Originally Published 2005-10-26 06:25:06 Published on Oct 26, 2005
The October 8 earthquake devastated large parts of Kashmir on both sides of the border, and left thousands dead and millions homeless. It also exposed the Pakistan Army's abysmal lack of experience in handling civilian disasters, a clear absence of higher leadership in coordinating and conducting rescue and relief operations in areas that have been traditionally trodden by the troops.
Musharraf's loss, jihadis' gain
The October 8 earthquake devastated large parts of Kashmir on both sides of the border, and left thousands dead and millions homeless. It also exposed the Pakistan Army's abysmal lack of experience in handling civilian disasters, a clear absence of higher leadership in coordinating and conducting rescue and relief operations in areas that have been traditionally trodden by the troops. 

More than a fortnight after the earthquake, President Pervez Musharraf has not come to grips with the situation. This is the biggest challenge of his regime. The relief and rehabilitation of the quake-affected people in the next two months will test his administrative and leadership skills. One factor that might upset his calculations is the re-emergence of terrorist groups which have won public acclaim for their prompt and efficient rescue and relief operations in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Among all the terrorist and religious extremist groups that are carrying out relief operations, Jamaat-ud Dawa(JuD) stands out for the swift manner in which it took over the responsibility of providing immediate succour to the quake victims. JuD is a religious extremist organisation based in Lahore. It was born after the US State Department and, subsequently, President Musharraf banned Markaz-ud Dawa, a Deobandi organisation which saw itself as the saviour of Islamic values and aspired for an Islamic nation. 

The reason for banning the organisation was its armed wing, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a powerful terrorist group active in India for the past 10 years in various forms. LeT's mission objectives are to liberate Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagarh from India. A retired religious teacher from an engineering college, Hafiz Saeed, headed both Lashkar and Markaz till the State Department and the UN ban became effective.

Undeterred, Saeed, who developed the Markaz headquarters in Muridke, a town off Lahore, with generous help from Osama bin Laden and other Saudi benefactors, changed the name of Markaz to Jamaat-ud Dawa, separated LeT from its parent body and appointed Abdul Wahid Kashmiri as the head of LeT the headquarters of which was shifted to Indian Kashmir. Saeed has since been projecting his organisation, JuD, as a religious charitable organisation engaged in running hospitals, dispensaries and schools at several places in Pakistan. 

In reality, these changes were reflected only on paper to avoid further sanctions from the US. LeT has been, and is, an integral part of JuD and the mission of the terrorist group is to free Kashmir.

An article from Ghazwah (a Urdu weekly published by JuD) posted on its website, dated September 23, 2005, declared that "support must be resumed for jihad in Kashmir". At a time when America, so goes the editorial penned by Saeed, "has entangled herself into the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan and has been suffering from severe afflictions like Katrina and Rita, it's the right time for Pakistan to support the jihad in Kashmir". 

Saeed, on his part, has been speaking about the urgency of fortifying jihad in Kashmir during the Friday prayers he leads at a Lahore mosque. Saeed's power and influence can be gauged from the fact that the Musharraf Government, despite evidence and pressure from the US State Department, dared only to hold him in a state guest house, under a tame law called the Maintenance of Public Order. The Lahore High Court threw the case out and ordered Saeed to be released.

It is important to understand the organisational capability and strength of JuD to know what Saeed and his group would gain from the earthquake. President's Musharraf's loss is certainly Saeed's gain, in terms of popular support. JuD's relief work is admirable. Even President Musharraf admitted that the work done by religious groups was commendable. 

He, however, denied that the groups involved in the relief work were banned organisations, a clear contradiction in terms of facts, and given the order issued by his own Interior Ministry to the Punjab (Pakistan) Government asking for a ban on the activities of terrorist and religious extremist groups in quake relief. JuD, for instance, has set up a mobile hospital in Muzaffarabad and invited doctors from countries like Indonesia and Turkey. This hospital, which has a make-shift operating theatre, is reportedly conducting 4,500 operations in a week. With the troops still unable to reach far-flung areas in the region, JuD activists, most of them carrying Kalshnikovs along with relief materials, have managed to reach even remote villages to provide food, tents and medical aid.

Today in PoK, activists from JuD and other terrorist groups represent the face of civil society with both the military and civilian bureaucrats unable to cope with the magnitude of the disaster. Groups like JuD, smaller and more dynamic, have been able to reach the site of devastation more quickly, raising doubts about the intention and efficiency of the armed forces and civilian organisations. These groups have certainly gained enormous amount of popular support and are, as a result, attracting both donations and volunteers, not only from Pakistan but also from other parts of the world.

The Indonesian and Turkish doctors working in JuD camps are an apt illustration. Since the Army and President Musharraf are still to get their act together, these groups will have a wide and clear field to promote their ideology, attract volunteers, and further their primary objective of jihad in Kashmir and other parts of the world. For groups like JuD, this is perhaps the first time in their existence that they have a chance to influence the minds of ordinary people in their favour, get support from civil society, both in terms of men and material in the near future.

JuD is set to gain more from the quake than any other group for the obvious reasons. It is one of the most organised terrorist groups with a well-established headquarters, schools and madarsas and training camps spread out in Sindh, Punjab and PoK. It has an efficient hierarchy, several sources of funds and enjoys the benevolence of the military establishment. JuD has been active in PoK for quite sometime and is, therefore, familiar with the topography. With Kashmir high on its agenda, the group will strengthen its position in PoK by setting up charitable institutions, schools and hospitals to disguise the expansion of its terrorist infrastructure. PoK will also offer JuD a ready recruitment base.

The earthquake has left the infrastructure in the region crippled leaving thousands jobless and it will take a few years before the Government in Islamabad can put together and implement a reasonable rehabilitation package. Such a situation will generate a large number of unemployed youth disillusioned with the Government and life in general - perfect fodder for JuD to exploit in the days to come. 

It is more than likely that next summer will witness renewed terrorist activity in Kashmir, mostly undertaken by new recruits from PoK. JuD or LeT will also benefit from the regional and familial relationships people from both sides of the border enjoy. This could help JuD coordinate terrorist activities in Kashmir more efficiently and with deadlier effect. JuD already has a front organisation in Kashmir, Al Mansooriyan, which recently claimed responsibility for the killing of a Kashmiri minister.

No less ominous is it a possibility that once JuD manages to establish itself in PoK, Al Qaeda will not be far behind.

The author is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, October 26, 2005.
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