According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, the so-called Freedom Flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza, which was intercepted by the Israeli Navy in international waters on May 31, 2010, consisted of three cargo ships and three passenger ships.
Most of the casualties were reported on Mavi Marmara, a passenger ferry, one of three ships provided by Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), a Turkish humanitarian organisation, which is also known as the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief –IHH. It is banned in Israel, which accuses it of links to Hamas and Al Qaeda. The other ships were organised by the Free Gaza Movement, an international coalition of activist groups
The ships were reportedly carrying supplies including cement, wheelchairs, paper and water purification systems. The flotilla's nearly 700 passengers were mainly Turkish, but also included nationals of the US, the UK, Australia, Greece, Canada, Belgium, Ireland, the Swedish author Henning Mankell, two Australian journalists and three German MPs.
According to reports from Pakistan, there were also some Pakistanis on board the IHH ferry. The Pakistani authorities were trying to enquire what happened to them. While the Israeli authorities were prepared to allow the humanitarian supplies to reach the people of Gaza after inspecting them at a port designated by them, the organisers of the flotilla were opposed to any inspection of the cargo by the Israeli authorities.
Israeli fears over the passengers on board the ships and over their contents were understandable because of strong suspicions nursed by the intelligence and security authorities of many countries over the background of the IHH, which came into existence in 1992 ostensibly to provide humanitarian assistance to the Muslims of Bosnia. Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the connivance of the Bill Clinton Administration then in power in the US, helped the Bosnian Muslims in their fight against the Serbs.
Many Bosnian Muslims were brought to Pakistan for being trained in the camps of the Markaz Dawa Al Irshad (MDI) as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), the political wing of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET,) was then known and then taken back to Bosnia. There was considerable flow of money and arms and ammunition to the Bosnian separatists. Many Pakistanis from Pakistan itself as well as from the Pakistani diaspora in the UK were trained by the JUD and taken to Bosnia for participating in the jihad against the Serbs. Some Indian-origin Muslims from Saudi Arabia were also taken to Bosnia.
All these activities for the provision of volunteers, money and arms and ammunition to the Bosnian separatists were allegedly co-ordinated by the IHH, under the cover of a humanitarian organisation, with the collaboration of the MDI. Amongst the Pakistanis who played an active role in organising assistance for the Bosnians through the IHH and the MDI were Lt Gen (retd) Hamid Gul and Lt Gen (retd) Assad Durrani, former heads of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the then Amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI, and Prof Hafeez Ahmed Sayeed, who was then the Amir of the MDI. Lt Gen Assad Durrani, who was posted as the Pakistani Ambassador to Germany by Mrs Benazir Bhutto, the then Pakistani Prime Minister, co-ordinated the assistance from the Ummah to the Bosnians.
All these Pakistanis frequently used to visit Bosnia. Mrs Benazir herself made a joint visit to Bosnia along with Mrs Tansu Ciller, the then Turkish Prime Minister, in February 1994. Among Pakistani volunteers from the diaspora in the UK who allegedly worked for the IHH in Bosnia was Omar Sheikh, who is now in jail in Pakistan after having been sentenced to death for his role in the kidnapping and execution of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, in Karachi in January-February,2002. He has appealed against the death sentence.
All indications from reliable Pakistani and other sources were that the IHH’s role in Bosnia was not solely humanitarian. The humanitarian cover was allegedly used for keeping alive the Bosnian jihad and enabling it to succeed against the Serbs. The IHH allegedly played a similar role in Chechnya by helping the local Muslims in their jihad against the Soviet and then Russian troops. It then turned its attention to helping the Kashmiris by funding refugee camps for Kashmiris set up by the MDI and other Pakistani jihadi organisations in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). These refugee camps also became training centres for training Kashmiri and Pakistani jihadis for fighting against the Indian security forces.
The IHH also played an active role, in collaboration with the JUD, in organising humanitarian relief after the devastating earthquake in the POK in 2005. The flow of money and other assistance from the Muslims in other countries for the quake victims was co-ordinated by the IHH.
The IHH has also been contributing funds to the International Islamic University in Pakistan, which has been providing ideological motivation to the jihadis fighting in Afghanistan. Amongst other Pakistani organisations with which the IHH has allegedly been collaborating are the Al Rashid Trust, which was designated by the US and the Terrorism Monitoring Committee of the UN Security Council after 9/11 as an organisation allegedly funding terrorism, and the Khubaib Foundation, which reportedly runs a network of orphanages. The Foundation frequently organises visits by IHH delegations to the POK and Gilgit-Baltistan.
The Israeli authorities have valid reasons to be concerned over the links of the IHH with the Hamas. One cannot find fault with their decision to stop the Flotilla in order to prevent its cargo from reaching Gaza un-inspected. Any intelligence agency worth its salt would be concerned over the dangers of arms and ammunition and weapons of mass destruction material like material for dirty bombs being smuggled into Gaza along with the humanitarian cargo. It would have been the height of irresponsibility to have allowed the cargo to proceed to Gaza without being inspected.
It is tragic that there were casualties among the passengers of the ferry hired by the IHH, which was boarded by Israeli commandoes following resistance put up by the passengers of the ferry, but this could not have been helped. Israel exercised its right of self-defence to protect the lives of its citizens from any dangerous cargo carried by the ships. India should refrain from criticising Israel for its action.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies