Dialogue July- September, 2005, Volume 7 No. 1
Terror could undo Peace
In a history of relationship peppered with distrust, fear and conflicts, the peace process initiated by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in April 2003 has been the most enduring, and genuine, attempt at rapprochement between the two nuclear neighbours who have clashed on the borders on four occasions in the past half-a-century. Officially called the Composite Dialogue, the process of simultaneously negotiating the settlement of a multitude of issues that have been bedeviling the relationship, has so far held through minor confrontations and differences.
But, more than two years down the line, despite the much hyped bus diplomacy and the tentative bon homie shared between the people of both the countries, the peace process might grind to a halt if solutions are hard to come by in the next few months. The gestation period is fast nearing its end and there is a high level of expectation, especially on the part of people of Pakistan, and Kashmir, that the leadership of both the countries would soon get down to reaching a settlement at least on issues that could be resolved without much difficulty.
The onus for making this happen lies on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. He will have to keep his word on not allowing his country’s territory to be used for terrorist activities against India, a promise which he made in January 2004. There is no such sign yet on the ground, hence a growing sense of unease and apprehension about the possibility of the peace process becoming tangled in acrimony and posturing in the near future.
Pakistan is today a staging ground for al Qaida and its various ancillary units masquerading as sectarian and religious groups. The terrorist training camps are mushrooming again. The terrorist groups are recruiting in large numbers, especially in the rural areas where poverty and unemployment are forcing youngsters to join the jihad primarily as a means of livelihood and respectability. Scores of sectarian and religious extremist groups are flourishing under the umbrella of religious parties and organisations, with many of the members of these groups moonlighting with criminal syndicates, especially in cities like Karachi where car jacking, extortions and real estate deals are lucrative sources of revenue. In a paper presented to the National Defence College, Pakistan, in December 2004, a senior military officer, Air Commodore Tariq Mahmud Ashraf said: “The fall of the Taleban introduced a new dimension in terrorism activities in Pakistan because a sizeable number of jihadi elements who returned to Pakistan got involved in terrorist activities here. Pakistan’s worry is that this vast reservoir of trained potential terrorists has already crossed over into Pakistan and this group of individuals…have strong and established links with Pakistani religious groups and parties…“ This has been further confirmed by President Musharraf himself on July 21,2005, when, he said in his address to the nation, that terrorist groups have “mushroomed in cities which recruit people openly, train them, collect donations and publish and distribute jihadi literature”.
Is the presidential statement an admission of failure or another ploy to deflect attention from the State sponsorship of terrorism in Pakistan? It is both. President Musharraf has no doubt failed to keep his word on reining in terrorists but the failure has been deliberate, an integral part of Pakistan’s policy to keep terrorist groups active as a bargaining chip in its overall regional strategy for India and Afghanistan.
One of the prominent terrorist groups that has emerged unscathed despite the four-year long War on Terrorism, is Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) headed by Hafiz Saeed, a teacher by profession but a jihadi guru by his calling.
LeT is one of the most resourceful terrorist groups in Pakistan. Its parent organisation, Markaz-e-Dawa wal Irshad, has a sprawling headquarters in Muridke near Lahore built with contributions and donations from the Middle East, Saudi Arabia being the biggest benefactor. The LeT website—www.jamaatudawa.org—displays several photographs of its various offices in the complex. It is believed that Osama bin Laden had donated $10 million as seed money to the group in the late ‘80s. It runs 2200 offices across Pakistan, 137 educational institutions, 24 of them for girls, about 50 madrasas, besides more than two dozen launching camps along the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), stocked with weapons and ammunition, most of which are procured through international gun-runners.
Contrary to what President Pervez Musharraf has been claiming, LeT is today busy extending and expanding its base beyond Muridke, Lahore. The group has been buying more properties in Sindh, Punjab and PoK. Reports in the Pakistan media suggest that LeT is planning to invest close to Rs 300 million in buying and building new properties “in every district“. Four plots have already been bought in Hyderabad division and six in other parts of Sindh for about Rs 200 million. A 20,000 square feet plot of land has been brought on Khoasi Road, Badin for Rs 5 million. Another 43,000 sq.ft has been acquired in Mitali for Rs 100 million. A new madrasa is being built on Hala Road, Hyderabad city. Similarly another plot has been bought in Tando Allan Yar.Properties have been acquired in Gumbat, Khasmore, Larkana, Mahrabpur, Shahdadkot and Sukkur with plans to buy land in interior Sindh in the months to come. The group runs about 20 madrasas and 30 schools in Sindh alone.
