Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Two Faces of Lashkar-e-Taiba | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat – During an interview in 2005, Ayesha Jalal, author of the famous book on the history of Jihad in South Asia entitled, ‘Partisans of Allah,’ suggested to Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the former chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba, that the humanitarian assistance his men were providing to people in Northern Pakistan affected by the October 2005 earthquake is a form of greater Jihad, (Jihad Akbar).

Saeed’s men were heavily involved in providing relief and humanitarian aid to those devastated by the powerful earthquake that struck the north of Pakistan in October 2005. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed’s response to Jalal’s suggestion epitomized Pakistani society, which developed as part of the global effort to defeat communist expansionism in Afghanistan in the 1980s under the protection of the security apparatus of the Pakistani state. Hafiz Saeed told Ayesha Jalal that the humanitarian assistance his men were providing to those affected by the earthquake was not Jihad and that the results “could not compare with the benefits of military Jihad” that he and his men were waging in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

According to the claims of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s own leaders, the organisation has more than 10,000 trained militants, 7000 of which are active in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Shifting the focus of trained and highly motivated manpower away from military activity and towards providing humanitarian assistance in earthquake-affected areas was simply a tactical ploy to evade the wrath of Pakistani intelligence and security apparatus that had now turned against its former protégé after coming under pressure from Western countries, especially the United States.

In January 2002, the Pakistani government banned the notorious armed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba from operating, which resulted in the leadership of the group quickly shifting its operations out of Pakistan. However, Jamat-ud-Dawa, a sister organization to Lashkar-e-Taiba, continues its activities in Pakistani cities and towns, especially in the north-western parts of the country that were affected by the powerful earthquake in October 2005.

Many experts believe that Jamat-ud-Dawa also serves as a cover for the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan. However its leadership denies any links to Lashkar-e-Taiba and its militant activities.

Recently, a number of members of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba organization were killed in a military operation in Pakistani tribal areas, which clearly showed that the group shifted its activities away from the country’s major cities.

Laskhar-e-Taiba was banned under the government of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf under pressure from Western countries including the United States, after Western intelligence agencies highlighted links between Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al Qaeda. According to one source, at one stage, Lashkar-e-Taiba provided bodyguards for Osama Bin Laden.

Hundreds of militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Taiba were arrested by Pakistani security forces in January 2002 after former President Musharraf announced the ban.

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the former chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba, who was close to the Pakistani security establishment, announced that he would relinquish leadership after the government banned the group in January 2002.

Hafiz Saeed now heads Jamat-ud-Dawa, a sister organization to Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is engaged in humanitarian work in areas affected by natural disasters in Pakistan. The headquarters of Jamat-ud-Dawa is located in Muridke, a small town on the outskirts of Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore. A recent visit to Muridke revealed that Jamat-ud-Dawa has a strong presence in the town. Its walls are marked with anti-India slogans and slogans calling for freedom for Kashmir.

Critics of the previous government of former President Musharraf have complained that none of Laskhar-e-Taiba’s leaders were arrested in January 2002, after an unknown and obscure figure, Maulana Abdul Wahid Kashmiri, took over the leadership of the group. Since his appointment as military commander of the organisation, Maulana Abdul Wahid Kashmiri has never appeared in public and has never issued a public statement.

Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamat-ud-Dawa were formed as twin organizations in 1986 by a group of teachers of religious studies associated with Lahore University of Engineering and Technology. This group, led by the charismatic and canny Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, wanted to participate practically in Jihad in Afghanistan with the financial and military support of Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and intelligence agencies of Western countries. “Organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamat-ud-Dawa used to serve as a parallel support network for Jihad in Afghanistan,” said Sohail Abdul Nasir, a leading Pakistani journalist who specializes in security affairs.

However in 1989, Lashkar-e-Taiba stopped its militant activities in Afghanistan and shifted its focus on Indian-administered Kashmir. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed once said, “We keep ourselves away from the internal strife between different Afghan groups and focus our attention totally on Indian-occupied Kashmir.”

