Originally Published 2003-12-03 09:02:05 Published on Dec 03, 2003
After 9-11, many Americans remember Pakistani dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf¿s speech to Pakistanis in English, in which he explained his U-turn on the Taliban and Al Qaida. Faced with a ¿with us or against us¿ ultimatum from an angry America, Gen.Musharraf told his rich Pakistani elite brethren that Pakistan had to finally ¿shun extremism¿ and join hands with the US.
After 9-11, many Americans remember Pakistani dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf's speech to Pakistanis in English, in which he explained his U-turn on the Taliban and Al Qaida. Faced with a "with us or against us" ultimatum from an angry America, Gen.Musharraf told his rich Pakistani elite brethren that Pakistan had to finally "shun extremism" and join hands with the US.

What many Americans do not know is that Musharraf gave another speech on September 19, 2001 in his native Urdu in which he gave a different explanation for Pakistan's jihad U-turn. The alliance with America, he told his jihad-loving fellow Pakistanis, is not going to be permanent. Instead Musharraf likened it to Prophet Mohammed's temporary alliance with the Jews, called the Treaty of Hudaybiya. He reminded his jihad loving countrymen that the Prophet made a calculated decision to side with the Jews, so that he can ward off the infidels. Later on, the Prophet went back on the alliance and was able to defeat the Jews. Musharraf's message to Pakistani jihadis, who know their Quran well, was crystal clear - Pakistan's U-Turn on terrorism was temporary and the jihad would resume after the immediate crisis with America was averted.

A few weeks ago, Pakistani strongman Gen.Musharraf announced a new crackdown on previously banned terrorist groups. His faux Democratic government announced a fresh ban on the now renamed terrorist groups. Proclaiming these new steps, Musharraf said - "apart from the inhumane aspect of terrorism, it is also adversely affecting the economic growth and investment. Pakistan is at a critical cross-road where it needs to avoid pitfalls so that it can take a lead role in the world." Clearly this indicates that Musharraf has decided to take a stand against the terrorists for good, right? Not quite.

To fully understand the recent steps, one must take a look at the past. In January 2002, Gen.Musharraf announced what seemed to be radical steps in the war against terror. He banned terrorist groups, including Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, both of whom were involved in a long terrorist campaign in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. This crackdown was not voluntary.

In October 2001, a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist launched a suicide attack on the Kashmir State legislature, killing dozens. Jaish chief Maulana Masood Azhar even conducted a press conference in the Pakistani city of Karachi, taking credit for the atrocity. Pakistani authorities immediately took damage control steps, making Jaish withdraw the claim. But the damage was done.

On December 13, 2001, another group of "fidayeen" terrorists launched an audacious attack on India's parliament in New Delhi, which was foiled. India immdeitately blamed Jaish and Lashkar. Western diplomats, who saw India's evidence, backed up India's claims. These attacks spurred India to mobilize its army, threatening to take out the terrorist training camps in Pakistani territory. It was in this background, with American diplomatic pressure and Indian military threat that Gen.Musharraf was forced to ban Jaish and Lashkar.

Even before the ink dried on the proscription papers, these groups renamed themselves. The freezing of the groups' bank accounts was a joke, since they were tipped off and withdrew most of the funds hours before the freeze took effect. On the legal front, the crackdown turned into a revolving door for the terrorists. While more than 2000 terrorists were arrested following the 2002 ban, all but a handful were released after a few weeks. But what happened with the leaders was egregious. Jaish chief Azhar and Lashkar's Hafiz Saeed were whisked away to the safe houses of Pakistan's sinister intelligence service, ISI. After a few months of R&R, they were released without any charges being pressed against them. To make up for their troubles, Pakistan government even paid them a fat stipend!

While Musharraf claimed that he let the legal process run its course, what he did not say was that both the terrorist chiefs could have been prosecuted under existing Pakistani anti-terror laws. A top Al Qaeda leader, Abu Zubeida was found hiding in a Lashkar safe house. Pakistani authorities are on the record stating that Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists had been responsible for a series of Church bombings in Pakistan, including one that killed Americans. As the leaders of their respective groups, there was plenty of evidence against Saeed and Azhar.

