The jihad lives on

Posted in Broader Middle East | 11-Mar-05 | Author: Amir Mir| Source: Asia Times

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf
KARACHI - Contrary to the much-touted claims of the government of President General Pervez Musharraf having taken concrete measures to uproot the extremist jihadi mafia and its terror network in Pakistan, a cursory glance over the activities of four "banned" militant organizations in the country shows they are once again back in business, with changed names and identities, operating freely and advocating jihad against infidels to defend Islam.

While banning six leading jihadi and sectarian groups in two phases - on January 12, 2002, and November 15, 2003 - Musharraf had declared that no organization or person would be allowed to indulge in terrorism to further its cause. However, after the initial crackdown, the four major jihadi outfits operating from Pakistan - Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), resurfaced and regrouped effectively to run their respective networks as openly as before, though under different names.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar, Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil and Syed Salahuddin - the respective leaders of these organizations - are again on the loose. The pattern of treatment being meted out to these leading lights of jihad by the Musharraf-led administration shows that they are being kept on the leash, ostensibly to wage a controlled jihad in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the four jihadi leaders were placed under house arrest in their respective home towns in Punjab, since they were becoming increasingly vocal in their condemnation of Musharraf's policy of "slavery to the Americans". A countrywide crackdown also had to be launched against activists of the jihadi groups who were furious over Musharraf's u-turn on the Afghan jihad. Groaning under US pressure, Islamabad also had to temporarily stop cross-border infiltration into J&K, which eventually reduced violence levels in the Valley. Though most of the jihadi groups accepted the establishment's advice and adopted a "lie low and wait and see" policy, the fact remains that no concrete step was taken by the authorities to dismantle the jihadi infrastructure. This was chiefly due to the fact that the unholy alliance between the state agencies and the jihadi groups was quite old and had an ideological basis.

The failure of the Musharraf regime to counter extremist jihadis is, however, inexplicable within the current environment, as Islamabad has handed over more than 500 al-Qaeda operatives to the administration of US President George W Bush since the "war on terror" began. As the political will to dismantle the Islamist extremist groups that are not on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) "most wanted" list seems to be absent, almost all the major jihadi groups based in Pakistan continue to operate and pursue their agenda without any restrictions.

Musharraf, by his own admission, no longer controls the jihadis that the state had long supported, and the self-proclaimed holy warriors are far from ready to call it quits. On the other hand, the Pakistani establishment continues to maintain its long alliance with fundamentalist parties, which share a common goal with the jihadis: the liberation of "Occupied Jammu & Kashmir" through jihad.

Had the six-party religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) not sided with Musharraf to pass the 17th constitutional amendment last year, the latter would have been left with no option but to quit the post of army chief by December 31, 2004. But then the military, the mullahs and the jihadis share a common belief in Pakistan's rightful claim over J&K. Consequently, Pakistan, the most trusted US ally in its "war against terror", confronts a surging wave of Islamist fundamentalism.

The growing influence of the fundamentalists in the country can be gauged by the fact that the MMA at present controls 20% of the seats in the Pakistani parliament. This means that the religious right, which had been a vocal supporter of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, has successfully moved from the periphery to the center stage of national politics. As a result, support for the militant cause has also grown within sections of Pakistani society where it never existed before.

Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)
Although the ongoing peace talks between India and Pakistan are being taken as bad news by most of the militant outfits waging armed struggle against the Indian forces in J&K, the leadership of one of the most feared jihadi groups, the LeT, and its parent organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, are keeping their fingers crossed. Sources close to Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed say he has been persuaded by the establishment to go low key and to abstain from issuing statements criticizing the Indo-Pak peace parleys.

In return, however, Saeed has been given assurance that no action would be taken against the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its militant wing, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, and no restrictions on activities, including collection of funds, holding of public rallies or the recruitment of jihadi cadres and their training. The result is that, after a year of hibernation under official pressure, Saeed, who founded the Lashkar in 1988, is again active and making fiery speeches across Punjab. Saeed's close associates claim that young jihadis from various parts of the country continue to throng the Lashkar camps at Muzaffarabad in Azad (Free) Kashmir - Pakistan-administered Kashmir - before being pushed into J&K, though at a limited scale now.

