WASHINGTON DC, July 31, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Musharraf begs forgiveness at a news conference. Madrassa students and their plea (below)

General Musharraf's Commitment to Wipe Out Jihadis Badly Exposed

By Amir Mir

LAHORE, July 31: While no religious seminary in Pakistan is ready to admit that the three London suicide bombers ever visited them, the Pakistan Government has itself declared that the three came to Pakistan between November 2004 and February 2005.

Muhammad Siddiq Khan and Shehzad Tanweer stayed in Lahore and Faisalabad while Haseeb Hussain chose Karachi. Six months after their return from Pakistan, they committed such bloody acts of terror that it could change Europe much more than 9/11 changed America. The tragedy highlights the superficiality of Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf’s rhetoric about changing the country’s direction.

During their stay at the seminaries, the bombers learnt to make explosives from recovered Al-Qaeda manuals. The information provided to Islamabad by the UK authorities show that Khan and Tanweer came to Pakistan in mid-2004. After landing in Karachi, the two militants traveled to Lahore from where they proceeded to Faisalabad. In the interregnum, they were at the Jamia Manzurul Islamia, an extremist Sunni madrassa situated in Lahore Cantonment. There, they lived with Osama Nazir at Jamia Fatahul Rahemia, a religious school run by Qari Ahlullah Raheemi.

Raheemi, an extremist cleric, is considered close to outlawed Pakistani militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad, led by Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar was released by India at Kandahar in exchange for hijacked passengers of flight IC-814. British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who has been sentenced to death for the killing of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002, was considered close to Azhar.

British intelligence agencies have already approached their Pakistani counterparts to know whether the three were in touch with the Al-Qaeda or other Islamic groups in Pakistan, or if there was a Pakistan-based mastermind behind the London attacks. What the British authorities specifically asked the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to find out is how many more Muslim volunteers of Pakistani origin present in the UK are ready to carry out suicide bombings for their cause.

Sources say British agencies have provided vital leads to their Pakistani counterparts to track down other potential bombers who have returned to Britain in the recent past. Sources say two of the four London bombers had visited Pakistan and were being supervised by Al-Qaeda managers based in Pakistan since then. British citizenship and familial ties to Pakistan enabled them to travel freely between the United Kingdom and the South Asian state.

The bombers apparently followed a set route, though there were many who used to believe that the terror highway of Pakistan had been closed effectively after Musharraf’s oft-repeated claims of having taken concrete steps to uproot extremist elements and dismantle their Jihadi infrastructure.

Barely a month before the blasts, the June 2005 arrests of two Pakistani-Americans in the small Californian town of Lodi, and a confessional statement by one of them of having been trained at an Al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan for six months till 2004 to carry out terrorist attacks in the US, had questioned the actual commitment of America’s most-trusted ally against terror — General Musharraf.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) believes that the arrests would help bust the well-organised network of an Islamic militant group in California whose fighters were being imparted military training at a Rawalpindi camp run by leading Pakistani militant outfit, Jamiatul Ansar (JUA), previously called the Harkat ul Mujahideen (HUM) and formerly led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil.

One of the men arrested, 22-year-old Hamid Hayat, is accused in an FBI criminal complaint of undergoing training in an Al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan to learn “how to kill Americans” and then lying to FBI agents about it. His father, 47-year-old Umer Hayat, is charged with lying about his son’s involvement and his own financing of the camp. Hamid’s affidavit says that he was preparing to attack hospitals and shopping centers. It describes the investigation as beginning on May 29, 2005, when Hamid Hayat was flying from Pakistan to San Francisco. He had flown to Islamabad from San Francisco on April 19, 2003, and returned to the US on May 29, 2005 after his wedding, the FBI affidavit states.

A week after the two Pakistanis were arrested in Lodi, the visiting Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Chairman Yasin Malik disclosed in Islamabad on June 13, 2005 that Federal Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed used to run a training camp for Kashmiri militants when the armed struggle in Jammu & Kashmir was at its peak.

Malik declared: “Sheikh Rashid has played a great role for Kashmir’s liberation. He used to support the frontline Jihadis from Kashmir, and has the honor of having trained around 3,500 Jihadis. However, a few know of his contributions.”

Sheikh Rashid considers himself to be among Musharraf’s closest hands. As information minister, he happens to be the public face of the Pakistani Cabinet, as well as the launcher of the General’s political weather-balloons. Terrorism experts, therefore, say these revelations highlight the threat posed by the second-generation Pakistani militants and the persistent presence of terrorist bases in a country which is the alleged hideout of the Al-Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri.

At the same time, contrary to Musharraf’s claims, the pattern of treatment being meted out to leaders of the four major Jihadi groups he had banned in January 2002 shows that his intelligence establishment continues to maintain its long alliance with the former, primarily because of the fact that both share a common agenda: the liberation of ‘Occupied Jammu & Kashmir’.

At present, sources say, hundreds of militants are undergoing advanced training at camps in Bagh, Rawalkot, Kotli, Gulpur, Aliabad, Halanshumali, Padhar, Halan, Kaliar, Forwad Kahuta and Kacharban across Poonch district in Jammu & Kashmir.

Notwithstanding the ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan, militant circles concede that several training camps along the Line of Control (LOC) were reactivated in April 2005, facilitated by the melting of snow. They also say that hundreds of militants had gathered at various points along the LOC after rigorous training in cutting and penetrating the fence erected by India.

Although Musharraf insists that he is determined to end all forms of terrorism, there seems hardly any evidence that his Government has tried to dismantle the Jihadi network from Pakistani soil. The authenticity of his claims can be gauged from the record of his administration’s handling of the Jihadi kingpins as none of them has either been prosecuted on terrorism charges, despite the fact that all four are wanted either by the Indian Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) or by the FBI.