There are also reports of that LeT is setting up new training camps. One such camp, Markaz Mohammad bin Qasim, has come up near Shehdadopur. The group is planning to set up at least four other training centres in Sindh. The group denies any links to terrorism and claims that such centres are being planned as religious centres and schools. The group is increasingly projecting itself as a social organisation, for effectively camouflaging its jihadi agenda. These new centres have serious implications for India as these are situated close to the Indian border. There is a possibility that even if these centres were to be set up as madrasas and charitable organisations, there is every possibility that LeT might try and link up with fundamentalist groups like Ahle Hadis operating from Gujarat and Rajasthan. This could also mean opening of a new route for arms and terrorist infiltration in the future.
Quite significantly, these investments reveal that groups like LeT have been collecting donations despite the ban imposed by the US State Department and Pakistan government. According to a report in the Friday Times, a widely respected weekly published from Lahore, Pakistan, LeT has been able to collect donations worth Rs 710 million during Eid last year. Local newspaper reports suggest that Saeed has been able to cajole, convince and bribe prayer leaders into collecting contributions for jihad. Camps were also set up in various towns in Punjab and PoK to collect animal hides. LeT’s website called for donations in the name of charity—free dispensaries, schools etc., The campaign both inside Pakistan and abroad was so intense that, one Pakistan media report said, LeT collected Rs 1.4 billion from Britain alone. Britain has 675,000 Muslims of Pak origin out of a total Muslim population of 1.6 million.
There is equally compelling evidence that LeT has been gaining in strength even as India and Pakistan engage in peace talks. This is corroborated by none else but LeT chief Saeed who, while addressing a Friday sermon in Lahore in March 2004, said that his group had recruited more than 7000 youngsters for the Kashmir jihad. He also claimed that over 800 of them had so far died in Kashmir. Saeed’s claims are borne out by both Indian and Pakistan figures of intrusions and terrorist training camps operating from Pakistan. India has prepared a list of 54 terrorist training camps currently operating in Pakistan—27 in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, eight in Punjab, 15 in North West Frontier Province, one in Sindh and three in Northern Areas. Infiltration too has shown a discernible rise in the past few months. The Pakistan media (the July 2005 edition of Herald, a courageous and widely read magazine from the Dawn group of newspapers) report revealed that several training camps were activated in April 2005 and hundreds of terrorists had gathered on the LoC for infiltration during the summer months.
An ominous pointer to LeT’s importance in the jihadi network, and therefore the role it could play in derailing the peace process, can be inferred from what Saeed said in an interview to Urdu newspaper, Khabrain, on July 20,2005. He said fidayeen attacks were different from suicide attacks and that Quran supported the concept of jihad. His group, he said, “ would support it and they would also extend support to the organisations, active in jihad anywhere in the world“. This statement came barely three weeks after members of his group launched a fidayeen attack on the controversial but highly revered holy site of Ayodhya on July 5, 2005, the first such attack outside Kashmir since December 2001. LeT is known for its fidayeen attacks and regularly trains, and indoctrinates, both men and women in suicide missions.
Another sign of LeT chief Saeed’s growing clout, which only belies claims made by President Musharraf, is the freedom with which he holds Friday prayers at a Lahore mosque where he exhorts his followers to take up the path of jihad against India and the US with renewed vigour. He appears regularly in the columns of the Urdu press with statements condemning President Musharraf’s ‘pro-US‘ and ‘pro-India‘ policies. He hosts parties for political leaders, particularly from the opposition parties. His group has been allowed to distribute jihadi literature freely even in government offices where they have a sizeable readership among senior officials.
Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami
Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), is one of the more radical groups with a pan-Islamic agenda which had its base in Afghanistan. Closely linked to the religious organisation, Jamiat-e-Ulema e-Islam-Fazlur Rehman faction , the group was led by Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who was once arrested along with four Pak Army officers, including Major General Zaheer ul-Islam Abbasi (head of the ISI station in New Delhi) and Brigadier Mustansir Billa, for conspiring to take over the Army GHQ in Rawalpindi and establish an Islamic regime in Islamabad by overthrowing the Benazir Bhutto government. The Army officers were court-martialled but Qari Saifullah was never formally charged and he later shifted to Afghanistan to support the Taliban. He subsequently became an advisor to the Taliban chief, Mullah Omar and Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden , and was one of the few who escaped from Kandahar when US jets pounded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks. A large number of HuJI cadre was killed in the US bombing, forcing Qari Saifullah to escape to the Middle East. He was caught in Dubai last year.
Although the group was crippled by the US bombings in Afghanistan, there are clear signs of its revival in the past two years in Pakistan. One of the two suicide bombers in the two assassination attempts on President Musharraf was a HuJI activist named Hazir Sultan. Sultan was based in south Waziristan and had fought the Pakistan Army during the search for Osama bin Laden in the spring of 2004. HuJI’s main operational base in Pakistan today is Karachi where it operates from 48 seminaries including the Binori madrasa. One of HuJI’s major sources of recruitment is the Korangi area in Karachi area populated by Rohingyas, migrant Muslims from the Arakan region of Myanmar, where it has affiliations with at least 30 madrasas.
The assassination attempts also revealed the existence of a loose confederation of terrorist and extremist groups—Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkatul Jihad al Islami, LeT, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Harkatul Mujahideen al Alami –- called Brigade 313, with possible links to al Qaida. Sultan was part of the Brigade which specialised in raising suicide bombers. Pakistan security officials believe that the assassination attempts followed a threat issued by Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, in September 2003, which points to a possible link between the group and Al Qaida.
HuJI, like many other terrorist groups in Pakistan, has abiding links with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a rabidly anti-Shia sectarian organisation, a splinter group of Sipah-e-Saheba, the religious extremist group floated by Jamaat-e-Islami to counter the growth of Shias in Sindh. President Musharraf banned both LeJ and Sipah in January 2002. But the events of 2002 clearly show that despite the killing of LeJ chief Riaz Basra in a staged encounter and the arrest of Akram Lahori who took over from Basra, LeJ continued to operate quite openly, providing shelter and logistics support for the regrouping of al Qaida after the US bombing. The brutal killing of American journalist, Daniel Pearl in January 2002 revealed the hand of HuJI activist and JeM leader Omar Sheikh, several Lashkar local leaders and Yemeni elements of Al Qaida. One of the LeJ activists caught in the Pearl case, Fazal Karim, was the first one to reveal the merger of various terrorist and sectarian elements to camouflage the regrouping of Al Qaida in Pakistan. Several terrorist incidents (Sheraton suicide attack, car bomb outside the US Consulate, attack on the Macedonian consulate, arrest of Ramzi bin al Shibh, Abu Zubeydah and Khaled Mohammed Sheikh) have subsequently corroborated his confessional statement. LeJ was, however, forced to go underground after the US State Department banned it early 2004 but there has been evidence of its revival shortly thereafter. The group has been involved in several attacks on Shia besides the assassination attempts on President Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Karachi Corps Commander in the last three years.
There have been no curbs on the jihadi madrasas either. Even the Pakistan press has reported extensively about President Musharraf’s failure in curbing the mushrooming growth and clout of madrasas, a fact which came under global spotlight following the discovery that at least three of the London bombers had visited madrasas in Pakistan. The Daily Times, a widely respected English daily published from Lahore, said “ the government appeared to resume a task it had abandoned earlier in the year. It sent inspection teams into the seminaries and mosques all over the country and arrested nearly a hundred people charged with possessing and disseminating hate literature.” This, the newspaper, said implied that President Musharraf’s government had given up the job, which he had claimed more than twice as an important objective in national interest.
The speed and the extent of the police crackdown following the July bombings in London also reveals another fact—the authorities were aware of the activities of these jihadi groups but were not interested or authorized to take action. In Islamabad, alone, for instance, the security agencies rounded up more than 40 people, including Mufti Ibrar, personal secretary to the leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Eight seminaries were raided in the city, including Madrassa Jamia al-Hafsa commonly known as Lal Masjid, which is said to be the most powerful stronghold of the Deobandis.