The Lashkar is the only jihadi group operating from Azad Kashmir that still keeps a comparatively large group of activists at its Khairati Bagh camp in the Lipa Valley. Another Lashkar camp is functional at Nala Shui in Muzaffarabad, from where young militants are launched after being given initial training at the Jamaat-ud-Dawa's Muridke headquarters in Punjab. Unlike the past strategy of launching large groups comprising of 25-50 militants on a regular basis from the camps located on the Line of Control (LoC) that separates the two sections of Kashmir, Lashkar sources disclose it has now decided to keep training militants in limited numbers to launch smaller groups of not more than five to 15 people; that too, at intervals.

Despite the official ban, banners can easily be seen in the urban and rural areas of Punjab, urging young boys to enroll with the Lashkar for jihad. These banners usually carry telephone numbers of the area offices. Similarly, Lashkar and Dawa activists can be seen outside mosques after Friday prayers distributing pamphlets and periodicals preaching the virtues of jihad in Kashmir, Palestine, Chechnya, Kosovo and Eritrea, besides vowing that the Lashkar would plant the flag of Islam in Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi.

The Lashkar leadership describes Hindus and Jews as the main enemies of Islam, claiming India and Israel to be the main enemies of Pakistan. The donation boxes of the Lashkar and the Dawa, which had initially disappeared after the January 2002 ban, have reappeared in public places, as well as mosques all over Punjab.

After the US State Department included the Lashkar on the list of its officially designated terrorist groups in December 2001, apparently acting under the establishment's directives, the then Lashkar chief, Hafiz Saeed, addressed a press conference in Lahore (on December 24, 2001) and announced that Maulana Abdul Wahid, who hails from Poonch district in Jammu, would head the Lashkar. While stepping down as Lashkar chief, Saeed said he would lead the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the new name for the Markaz Dawa Wal Irshad.

During the news briefing, Saeed said the changes were aimed at countering intense Indian propaganda that Pakistan had been sponsoring the jihad in the Kashmir Valley, though he added, in the same breath, that his departure from the high office of amir of the Lashkar was not due to any internal or external pressures, be it Islamabad or Washington. A week later (on December 31, 2001), Saeed was placed under house arrest on flimsy charges of making inflammatory speeches and inciting people to violate law and order. He was then asked to evolve a new role for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which would be more acceptable to the world.

Over the following years, the Dawa successfully evaded many official restrictions, mainly because it had dissociated itself from the LeT. At the same time, to give an impression that the Kashmir insurgency was an indigenous freedom struggle - the Lashkar was made to announce in 2002 that it was formally shifting its base to "Indian-held Kashmir".

Over the past two years, Hafiz Saeed has taken a number of steps to camouflage his jihadi agenda and to assume a role for the Dawa which could help evade the category of terrorism. The Dawa has increasingly shifted its focus on khidmat-e-khalq (social welfare), which is part of its dawat (Islamic mission), just like jihad. While giving more importance to taking its dawat to all sections of the populace, it has considerably expanded the base of its operations. Giving greater importance to college students as well, the Dawa leadership recently launched Tulaba Jamaatul Dawa, its student wing, which is working aggressively to take its dawat to youngsters across Punjab.

Saeed's close circles say the changing focus of the Dawa activities, coupled with the caution exercised by him, have helped their organization survive the fresh ban Musharraf imposed on several extremist outfits in November 2003. However, explaining Musharraf's decision to spare Saeed's organization, well-informed intelligence sources say the Dawa chief was more amenable to the establishment's control than the leaders of any other jihadi outfit, as he can readily agree to wage a controlled jihad in the Valley whenever required to do so. Further, his vulnerability has increased manifold after a split in Jamaat-ud-Dawa over distribution of the group's assets, that gave birth to a breakaway faction - Khairun Naas (People's Welfare), led by Professor Zafar Iqbal.

These circles are convinced that Musharraf will abandon neither the militants nor the military option until there is a formal resolution of the lingering Kashmir dispute. They pointed out that the last time Musharraf had made the promise of curbing militancy to the visiting US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, in May 2003, the militants were held back for only a couple of months before being allowed to resume infiltration across the LoC. And should the Indo-Pak peace initiative fail; there are those in the military establishment who believe the Lashkar could once again be the frontline jihadi outfit in J&K, and Hafiz Saeed the new public face of the militancy there.

Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM)
Acting under the establishment dictum, one of the most dangerous jihadi organizations operating from Pakistan and active in J&K, the JeM, restyled itself as the Khudamul Islam, claiming it is devoted to preaching Islam and social work. The Jaish chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, who had to be released by the Indian government in December 1999 after an Indian airplane was hijacked, is one of India's 20 most-wanted men.

However, Azhar had to face the wrath of the Pakistani intelligence establishment after his group was found involved in the December 2003 suicide attacks against Musharraf in Rawalpindi. Investigations into these attacks later cleared Azhar's name after it transpired that one of the two suicide bombers - Mohammad Jameel - actually belonged to the Jaish's dissident group - Jamaatul Furqaan, led by Maulana Abdul Jabbar alias Maulana Umer Farooq. Much before the suicide attacks, Azhar had informed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) high-ups in writing that Jabbar and 11 of his associates had revolted against him and he was no more responsible for their actions.

That the military and intelligence establishment of Pakistan continues to protect Azhar is evident from Islamabad's refusal to a request by the International Police (Interpol) for taking the Jaish chief into custody. Interpol had been prompted to act at the behest of the US Department of Justice, which wanted charges filed against the Maulana from Bahawalpur and against Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed for their involvement in at least two crimes committed against US citizens - the 2002 murder of journalist Daniel Pearl and the 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 (with a US citizen, Jeanne Moore, aboard). The Americans had maintained that under US law, they had the right to investigate crimes against their citizens committed anywhere in the world.

The Jaish, which was launched by Azhar after being released from India, has largely confined its military operations within J&K. The only recorded instance of its operations outside Kashmir had been the December 13, 2001, attack on parliament in New Delhi. Earlier, on October 10, 2001, a month after the terror attacks struck the US, Azhar had renamed Jaish as Tehrikul Furqaan. The move was motivated by reports that the US was contemplating declaring JeM a foreign terrorist. Despite its renaming, the US State Department designated the Jaish a foreign terrorist organization in December 2001, compelling Musharraf to ban the group in January 2002. Azhar got his outfit registered under the new name of Khudamul Islam within no time.

The Jaish chief was kept under house arrest for a few months after September 11, but was subsequently set free. Though Azhar, while conceding to the ISI's pressure, had directed his henchmen not to target American interests in Pakistan, there are strong fears in the Pakistani intelligence circles that the dissident members of the Jaish, who are unknown and have gone underground, constitute the real threat. They are spread all over Pakistan, and are desperate to avenge the Taliban's fall and Musharraf's U-turn on Afghanistan and Kashmir. Both the Jaish factions - Khudamul Islam and Jamaatul Furqaan, already banned by the Musharraf Government - are now openly in conflict.

The murmurs of dissent in the outfit first surfaced when Azhar failed to react to Musharraf's policy change on Afghanistan after September 11. Several prominent Jaish members favored retaliatory attacks against US interests in Pakistan to pressurize the military ruler against supporting the Bush administration. But acting under the agencies' command, Azhar refused to acquiesce. As things stand, there are fears that ongoing disputes over possession of the various Jaish offices, mosques and other material assets could lead to more serious clashes between the two banned factions. At this stage, it is difficult to predict which of the two will eventually survive.

Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) and United jihad Council (UJC)
Led by Rawalpindi-based Yousaf Shah alias Syed Salahuddin, HM is the outfit to watch in the coming months. Of all the militant groups operating in J&K, the HM is the largest, with a 20,000-strong cadre base drawn from both indigenous and foreign sources. The Hizb happens to be one of the most lethal jihadi groups, and controls about 60% of militants operating in J&K.

With India and Pakistan finally agreeing to allow travel across the LoC by bus between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the Pakistani establishment has asked HM chief Salahuddin to halt, for the time being, all militant operations against the Indian security forces in J&K. However, the UJC, an alliance of 13 Kashmiri jihadi organizations led by Salahuddin, has been restructured and three Pakistan-based jihadi groups, the LeT, JeM and Al-Badar Mujahideen, have been brought into the UJC. This new adjustment is called muwakhaat (agreement on the basis of brotherhood) that is aimed at putting an end to the internal differences among the jihadi groups waging the Kashmir jihad.

