Originally Published 2004-02-20 10:02:39 Published on Feb 20, 2004
For an Indian journalist, meeting the jihadis in Pakistan always makes for a great story back home. But despite the omnipresence of the jihad factory in Pakistan, it has never been easy to get hold of important jihadi leaders. Post-9/11, and especially after the ban imposed on some jihadi organisations, setting up meetings with jihadis has become even more difficult. With Pakistan's famed ¿agencies¿ quite chary of the jihadis talking to journalists,
Inside Pakistan - II, A Jihadi Perspective in Indo-Pak Thaw
For an Indian journalist, meeting the jihadis in Pakistan always makes for a great story back home. But despite the omnipresence of the jihad factory in Pakistan, it has never been easy to get hold of important jihadi leaders. Post-9/11, and especially after the ban imposed on some jihadi organisations, setting up meetings with jihadis has become even more difficult. With Pakistan#146;s famed 'agencies' quite chary of the jihadis talking to journalists, especially if they happen to be from India, access to jihadi leaders is tightly controlled. After the suicide attack Gen. Musharraf, many of the jihadi leaders (especially those belonging to Deobandi groups like Jaishe Mohammed, Harkatul Jihad Islami and Harkatul Mujahedin) had gone underground and the last thing they needed was to give an interview to an Indian journalist. Even the ones willing to meet were not willing to accept my condition that the meeting take place in a public place, preferably a popular hotel or restaurant. And yet, the temptation for that story remains. <br /> <br /> I had all but given up on setting up a meeting with the jihadis, when I received a call from a Pakistani journalist friend. He informed me that he has set up a meeting for me and that he is sending a car to pick me up. That was the end of the conversation. I had no idea who I was meeting or where I was supposed to go. Knowing and trusting my friend I decided to sit in the car and go to the appointed place. The car drove me to a non-descript house. I went in and was ushered into a room where my friend was sitting with a senior leader of the Jamaatud Dawa (a reincarnation of the dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba). <br /> <br /> For the next two and half hours we had a long (and very civil) conversation in Punjabi, during the course of which we discussed and argued over the present state of jihad and its future, the JuD's perspective on Indo-Pak relations, and about the organisation itself. The conversation started with the JuD leader saying that he believes that 9/11 was a disaster for the jihad. He was candid enough to say he will never admit this in public but his own feeling is that jihad suffered a great setback after 9/11. He said that there is great pressure on them from the regime to stop their jihadi operations and that a close watch is being kept on them. <br /> <br /> When I asked why JuD had not been banned along with the reincarnated Jaishe Mohammed, Harkatul Mujahedin and other extremist organisations, he said that after the attack on the Indian parliament, the Lashkar leadership had decided to bifurcate their activities inside Pakistan from their jihadi activities inside Kashmir. He said that in December 2001, the Jamaatud Dawa had been formed and that the Lashkar-e-Taiba had nothing to do with the JuD anymore and that it was a completely separate organisation. He said the reason why JuD had been kept on the watch-list was because the regime found absolutely no evidence of its involvement in jihad in Kashmir. As to the provocative speeches being made by the JuD chief, Hafiz Saeed, I was told that all he is doing is making speeches and that's not a crime (which it is if the Pakistan government was to apply the law). He said that after the formation of the JuD, the leadership had lost control over the operations of the LeT, and while they still had contacts with the organisation, they no longer exercised any control over its operations. <br /> <br /> Pakistani journalists covering the jihad beat however debunk any distinction sought to be drawn between JuD and LeT. They said that they are still one and the same. They pointed out to the JuD annual congregation at Pattoki and said that the fiction of JuD and LeT being separate organisation became clear at this congregation where the entire security was provided by the LeT cadres. They said that the JuD is still collecting funds for the LeT and is also helping in procurement of arms and ammunition. JuD offices still double up as offices of the LeT inside Pakistan and recruits for the LeT are still being recruited by the JuD. In other words, the formation of JuD and separation of LeT is no more than an eye-wash. <br /> <br /> When asked about the involvement of the LeT (or JuD) in acts of terrorism outside Kashmir, the JuD leader flatly denied any involvement. His take on incidents like the Gateway of India blasts and other such incidents was that these are acts done by Indian Muslims as retaliation for the massacres of Gujrat and other injustices heaped on the Muslims by Hindus in India. <br /> <br /> The