Originally Published 2005-03-02 08:56:58 Published on Mar 02, 2005
Since September 11, 2001, Pakistan has been widely, and publicly, acclaimed as an ally in the Global War on Terrorism by the United States. Early this year, the Bush Administration presented a Bill titled Targeting Terrorists More Effectively Act of 2005 to the Congress for budgetary approval.
For keeping terror alive
Since September 11, 2001, Pakistan has been widely, and publicly, acclaimed as an ally in the Global War on Terrorism by the United States. Early this year, the Bush Administration presented a Bill titled Targeting Terrorists More Effectively Act of 2005 to the Congress for budgetary approval. Section 232 of the Bill carries the sub-heading Pakistan and states: "Since September 11, 2001, the Government of Pakistan has been an important partner in helping the United States remove the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and combating international terrorism in the frontier provinces of Pakistan." The Bill sought the congressional approval for $797,000,000 as aid to Pakistan in 2005.

Given this background, it is important to re-assess the state of terrorism in Pakistan as on today. Let us go step by step and address three crucial questions. First, which were the terrorist groups active in Pakistan before September 11, 2001? Second, are they active today? Third, who were the leaders of these groups and what is their status? Before the Al Qaeda launched the Twin Tower attack on the US, Pakistan was home to Harkat-ul Ansar, Harkat-ul Mujahideen, Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). All these groups had deep linkages to the Taliban and Al Qaeda and had actively taken part in the Afghan jihad against the Soviets in the late 1980s. They had common linkages.

The top leadership of these groups were drawn from madarsas and mosques in Pakistan - more specifically from Karachi and Peshawar. A confidential Government report, prepared by the Deputy Commissioner of Sheikhupura at the behest of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said at least 38 training camps were set up in various parts of Pakistan to recruit and train terrorists. Besides these centres, 43 terrorist facilitating centres were set up in Karachi's madarsas. In the last four years, almost all of these training camps and centres have been dismantled or destroyed. The terrorist groups have either split or gone underground. But none has been exterminated.

Harkat-ul Ansar, one of the most notorious terrorist groups to emerge from the Binori mosque complex in Karachi, is today, on paper, non-existent. This is the story that Pakistan has sold to the Bush Administration. In reality, the group is today known as Jamiat-ul Ansar and is far from dead. The group's chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who spearheaded the terrorist activities in Jammu & Kashmir, is a free man. Khalil's group has strong linkages with extremist religious groups like Sipah-e-Saheba (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ). Both these groups profess and promote rabid anti-Shia views and have been involved in sectarian violence and systematic killing of Shia professionals. Both the groups, after September 11, have been providing shelter and support to al Qaeda and Taliban elements fleeing Afghanistan after the destruction of the Taliban.

These groups played a pivotal role in the regrouping of Al Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan and were involved in suicide bomb attacks on US consulates in Pakistan and the brutal murder of American journalist, Daniel Pearl. Khalil has extensive network of camps and shelter houses in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir. One of the five terrorist training camps destroyed by the US bombing missions in Afghanistan belong to Khalil's group. Khalil was arrested in August 2004 and released on December 17, 2004.

Khalil's destroyed camp was operating under the patronage of Qari Saifullah Akhtar, one of his close associates. Akhtar also happened to be the torch-bearer for another terrorist group, Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) which acted as a hub of jihad with linkages that stretched from Chechnya to Manila and a cluster of training camps in Afghanistan where it trained fighters for Chechnya and Central Asian Republics besides the SSP and LJ cadres operating within Pakistan. Akhtar, was an adviser to Mullah Omar and was one of the few who escaped with him when the US fighter jets pounded Kandahar following the September 11 attack.

Akhtar was caught in Dubai last year and is today in one of the Pakistani prisons. Since no charges have been framed against him and there doesn't seem to be any interest on the part of the US security and intelligence agencies to interrogate him or put him on trial in the US, there is every chance that he might be quietly released if and when the Musharraf regime finds work for him.

This deduction is not hard to make given the Pakistan Government's past record. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, when a shocked Bush Administration leaned heavily on General Musharraf, the latter ordered a crackdown on all militant and terrorist groups operating in Pakistan. The top leaders of these groups were arrested. But none of them was charged under Pakistan's stringent anti-terrorist legislation. Instead, they were booked under a tame legal provision, Maintenance of Public Order, which is more prohibitory in nature. As a result, they were all either released by the Government or ordered to be released by the courts. Nothing much has changed since then. The recent release of Maulana Abdul Jabbar is a case in point.

Jabbar was responsible for gathering Pakistan's first group of suicide bombers and carried out three successful attacks on Christian institutions - at Protestant International Church in Islamabad on March 17, 2002, Christian School at Gharial near Murree on August 5, 2002, and Taxila Christian Hospital on August 9, 2002. Jabbar was a middle-rung leader in Khalil's group before he joined hands with Maulana Masood Azhar to form a splinter group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, in January 2000. Although Jabbar's name had surfaced in the three suicide attacks, he was arrested late 2003 and was released a few months later because the police concluded that he had a change of hearts. Jabbar is close to Pakistan's intelligence agencies.

Like Jabbar, Maulana Masood Azhar too remains free. Azhar was a member of Harkat-ul Ansar before he was arrested in India, only to be released in December 1999 in exchange of the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC-814. Within days of release, he announced the formation of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) at a press conference organised at the Karachi Press Club. Azhar was instrumental in reviving terrorism in Kashmir and openly boasted of being responsible for several of the suicidal attacks in India. Although he was kept under house arrest on quite a few occasions, he was never charged under any terrorist laws. The intelligence agencies, which once propped him up, engineered split within the group to cut down his growing clout. Azhar today maintains a low profile but is free.

The story of Lashkar-e-Toiba and its chief Hafiz Saeed is no different. Saeed was arrested on December 31, 2001, but was set free in November 2002. Since then, he has been strengthening his group and planning new terrorist operations in the coming days. Coinciding with the ban on his group, Saeed delinked LeT from its parent organisation, Markaz Dawat-ul Irshad, changed the name of the latter to Jamaat ul-Dawa and announced the shifting of the former to Kashmir with a new leader, Maulana Abdul Wahid Kashmiri. Last year, addressing the Pakistan Ulema Convention at Lahore, Saeed said: "We do not fear America. We can defeat it through jihad very easily, but General Musharraf is holding us up. He has become the biggest enemy of jihad, and if we can get him out of the picture, we can take care of the infidels." In March 2004, Saeed claimed that his group has recruited more than 7000 youngsters for the Kashmir jihad.

If the American public wants to pay $7.9 billion to a country which shelters such terror groups and leaders, God Bless America.

The author is Senior Fellow, South Asia Programme, and Director, Information Services, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Courtesy: The Pioneer, New Delhi, March 2, 2005.

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