According to intelligence sources, reorganizing the command and control structure of the HM-led UJC was part of a strategy change to enable Pakistani intelligence to have tighter control over its running. With the restructuring of the UJC, they said, no component member of the UJC would be allowed to launch an attack in J&K, unless approved by the council. That is why most of the smaller groups, which had been irritants for the ISI, have been merged to reduce the number of their representation in the jihad council from 13 to five. Al-Barq, Tehreek-e-jihad, Islamic Front, Brigade 313 and the Kashmiri component of HuM have been merged to form the Kashmir Freedom Force, which would be led by Farooq Qureshi of Al-Barq. The Muslim Janbaz Force, Al Jihad Force, Al Fateh Force, Hizbullah and Jamiatul Mujahideen have also been merged to form the Kashmir Resistance Force, which would be led by Ghulam Rasool Shah. Similarly, many of the militant training camps have been moved from Azad Kashmir to Pakistan in Punjab and the North West Frontier Province area, with strict restrictions on the movement of militants. The training camps have reportedly been relocated at Taxila, Haripur, Boi, Garhi Habibullah and Tarbela Gazi.

The HM has witnessed four splits since 1990, and all were meant to remove Salahuddin. But the "supreme commander" has survived and continues to control the HM and the UJC, while sitting in Rawalpindi. The Jamiatul Mujahideen of General Abdullah, the Muslim Mujahideen of Ahsan Dar, the Hizb-e-Islami of Masood and al-Badar of Bakht Zameen, are the major groups that have discarded the umbrella of the HM in the past few years. In the words of one ex-intelligence official, "One of the tricks in the book is not to allow any individual jihadi group to become too strong. This is a tried and tested mode of keeping overall control on such groups. Whenever one group is seen as getting too strong or influential, the agencies try to split it and sometimes pit one against the other. And the Hizbul Mujahideen is no exception."

Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM)
Led by Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil until recently, the HuM has regrouped and is working in a low-key manner under the name of the Jamiatul Ansar, but insisting that it has a non-militant agenda. As the government's anti-extremism drive brought into sharp focus Maulana Khalil's alleged al-Qaeda links, he had to resign from the top slot of the organization in January, as advised by his spy masters.

Khalil, who was released in December after an eight-month detention in a tiny cell, submitted his resignation at a January meeting of the "executive committee" of the HuM and asked the committee members to elect Maulana Badar Munir from Karachi as the new chief. Khalil was reportedly interrogated on the charge of sending trained fighters to Afghanistan even after September 11, 2001. The second allegation was that some militants involved in the suicide attempts on Musharraf in Rawalpindi in December 2003 belonged to his organization. Intelligence sources, however, insist that Khalil remains in the good books of the establishment and will continue calling the shots from behind the scene, despite his resignation as the Harkat chief, which was nothing more than eye-wash.

Since early 2002, the Harkatul Mujahideen al-Alami (HuMA) - an offshoot of the HuM, has been accused of mounting several deadly attacks in Karachi, including two abortive attempts on Musharraf's life and a number of suicide bombings in the port city of Karachi. On September 29, 2001, the government had banned the HuM after the Bush administration's September 24 decision to freeze HuM assets along with those of 26 other organizations and individuals in connection with a worldwide campaign against the possible sources of al-Qaeda-sponsored terrorism.

According to intelligence sources, about 50 highly trained operatives of the Harkatul Mujahideen, using the cover of the Harkatul Mujahideen al-alami, are bent on targeting Musharraf and US interests in Pakistan. HuM's association with Osama bin Laden was established on August 20, 1998, when US planes bombed the al-Qaeda training camps near Khost and Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan in retaliation to US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The US bombs destroyed two HuM training camps and killed 21 of its activists. As of today, the US intelligence agencies believe the Harkat still retains links, like most other jihadi groups, with the Taliban remnants and al-Qaeda operatives hiding on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. They recall that Khalil took hundreds of his men to Afghanistan after the US-led allied forces had launched operations in the country in 2001.

Despite enthusiastic applause from the West for the anti-militancy efforts of Pakistan's "visionary" military ruler, it is evident that much remains to be done on the ground before these efforts will actually bear fruit. With changing scenarios all over the world, there has been a change of minds, yet what is required is a change of hearts.

Amir Mir is senior assistant editor, Monthly Herald, Dawn Group of Newspapers, Karachi.

Published with permission from the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.