in our muslim communities.  The harsh rhetoric of many government pronouncements risk alienating those communities we need to combat  extremism and radicalisation.  Lecturing Muslim communities that regard themselves as British on British values is at best patronising and at worst insulting. Supporting British Muslim charities on their work in building social cohesion and ensuring a regulatory and banking framework that helps not hinders that work is essential. That is a task Government must support and I look forward to positive replies to my Letter to Party Leaders.

Let me leave you with some of the images from our memorable delegation.

At a school run by Muslim Hands

Meeting pupils. Standards of education in charity schools are significantly higher than in state schools.

Agreement with Government of Kashmir and Human Appeal to train state school teachers. 

A lad who had heart problems and was supported through operations by Islamic Relief. 

The Minister of Religious Affairs in the Federal Government.

With the President of Pakistani Kashmir in his office. A picture of my old college friend Benazir proudly displayed.

In the mountains of Kashmir, on way to see a Human Appeal school in the mountains of Muree. Young women coming from college. 

The school in Muree. With the Principal in this Human Appeal supported school. 

A photo from the glorious Mogul Mosque in Lahore. 

Othman, myself and Jehangir in Islamabad





1 comment:

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