Huge numbers of goats, cows and even camels will be slaughtered in Pakistani homes today to mark the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha.
The sacrificial offering of around 6 million animals will allow families to fulfil a religious duty, guarantee some much appreciated meat handouts to the poor and provide nearly half of the annual requirement of the country's leather industry. It will also generate an extraordinary cash windfall for some of Pakistan's most dangerous militant groups.
Thinly-disguised front organisations have been gearing up to compete against each other and legitimate charities to collect as many animal skins as possible, which can then be sold on for cash.
"For us it is second only to Ramadan for our income," says an official from the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF). FIF is the charitable wing of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), itself the reincarnation of one of south Asia's most dangerous militant groups, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned organisation dedicated to fighting jihad against India.
JuD has successfully fought off legal bans, although many believe it remains deeply involved in militancy. The US government has offered $10m (pounds 6m) for information leading to the arrest of Hafiz Saeed, the group's leader, accused by some US officials of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
The organisation hopes to collect 100,000 hides from around the country this year. A cow hide can fetch up to $50. Also available to buy are JuD livestock which the organisation provides and slaughters on behalf of individuals or groups who want to pool resources to share the cost.
Such initiatives have helped the organisation take market share from other charities, including the Edhi Foundation, a respected social welfare group. "It's hard to complete because they have more manpower from all their religious seminaries," said Mohammad Rashid from the Edhi Foundation in Islamabad. "They send all their students out to the streets."
Because JuD is not officially banned, nothing will or can be done to stop it collecting hides. There are fears that very little will be done to stop illegal groups from collecting hides either, particularly as many operate under false names.
Officials say around half of the 24 groups that applied for the right to set up street stalls to collect hides in Islamabad were rejected after they were investigated and found to be front organisations.
While most people will give their hides to local mosques or respectable charities, some deliberately give to militants. "Definitely - why shouldn't I give to jihadi organisations?" said Syed Sabir Hussain, a small business owner from Rawalpindi. "What is wrong if they are fighting for Allah and Muslims?"
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
Original headline: Eid sacrifices bring windfall for militants in Pakistan
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