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'Conventional' wisdom in Pakistan

'Conventional' wisdom in Pakistan

Author: Wilson John
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: November 12, 2003

More than Afghanistan and Iraq, it is Pakistan which reflects the failure of the American foreign policy. Or is it naïve on my part to say so since the possibility of Pakistan being sheltered and supported as a nation that spawns terror groups willingly by Washington could in fact be the reality? Why would Washington, or for that matter others, ignore two recent events in Pakistan which clearly point at the regrouping of terror groups under the benevolent protection of General Pervez Musharraf?

First there was an international convention of the Islami Jamiat Tulba (IJT) organised at Punjab University between October 18-20, attended by-according to the regional press- "hundred thousand participants from 15 countries." The IJT is the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islam (JeI ) which has always boasted of supporting terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in the world. The JeI is headed by Qazi Hussain Ahmed, one of the top influential leaders of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the religious-political party which has been asking the General to shed his uniform or revoke the Legal Framework Order, an illegal constitutional clause inserted by the General to protect himself from scrutiny and civilian authority while allowing himself to be the final arbiter of democracy in Pakistan. The Qazi wields immense clout and operates in the grey area between terror and civil society. Hence the significance of this convention which was organised with great thought at a time when the global opinion about terrorism is being overshadowed by an imperialistic US foreign policy. No less significant was the logistical support provided by the Hizb-ul Mujahideen headed by Syed Salahuddin, who has been running a terror campaign in Kashmir for years and has incidentally, never been incarcerated. The convention revealed the politico-terror alignments in Pakistan.

The convention, therefore, was not an ordinary event. It was attended by, among others, several Muslim leaders including former Turkish Interior Minister Asashtelak and Secretary General of Sadat Party Ustaaz ur Khan Rahel Turk, British member of Parliament Lord Nazir Ahmed, Aasim Alvi from Sri Lanka, Abdul Noor from Bosnia and Mohammad Salimuddin from Bangladesh. The tone and tenor of the speeches made by various speakers revealed the objective of this massive exercise which was conducted with the help of several hundred Hizb-ul Mujahideen activists. The Qazi's address reflected the seething anger in the countryside against the US, as well as the General Musharraf by proxy. He said the Americans and Israelis were the biggest terrorists and oppressors and they would not be allowed to overrun Islam. The JeI chief in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) Sardar Ejaz Afzal Khan said they would continue to struggle for Takmeel-e-Pakistan (completion of Pakistan). Lt General Hamid Gul (Retd) said the US was anti-Islam and it was up to groups like the Taliban to counter American designs.

It was not a meeting of renegade groups operating on the fringe. It was, in many ways, a reflection of the changing political dynamics in Pakistan where terror groups, in the absence of legitimate political opposition, would form part of the political structure. The last general election was a clear indicator of this. The next move could very well see the Qazi or Maulana Fazlur Rehman becoming a democratically elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. To expand on what a well-known Pakistan commentator Pervez Hoodboy said about the Pakistani army that while other nations have an army, the Pakistani army, has a nation. Replace army with terror groups and you could have an unpredictable situation in Pakistan.

The second convention was organised by Jamaat-ud Daawa between October 15-17 at Markoz Yarmok, Patoki. The three-day convention was attended by Jamaat supreme Hafiz Syed, Hamid Gul, Maulana Masood Azhar (the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief who has been keeping a low profile for some time), Lashkar-e-Toiba militants and relatives of the terrorists killed. In its resolution, the convention called for the continuation of jihad to liberate Kashmir, asked the Musharraf regime to lift the ban on terrorist groups operating in the State and put an end to the delegations visiting India. It said the General should stop US agencies from arresting seminary students in the name of operations against the Al Qaeda. The three days saw various leaders speaking out against the US, Israel and India, calling for renewed jihad (read terrorist attacks) in Kashmir.

There are quite a few threads that connect these two separate conventions. First is the open felicitation of terrorists and relatives of terrorists killed by security forces in India. This was an open defiance of the General's proclaimed campaign against terror. It also indicated the rapid regrouping and strengthening of terror groups. The reappearance of Maulana Masood Azhar is a clear indicator. The Maulana has been underground for quite sometime after the General-following Washington's orders-had banned the Jaish and frozen its assets. The Jaish had also split into two in the meantime, one under the leadership of Abdul Jabbar. Incidentally, both the Jaish splinter groups call themselves Khuddam ul-Islam, a pointer to the possibility that the split could have been for strategic reasons. Azhar's presence at a Lashkar convention shows that both groups have now joined hands.

Another similarity is the coming together of terrorist groups with Kashmir as the sole agenda. While the General has ordered a crackdown on sectarian groups like Sipha-e-Saheba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which have proven links with Al Qaeda, he has left Jaish, Lashkar and Hizb to run their operations.

The coming together of Jaish and Lashkar could mean a renewed spurt in terrorist activities in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. The General is also aware that the Americans are only interested in Al Qaeda and not mofussil groups which operate in Kashmir. With the revival of Hizb, the General is making sure that Kashmir is kept on the boil. Hizb is the only group which draws support in Kashmir. The Lashkar and Jaish have sizeable presence outside Kashmir and have been gathering support and strength over the past few months.

The general climate of communal tension being created in Gujarat and north Indian towns by myopic political parties for electoral gains has provided enough ground for the General's proxy army to exploit the situation. The communal situation in Gujarat is being cited as a reason to make recruitments and garner money for terrorist groups. Although there has been a lull in terrorist attacks in the past few weeks, a storm is brewing. If one were to put together sporadic media reports (newspapers are preoccupied with Mayawatis and Uma Bharatis) about the activities of certain religious institutions and groups, it would become clear that there had been a concerted attempt to rebuild the network which had suffered a crippling damage following the worldwide crackdown on terrorist fundings post-9/11. With the US Treasury and similar entities in other parts of the world squeezing countries like Saudi Arabia-traditional donors to religious groups supporting and sheltering terror groups- there had been clear downslide in the financial capability of many of these groups to reorganise.

However, with the Americans allowing the Afghan-Pakistan drug network to revive and flourish, money has been flowing into these groups in recent times. These resources are money which is being increasingly used to buy weapons and explosives by terrorist groups that are now supporting the second coming of the Taliban as an alternative to the US occupation of Islamic countries.

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