Some consider Jamat-ud-Dawa responsible for creating Lashkar-e-Taiba as a secondary organization to send Pakistani and Arab youth to the battlefront in Afghanistan and later to Kashmir. However both these organizations in practice remained mutually supportive and there was little distinction between the two with regards to membership. “Before the government imposed a ban on Lashkar-e-Taiba, it had more than 74 district offices all over Pakistan. However after the ban, many offices were shut down or have been converted into Jamat-ud-Dawa offices,” said Muhammad Amir Rana, a researcher who has written extensively on militant organizations in Pakistan.

In the close-knit network of organizations, Jamat-ud-Dawa was engaged in the more basic work of recruiting and motivating the youth for Jihad in the rural areas of Punjab and Sindh. Jamat-ud-Dawa has a very elaborate network of teachers and recruitment figures in the rural areas of Punjab and Sindh. They remain actively engaged in recruiting young men from the extremely poor population of Pakistani rural areas, sending them to the organization’s headquarters in Muridke for free education and training courses in Jihad.

The headquarters of Jamat-ud-Dawa is located in Muridke, 30 kilometres south-west of Lahore, and is where all organizational and educational activities are centered. However military training programmes for the youth used to be carried out by members of Lashkar-e-Taiba in the mountains of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, which has now stopped according one senior government official.

Immediately after the recent Mumbai attacks, out of fear that India might launch an air strike against Jamat-ud-Dawa’s headquarters in Muridke, the organization’s chief, Hafiz Saeed released a statement that said, “There is no military activity going on in Muridke; it is simply an educational institution.”

However, the teachers associated with Dawa schools and colleges told Asharq Al-Awsat that they continue to teach Jihad and militancy to their students. The courses taught at Dawa schools is very different from courses studied at other institutions. Arabic, Urdu and English are compulsory subjects and most subjects have been modified to suit the Islamic interpretation of science. One teacher, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said, “We have created a new primer that is totally different from the old secular primer. Instead of the concept of ‘C’ is for cat and ‘G’ is for goat, we introduced the concept of ‘C’ is for canon and ‘G’ is for gun.”

The prospects of free education, free food and free lodging are very attractive in the rural Pakistani society where people live under extreme poverty and the leadership of Jamat-ud-Dawa knows how to exploit the situation. It sends delegations of religious scholars to rural areas to bring in young boys and promises to provide them with free education in Muridke where they are indoctrinated with the concepts of militancy.

According to experts, organizations such as Jamat-ud-Dawa do not face any problems in obtaining large sums as donations from small traders and expatriate Pakistanis living in the Gulf. “Even after the government imposed a ban on the collection of funds for waging Jihad, Jamat-ud-Dawa continues to collect millions of Rupees from small traders in Pakistan,” said a Pakistani intelligence official.

In fear of a backlash from the Pakistani government in 2002, when the ban was imposed on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the ideologue of the entire movement, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, made two important decisions. He disconnected the Jamat-ud-Dawa from the militant activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba and resigned as chief of the latter. He announced that Lashkar-e-Taiba was shifting its operations to Indian-controlled Kashmir and it would cease its activities in Pakistan.

“Jamat-ud-Dawa has faced organizational difficulties due to the ban on Lashkar-e-Taiba as most Pakistanis were more familiar with the name ‘Lashkar-e-Taiba’ than ‘Jamat-ud-Dawa,’” explained Amir Rana.

Lashkar-e-Taiba’s high profile and successful military operations against the Indian military in Indian-controlled Kashmir were the main reasons behind its popularity among Pakistanis and its ability to collect huge donations from conservative, small traders in Pakistan. Before the ban in 2002, Majalah al Dawa, the movement’s official mouthpiece, used to publish detailed reports about the massacre of Indian soldiers at the hands of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s militants and other militant activities in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The suicide attacks, which have caused significant damage in Pakistani society, first began in Indian-controlled Kashmir by the militants of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Through Majalah al Dawa, it claimed to have carried out 98 suicide missions in Indian-administered Kashmir between 1999 and 2000.

Paradoxically, suicide bombing was used against military and government targets in Pakistan by the same militant groups that the Pakistani state used as a foreign policy tool in 1980s and 1990s. Furthermore, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed was compelled to join a group of religious scholars in October 2008 to denounce suicide bombings as un-Islamic. But perhaps this has come too late.