It is significant to note that even the half-hearted attempts to control the madrasas were strongly opposed by political leaders from different parties. When the government decided to take a strong action some of the madrasas in the wake of rising sectarian clashes, especially on the extremists owing allegiance to Lal Masjid and other madrasas in the neighbourhood, politicians like Imran Khan intervened and prevented the operation. The imam of Lal Masjid had escaped a number of attacks from the rival sectarian party. Similarly, serious differences have cropped within the Musharraf government about the President’s decision to send back foreign students from madrasas and impose mandatory registration for madrasas. Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, president of the ruling coalition, and considered close to President Musharraf, has questioned the latter’s decision to oust foreign students from madrasas. Two members of the cabinet, the ministers of education and religious affairs, have defended the madrasas by arguing that it was fallacious to link them with extremism and terrorism.
The sweep and depth of the raids in Punjab, Khushab, Faisalabad, DG Khan and Multan, all known Deobandi and Ahle Hadith centres of power, also betrayed the number and strength of jihadi madrasas in Pakistan. In a strongly worded editorial, The Daily Times said in the last few years, donations from local philanthropists in the country amounted to about Rs 140 billion annually, of which some Rs 90 billion was in cash. About 80 percent of this amount was received by religious organisations for running mosques, madrasas, orphanages and other such facilities, the newspaper said.
There is another pointer to President Musharraf’s deliberate indifferent to the functioning of terrorist groups. The jihadi literature is freely available through out Pakistan. Though President Musharraf on July 16, addressing senior police officials, ordered the confiscation of pamphlets, booklets and compact discs (CDs) promoting jihad, extremism, sectarian violence and hatred in the wake of the July 7 London blasts, the hate literature is being openly sold in markets like Mohala Jhang in Peshawar. Mohala Jhang market is the hub of Islamic literature and audio and video cassettes on jihad and Islam. The audio cassettes that are sold here contain speeches of militant leaders glorifying jihad against ‘infidels’ and CDs featuring leaders like Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Qazi Hussain Ahmed speaking on the need to implement Islamic system in the country. Speeches of leaders of banned sectarian organisations like Maulana Azam Tariq are also available in the market, besides the video cassettes and CDs of footage of Afghan and Kashmir jihad, Iraq war, including execution of kidnapped foreigners in Iraq, and military operations against militants in South Waziristan.
The sole reason why President Musharraf cannot honour his promise on cross-border terrorism is the impact it would have on Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and consequently on the Pakistan Army which has sustained the cause of Kashmir over the last half-a-century. Since the jihadis, who were operating in Kashmir, were “groomed and financed to operate in Kashmir“ by the Pakistan Army, it is naïve to believe that President Musharraf, the architect of Kargil war, a last ditch attempt by the Army to change the status quo in Kashmir through military means, would be willing to settle for anything less than a Kashmir solution in Pakistan’s favour.
It has been a long-held belief in the Pakistan Army that Kashmir was strategically located and could be exploited by India to cripple Pakistan economically and militarily. These perceptions relied heavily on a geographical reality that the Indus, the lifeline for Pakistan, flowed from Kashmir, giving India an omnipotent weapon against the former in future. The Army, which has been ruling Pakistan for half a century, in one way or the other, exploited these fears to turn Kashmir into a question of Islamic identity, an “unfinished task of Partition“, in public perception, making it almost impossible to expect any shift in stated positions.
The conclusions are fairly easy to deduce from the above findings. For the sake of clarity, these conclusions can be confined to three broad ones- first, the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan is intact and there is no evidence of President Musharraf taking a decisive step against any of the groups in the near future; second, there is no change in Pakistan Army’s Kashmir policy, that is use jihadis to leverage a settlement in Kashmir in Pakistan’s favour; and third, with the nuclear option ineffective due to intense US pressure, President Musharraf is using his control over jihadis as a strategic weapon in the peace process, a factor which is more than likely to boomerang if terrorist groups like LeT decide to repeat attacks like Ayodhya in the near future.
|Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)|