As things stand, the four major groups — Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), Harkat ul Mujahideen (HUM) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) — resurfaced and regrouped to run their networks as openly as before, though under different names. Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil and Syed Salahuddin — the leaders of the four outfits — are once again on the loose. While JEM and HUM have been renamed Khudamul Islam and Jamiatul Ansar respectively, Lashkar and Hizbul have not camouflaged their identities.

The soft treatment these outfits enjoy in the Musharraf administration shows that they are being kept on the leash to wage a controlled Jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, whenever needed. As the political will to dismantle extremist groups that are not on the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ list seems to be absent, most of the Jihadi groups continue to pursue their agenda. Musharraf, by his own admission, no longer controls the Jihadis that the state had long supported, and the ‘holy warriors’ are far from ready to call it quits.

Also, the Lashkar and Hizbul Mujahideen, both active in J&K, have been seemingly allowed by the administration to resume training at their camps in the country. As the camps reopen, trained militants as well as aspirants are flocking to enlist for the holy war. Interestingly, a significant portion of the crowd constitutes trained militants called in for refresher courses.

Three years since Musharraf’s January 2002 announcement, the so-called modernization campaign has largely failed, and hardly a few cosmetic changes could be introduced in the madrassa system. The Federal Government’s plan for madrassa reform is a classic example of the one-step forward, two-steps backwards approach.

Musharraf’s rhetoric to modernize the country’s 10,000 seminaries has met with little success mainly due to his administration’s failure to enforce the Madrassa Registration and Regulation Ordinance 2002, which was meant to reform seminaries by bringing them into the mainstream. Most of these madrassas were self-financed but they are now being funded by the Government also for modernizing textbooks, including secular subjects and introducing computers into the classroom.

In 2001-02, Rs 1,654,000 was distributed among the madrassas. As the number of students is 1,065,277, this comes to Rs 1.55 per student per year (2.5 US cents). An additional aid of Rs 30.5 million was released for computers and changing the syllabi in 2003-04, which comes to Rs 28.6 per student (50 US cents). But since all madrassas do not accept aid, the money need not be distributed as evenly. The madrassas generally do not charge tuition fees and attract poor students.

Analysts believe that the Musharraf regime’s failure in reforming the seminaries and in cracking down on Jihadi networks has resulted in the resurgence of extremism and sectarian violence in the country. The Pakistani dictator’s priority has never been eradicating Islamic extremism, but rather the legitimization and consolidation of his dictatorial rule, for which he seems dependent on the clergy.

The clergy is hand-in-glove with the ISI and the Jihadis The nexus comes into play at the madrassas itself where young students are indoctrinated. These recruits are then picked up by the agencies or local militant outfits and trained.

During the Afghan Jihad, it was the ISI that hired indoctrinated youth from the seminaries of the NWFP and Balochistan who were then trained and sent into Afghanistan. The same was the case with those who were busy on the Kashmir front. The Pakistani military and intelligence establishments, the country’s religious leadership and the militants share a common belief in the country’s rightful claim over Kashmir.

It is amid all these developments over the last two decades that the tentacles of the July 7 blasts have reached Pakistan. As the biggest-ever probe launched in Britain explores possible Pakistani links to the blasts, it has become clear that no one could have damaged Muslims in Britain more than the suicide bombers. London’s 7/7 brings Muslims across the world back to the situation they faced after 9/11.

The 7/7 bombings and the involvement of the British nationals of Pakistani origin also proves that just as the West has failed in winning its war against terrorism, the Musharraf administration has been unsuccessful in winning its war against extremists and individuals. The bombings have led to increased pressure on Pakistan. As always, Musharraf has ordered a countrywide crackdown. As scores are picked up from seminaries, one cannot help but wonder why the cleansing had stopped after the initial rush of blood.

Analysts have described Musharraf’s July 21 address to the nation as an updated version of his January 2002 televised speech. The new administrative measures for combating terrorism are similar to those announced in the past. This raises two questions. What happened to the first campaign against terror? If these measures did not produce desired results in the past, how will they do a better job this time?

Analysts say given the military background of the Musharraf regime, the counter-terrorism policy was confined to administrative measures pursued through the civil administration, police and intelligence agencies. The narrow strategy comprised police raids on seminaries and arrests of some activists of militant outfits. However, this policy didn’t offer a sustainable solution because the Government priorities shifted and the arrested Jihadis were released later.

Another problem that adversely affected the 2002 campaign against terrorism was the divided official opinion about the role of militant groups in the insurgency in Kashmir. This is why for a long time after September 2001, Pakistan’s officials insisted on distinguishing between terrorism and wars of liberation. Some groups involved in Kashmir were advised by Pakistani intelligence agencies to keep a low profile. The underlying assumption was that if needed, these groups could be reactivated to pursue the official agenda in Kashmir.

Further, the state patronage of Islamic orthodoxy and militancy during 1979-2001 allowed a large number of people to internalize these values. Some of them continue to serve in the bureaucracy, police and intelligence agencies and sympathize with militants and the religious orthodoxy. They quietly soften administrative action against these groups.

Above all, analysts opine, the fate of Musharraf’s counter-terrorism policy and the efforts to promote Islamic moderation depends on its relations with the six-party religious alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). If the MMA is to be appeased to cope with the expediencies of power, the latest campaign against terrorism cannot be pursued to its logical conclusion.

The real problem seems to be that there is sympathy for Islamic extremists in Pakistan’s military and intelligence circles. At the same time, there is a widespread feeling that Pakistan is actually fighting the war for the West. Therefore, analysts believe that unless Pakistan makes the war on terror its own war, it cannot win it.

The writer is a senior and a courageous journalist of Pakistan who has been continuously harassed by the military regime of General Musharraf.

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