conversation then turned to how the JuD viewed the thaw in relations between India and Pakistan. The JuD leader was not very optimistic about the future of the peace process. He said that the Indians would take certain steps which would ensure that the peace process collapses. He said that his tanzeem is not unduly worried by the thaw because they don't think this thaw will last long. Of course, if the peace process did succeed then the JuD would not stand in the way of its success. But he added that the solution to Kashmir that India sought would ensure that the stalemate continued because even if Pakistan accepted the Indian solution the Kashmiris would not, and they would continue their struggle against 'Indian occupation'. He appeared to be on the defensive when confronted with the negligible Kashmiri presence in the violence in J&amp;K. He first tried to put a Kashmiri face to the jihad but then admitted that most of the jihadis are Pakistani. But he said that in recent months a large number of Kashmiri youth are joining the jihadi ranks. <br /> <br /> He repeated the rhetoric about Muslims coming to aid of 'oppressed' fellow Muslims. But when asked why people like him never thought of the 140 million Indian Muslims and only of the 4 million Kashmiri Muslims, he once again appeared to be caught in a dilemma. Perhaps he was wanted to say that his organisation is actually involved in arming and training the other Indian Muslims, but this then would have amounted to mea culpa that neither he nor his country could afford. He took great pains to convince me that his organisation isn't against peace and the last thing they want is for the subcontinent to undergo yet another 1947 type holocaust. At this stage I asked him what their response would be to a call for ceasefire within Kashmir. He was candid enough to say that they would not accept a ceasefire because this would affect their 'karobar'. I then asked him to list a few steps that he feels the Indian government needs to take to convince the Pakistanis about its seriousness in seeking a peaceful solution to Kashmir. For a few minutes he was caught speechless. He then kept fumbling for words and tried to sidestep the question. It was almost as if they had never even thought about searching for a non-jihadi solution to Kashmir. But when I wouldn't give up and kept insisting that he come out with something positive and constructive, he very lamely said that maybe if the Indians released the political prisoners it would be a good step. At the same time he was realistic enough to understand that it was not possible for the Indian state to release prisoners who facing charges of committing heinous crimes. <br /> <br /> The meeting with the JuD leader led me to four conclusions. First, I got a feeling that the meeting took place because the JuD wanted to convey a message of being an organisation of reasonable people and not the mindless fanatics they are often made out to be. There was a visible softening in the stand of the JuD, something which was simply not there when I met the Lashkar chief, Hafiz Saeed some three years back. Second, the meeting probably took place with the concurrence of the JuD's handlers. But if this is the case then it probably means that the JuD has been kept in reserve to raise the jihadi temperature if the Pakistani establishment feels that the peace process with India is not going in the desired direction. The implication of this is that the Pakistani establishment is still playing a double game as far as jihad is concerned and hasn't forsaken jihad as an instrument of state policy. <br /> <br /> Third, the jihadis are unable and perhaps incapable of imagining a world without jihad. For them jihad is an article of faith without which they would lose their sole purpose of existence. And finally, the JuD (and its sister organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba) is the one jihadi organisation that for now at least remains under the complete control of the Pakistani establishment and either for reasons of short-term expediency or as part of a long-term strategy is not willing to confront the establishment just yet. And this, despite the fact that the JuD is deeply concerned and even angry not only about the pro-American and anti-jihad direction that Gen. Musharraf's regime appears to be taking but also the pressure that is coming on the organisation to wind up their jihadi activities in Kashmir and other parts of the world. <br /> <br /> The question is for how long the JuD will continue to take directions from the Pakistani establishment. Here one thing that the JuD leader said keeps ringing in my ears. Sounding an ominous warning for the Pakistani regime, he said that there is only so much humiliation and pressure that a man or a people can take. Once the pressure become unbearable and humiliation crosses the limit, there is bound to be retaliation. <br /> <em>Email ID :[email protected]</em> <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Observer Research Foundation.</em> <br /> <br /> <strong>Sushant Sareen is Director, Pakistan Centre,
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