Once freed in 2003, the terrorist leaders took to jihad with renewed vigor. Jaish's Azhar and Lashkar's Saeed barnstormed around the country, recruiting volunteers for Jihad in Indian Kashmir and Afghanistan. Saeed, in particular, spewed venom on America in one rally after another and even collected funds for widows of the "martyrs" in Iraq. Some of the rallies were conducted in military property, addressing Pakistani troops, which indicates a high level of collusion between Musharraf's government and the terrorist groups.

One of the many examples of the clout of these groups was an incident involving the arrest of Gunawan, the brother of Indonesian terrorist mastermind, Hambali from a Lashkar-e-Taiba owned seminary in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi. Even as Pakistani authorities were slapping the cuffs on Gunawan, Lashkar's Saeed was giving a "commencement" speech to the Jihadi graduates in the same compound, asking them to consider suicide bombing as a career step. Dying in such an attack, Saeed told his captive audience, would guarantee the "martyr" an entry into paradise.

So why did Musharraf act now? Just two days before the latest steps, US Ambassador to Pakistan, Nancy Powell, issued an unusually stern warning, naming Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba in particular. Such statements are unheard of in the diplomatic realm. The fact that Ambassador Powell made such a strongly worded reprobation indicates a level of frustration in the American circles with Musharraf. While he may privately promise the moon, his public steps are nothing but a smoke and mirrors show designed to show action where there is none.

Just days after the latest "crackdown", there are signs that this too is a farce. While Musharraf banned the latest incarnation of the Jaish, he put the Lashkar-e-Taiba's new avatar only on a "watch list" even though Ambassador Powell specifically named Lashkar in her warning. The logic of placing a previously banned terrorist group a "watch list" and calling it a crackdown is facetious to say the least. Despite being on a terrorist watch list, Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed was allowed to address a 150,000 strong rally on Eid day marking the end of the month of Ramadan. "Jihad is inevitable for the glory of Islam. The jihad process is continuing in Kashmir, Bosnia, Palestine and Iraq. Jihad has made Jews and Christians worried. They call jihad terrorism. We will continue jihad without any fear or pressure and will not stop it on the asking of anybody," said Saeed, seemingly undeterred by Musharraf's "crackdown".

Even more comically, Musharraf's minions announced that this time around they would not arrest the terrorist volunteers, instead settling for a "cash surety", which they claimed would keep the jihadis on a leash. This being the Ramadan month, the jihadis are flush with cash, thanks to the Islamic practice of Zakat, which calls for the rich to donate to the needy and the suffering. In Pakistan, Zakat has traditionally been one of the main sources of funds for jihadi groups.

With plenty of money, the jihadis can easily afford to pay the surety and vanish into the hinterlands, until their leaders call them into action. Moreover, Reuters reported a week after the ban that Pakistani banks indicated that they had still not closed the terrorist accounts. This is more than enough time for the jihadis to clean out their accounts. All these indicate that the latest "crackdown" is a mockery.

Contrast this with Gen.Musharraf's tough action against his political opponents. Asif Ali Zardari has been in prison for seven years without trial. Pro-democracy leader Javed Hashmi has just been arrested on flimsy charges of "inciting the army". And these are people whose parties received almost 50% of the popular vote amongst them. So why cannot Gen.Musharraf, who has personally stated that the extremists number only 1% of his country, take action against their leaders? For a dictator who rules by fiats, there is no excuse for not putting terrorist leaders permanently behind bars.

Despite its pretense as an ally against terror, Pakistan today has become global jihad central and a haven for terrorists. From Indonesia to Australia to Kenya to Britain and even Turkey, every terrorist event seems to have a Pakistan connection. Every Islamic terrorist, no matter where he is arrested, seems to be either born in, trained in or has been hiding in Pakistan. The fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons makes it doubly dangerous.

The multiple bogus crackdowns on terrorists show that Musharraf kept his promise to his jihadi allies that he made on September 19, 2001. Clearly, Musharraf still views the jihadis as an asset and not a threat. While the world is concerned about a renewed Al Qaeda, it must take notice of the happenings in the country that has always provided succor to Islamic terrorists of every hue. So while the US may proclaim its successes in the war on terror, it can only ignore the resurgence of the Lashkar-e-Musharraf at its own peril.

Kaushik Kapistalam is an IT professional based in Atlanta who writes frequently on south Asia.
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