The Curious Case of Banned Outfits
By Dr Mohammad Taqi
January 29, 2015
“Propaganda is a soft weapon; hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way” — French writer Jean Anouilh.
In the wake of the brutal terrorist attack on the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, last month, the Pakistani civilian and military leadership made emphatic proclamations that the country would no longer distinguish between the so-called bad jihadists/Taliban that perpetrate such heinous attacks inside Pakistan or the ‘good’ ones, who have unleashed havoc in the neighbouring countries. The APS attack, with close to 150 casualties — mostly children — was so dreadful that even sceptics thought that perhaps the country’s policymakers were serious this time. Following the announcement of the National Action Plan (NAP) it was expected that there would be a crackdown on the already proscribed terrorist outfits and more would be added to the blacklist. The Haqqani terrorist network and Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) are two jihadist groups that were rumoured to have been banned. The officials’ sophistry about proscribing the two outfits, however, indicates that the good/bad jihadist distinction is alive and these groups have not been banned after all.
I had pointed out in this column after the APS attack that, in the way the blame for the tragedy was being deflected towards India and Afghanistan, there would be no introspection, making the much-needed course correction impossible. Security establishment-friendly elements in both the conventional and social media have ranted nonstop that the Indian intelligence agency RAW orchestrated the APS attack by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) via Afghanistan. Where serious reflection was in order, black propaganda was unleashed against India and Afghanistan by televangelists and analysts alike. Crude videos were stitched together from several unrelated news reports and launched on the internet blaming a former RAW chief, Mr Vikram Sood, for, among other things, the hijacking of Indian airliner IC 814 in 1999 that was taken to Taliban-controlled Kandahar, Afghanistan. Interestingly, this was the same hijacking that got the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, freed from an Indian prison in exchange for the passengers. If RAW runs the TTP, why did the Pakistani civilian and military officials sign scores of agreements with it? If RAW sprang Maulana Azhar from Indian custody, why does he remain at large in Pakistan today? Irony seems to be totally lost on the conspiracy mongers.
It is not just that wild conspiracy theories are being spun about the elusive ‘foreign’ hand but an active image-building campaign is underway to cushion the JuD and its leadership against the action that the US, India and the UN have been demanding. This past weekend, a seasoned journalist, Mr Mazhar Abbas, wrote an article, ‘Is Hafiz Saeed a threat to the US?’ in an English newspaper, in which he notes: “The Americans perhaps know about Hafiz Saeed from the Indian perspective but what they don’t know is something they need to know. He is among those religious leaders of Pakistan who consider groups like the Islamic State (IS) and al Qaeda a danger to the cause of ‘Tableegh’. Thus, to ban him or his group JuD, may go in favour of the terrorists’ narratives and may not help the war against terrorism.” The article is replete with historical inaccuracies and, quite frankly, is economical with the truth about the JuD right from its name change to its transnational jihadist activities.
Mr Mazhar Abbas acknowledges that the outfit was originally founded as the Markaz Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI) and changed its name to JuD but fails to say they did this so as to skirt the ban in the wake of the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, which was launched by the MDI’s subsidiary Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT). Mr Abbas portrays the JuD as a charity and missionary organisation, which did not indulge in armed Jihadism within or outside Pakistan. Relying on primary source information, the two foremost experts on the JuD/LeT Mr Arif Jamal and Professor Stephen Tankel have extensively chronicled in their books the links between the JuD/LeT and al Qaeda. Professor Tankel accurately observes in his book, Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, that al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in March 2002 from a JuD safe house in Faisalabad, was a dual recruiter for al Qaeda and the LeT. In his book, Call For Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Tayyeba 1985-2014, Arif Jamal has noted that Hafiz Saeed fought alongside Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and the two became so tight that bin Laden even gave his jeep to Saeed. Similarly, the LeT’s operational chief, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, is said to be a brother-in-law of a bin Laden lieutenant, Abdur Rehman al-Sareehi, and gained his first battlefield experience under the Jalaluddin Haqqani network in Afghanistan. Arif Jamal has extensively documented JuD/LeT’s transnational jihadist activities in the Philippines, India, Chechnya, Bosnia and the US. The JuD certainly has the desire if not the means to pose a direct threat to the US.
The doctrinal orientation of the JuD, al Qaeda and IS remains orthodox Salafi (known as Ahl-e-Hadith in the subcontinent). One of the founders of the MDI/JuD, Pir Badiuddin Rashidi, was directly associated with the Saudi Salafi Juhayman al-Utaybi’s Ikhwan, who laid the infamous siege to the Holy Kaa’ba in November 1979. IS also traces its doctrinal origins to al-Utaybi and, in fact, his letters are part of the terrorist group’s core curriculum. The point is that all so-called bad Taliban — from Kashmir to Kabul — were ‘good’ Taliban at some point and did their handlers’ bidding. They are, however, deeply indoctrinated zealots who pursue their own ideological agenda. The jihadists’ handlers and the writers who sing paeans to the JuD’s charity work can try to neatly box the jihadists under different labels but there always comes a time when these fanatics buck their masters. Dozens of jihadist groups have done it before and many more will do it in the future, as their ultimate aim remains a primitive caliphate, not a modern society, whether under democracy or dictatorship.
The curious case of banning the JuD and the Haqqani network shows that the delusional thinking about ‘benign’ Jihadism remains rampant not just in the security establishment but also afflicts the political class and the intelligentsia. When clarity is needed to act decisively against jihadist terror, the game plan apparently is to further cloud the already murky waters. The inevitable result of such smokescreens as Mr Mazhar Abbas and a coterie of television anchors are throwing up will be the evaporation of the national resolve and consensus against terrorism. There should be little doubt that, just like the hardcore jihadists boomeranged on Pakistan, this soft but highly poisonous propaganda snake will also turn and strike the other way.