By Rajeev Sharma
Mercifully, no evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in the latest terror carnage in Mumbai on July 13 has surfaced so far. Thankfully, the Government of India has kept a cool head and refrained from throwing barbs at Pakistan for Mumbai’s Bloody Wednesday. India has displayed political and diplomatic maturity by not unilaterally cancelling Pakistan’sState Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar’s India visit later this year and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has firmly stated that the July26-27 talks in New Delhi between him and Khar will take place as scheduled.
The Indian restraint is laudable because if India were to come up with a knee jerk reaction on July 13 Mumbai serialblasts, it would have played straight into the hands of jihadi elements who do not want the two nuclear armed neighbours to smoke the peace pipe. The biggest task before the Indian security establishment now would be to deal with the resurgent Indian Mujahideen whose signatures are all over the July 13 event. India must categorically put it across to Pakistan at the upcoming Foreign Minister-leveltalks that Islamabad must keep away from IM, the home-grown terror outfit.
This is because jihadis continuing their depredations unabated in Pakistan and elements in the Pakistani establishment as well as terror infrastructure operating from Pakistan are still eyeing all opportunities to bleed India. The Indian Foreign Minister must tell his Pakistani counterpart that India will have zero-tolerance towards Pakistani state or non-state actorsencouraging, supporting and funding India-based terror outfits like IM. Despiteloud claims of Pakistan Army about fighting terrorism, several jihadi groupsare not only active in different parts of the country but also freely gathering funds and recruiting youngsters to their cause without any hindrance.
Many groups have taken advantage of the global attention on Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and al Qaeda to quietly expand their infrastructure and cadre, all with the blessings of the army and ISI. One such group which was expose recently was Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HuM), based quite close to Rawalpindi, for its involvement in sheltering al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.Documents and computer hard drives and caches discovered the US Special Forcesteam which killed Laden in an amazing operation on May 2 this year showed thatthe al Qaida leader and his family were looked after by the HuM leadership and cadre. HuM is led by Fazlur RahmanKhalil, a close associate of Ladenduring the Afghan Jihad and one of the clerics who vowed jihad against the US. Khalil wa part of the International Islamic Front and ran HuM from Afghanistan and Pakistan for decades till Soviet Union collapsed.
Khalil, however,failed to measure up to the expectations of his patrons in Pakistan Army whenhis group’s attempts to launch a jihad in Kashmirsputtered and failed. ISI then splintered his group and created Harkat-ul Ansarand Jaish-e-Mohammad to do its bidding in Kashmir.Khalil, despite being marginalised, remained a key ISI strategic asset for hislinks with the Taliban and al Qaida leaders. Khalilkept a low profile and confined himself to his madrasa near Rawalpindi. He re-emerged on the scene duringthe Lal Masjid crisis in 2007 when the army brought him in to negotiate withthe recalcitrant pro-Taliban clerics who ran the radical madrasa in the heartof Islamabad.Khalil, however, failed to convince the clerics.
One of Khalil’s disciples and confidant was Masood Azhar who came out of Binori mosque in Karachiand launched himself into terrorist activities at the behest of ISI. Azhar had missed out the jihad in Afghanistanand was committed to make a name as a frontline jihadi for Pakistan. Following his release from India in 1999 December, after he and two other terrorists, were swapped for the passengers of hijacked IC 814 airliner, Azhar set up Jaish-e-Mohammad, fully supported by the ISI. His handler was Brigadier Ijaz Shah, the ISI stationchief of Punjab. Azhar, however, fell out withthe establishment after his men were found to be behind the assassination attempt on Musharraf in December 2003.
But being such a key asset, the ISI kept him sheltered in Bahawalpur,a major city near the Indian border which was developed by the army as a bufferzone. Away from the global scrutiny, Azhar beefed up his cadre and terrorist infrastructure in Bawahalpur, carving out a city within city for his terrorist group where the police and civil administration had no writ. With the help ofISI, Azhar also set up a base in Peshawar afterhe set up few training camps in Dir and Upper Dirin Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in 2006 to train the Taliban cadres for the agency.
Today, away from international scrutiny, Azhar runs his terrorist outfit with the help of proxy charities like AlRehmat Trustwith presence throughout Punjab, Sindh, PoKand KP. Azhar and others like him have adopted ingenuous methods to dodge any scrutiny and prosecution by projecting themselves as preachers and social welfare organisations. For instance, JeM is projected as Tehreek-e-Khuddam-ul-Islam and the group uses Al RehmatTrust for recruitment and fund raising. As part of this programme, the Trust, for instance, has launched a nationwide session to disseminate the meaning of Quranic verses on Jihad. Recently, one of the Trust members Maulana Ghulab Shah held a lecture on the subject in Malakand division’s Upper Dir district. The meeting wasattended by a large number of people. The cleric explained the meaning of 558Quranic verses. The audience was told about the significance of Jihad and the possible rewards for taking the path of jihad.
Another JeM preacher, Abdul Hafiz Amirpuri, who writes about jihad, said the best knowledge was the knowledge of jihad and the best act was that of jihad. He invited people to attend the jihad sessions launched by their group across the country. He said the preachers were trained by Masood Azhar.
Behind this façade, the Trust has been helping terrorist activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including financial and logistical support to foreign fighters. In 2009, the US agencies and military found the Trust members openly recruiting students to assist the Taliban fighting the NATO forces in Afghanistan. It has raised funds for the Taliban and al Qaeda groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Trust has also been gathering money to set up a `martyrs` fund. In 2008, JeM had renewed its recruitment campaign by putting up posters all over Pakistan with a call from Azhar to join the fight against the American forces.