Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was established in 1990 as militant wing of Markaz-al-Dawa Wal Irshad (Center for proselytizing and guidance). Prior to this, Hafiz Saeed alongside his associates Zafar Iqbal and Abdullah Azzam founded Markaz-ul-Dawa Wal Irshad (MDI) in 1985. Iqbal was Hafiz Saeed’s colleague in University of Engineering & Technology (UET), while Abdullah Azzam was teaching at International Islamic University in Islamabad. He was a close associate of Osama Ben Laden and had co-founded Al-Qaida.
In 1986, Saeed founded Jamaat ul Dawa (JuD) as active mobilization unit mainly for Afghan Jihad. The cause of Kashmir liberation was taken on later. Latter, LeT was established as a militant wing to support the practical implementation of the ideological training of Jihad that JuD was imparting. During the 1990s, LeT was heavily involved in Jihad activities in Afghanistan and Indian Administered Kashmir (IAK).
In the wake of 9/11, when the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf was forced to take action against militant organisations, he proscribed dozens of militant outfits. Lashkar-e-Taiba was one of them. JuD was left out from the proscribed Organizations’ list because its outlook of a proselytizing organization rather than a militant outfit shielded it irrespective of whatever links it might had with its militant affiliates.
After the Mumbai Attacks on 26/11, LeT was placed on the Consolidated List established and maintained by the Committee established by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 as an entity associated with al-Qaeda. The report also proscribed Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a front group of the LeT. In January 2015, Pakistani newspaper quoted an official of the Interior Ministry of Pakistan claiming the proscription of JuD under its Anti terrorism Act 1997. Although, when JuD challenged it in the court, the Govt did not produce any notification of proscription.
The group, since then, has been working with complete immunity in Pakistan and other countries despite its past and current links with LeT. It, however, had learned a lesson from the events of 2001-2 that it needed to distance itself from any militant outfit working anywhere in the world, in appearance at least. Ostensible separation from militancy enabled it to sustain all through the decade when rest of the world – the US and the UN – was pressing Pakistan to proscribe it in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1267.
Over the years, JuD extended its mission from proselytizing to preaching cum social welfare. Since 2002, JuD has built and strengthened its capacity for the relief and rehabilitations work in the face of natural calamities and violence affected areas in Pakistan. The successive regimes since 2001 have unconditionally helped JuD expand its social welfare network and improve its facilities. During and after the natural calamities like massive earthquake in Pakistan’s northern areas in 2005, the floods almost every year in Sindh and areas of Punjab, and devastating earthquake in Balochistan in 2010 and 12, JuD got government’s cooperation in reaching out to the victims and rescuing survivors.
In the case of Balochistan, JuD was the only organization that was allowed relief work in Avaran and other quake hit areas. The security establishment did not trust any other organization to be on ground in Balochistan for the relief work. In many cases, JuD used Army choppers or government’s boats to reach the calamity-hit areas. This kind of unprecedented state support in relief activities has helped JuD immensely in building a face of philanthropic organization for social welfare. This face helped JuD penetration in areas otherwise not possible for it to access and explore. The result of this more than a decade long façade is, the people in length and breadth of the country recognize JuD as messiah rather than a militant organization.
This was very beneficial for JuD to propagate its ideology, based on the Ehl-e-Hadith school of Islamic interpretation. It was also achieved through a number of educational facilities that JuD has been running throughout the country, especially in Punjab. It’s Markaz-e-Taiba (the center of the pure) in Muridke and Markaz-e-Dawa (the center for the calling) in Lahore recruit hundreds of students every year for education and ideological training.
In an exclusive telephonic interview with this correspondent, Yahya Mujahid, the Spokesperson of JuD claimed that not only that JuD had no links with LeT, but also Hafiz Saeed was never an Emir of LeT. On the question whether Hafiz Saeed was one of the founders of Let, Mujahid denied any involvement of Hafiz Saeed in past or present. “If at all there would be relationship between JuD and LeT, it must be like the relationship between Jamaat-e-Islami and Hizbul Mujahideen, i.e., ideological. Nothing more than that”, he said.
When asked why the UN out JuD’s name in the proscribed organisations list, Mujahid blamed Pakistani government that he said was not able to protect and defend its citizens (read JuD) from the UN’s decision made under the influence of Indian lobby. “India is against Hafiz Saeed because he has become the voice of Kashmiri people for the liberation of their territory from the Indian occupation” he said.
“Hafiz Saeed has positioned himself as the face of Kashmiri struggle as well as a leading anti-India activist alongside a sort of expert on water disputes with India, which has won him a great deal of credibility in the eyes of Pakistani masses”, said a senior journalist Aoun Sahi. Another senior journalist who has been reporting on militancy in Pakistan since many years told on the condition of anonymity because he feared for life and loss of sources within LeT, that the entire infrastructure including the funding sources of LeT are now being used by JuD. LeT’s leaders like Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi and Abdul Reman Makki (who is brother in law to Hafiz Saeed) maintain a close relationship with JuD. Makki holds a leading office with JuD and represents JuD in Diafa-e-Pakistan Council (Defence of Pakistan Council), a network of militant outfits, sectarian organisations, religious and political parties.
As per DPC’s own statements issued on different occasions, it was established to defend the interests of Pakistan and to agitate against the drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas, war in Afghanistan and NATO’s presence of Afghan soil. JuD’s participation and membership of networks like DPC has also been useful for JUD in claiming legitimate social and political space in Pakistan. These forums help JuD leaders rub shoulders with legitimate political parties.
In a speech back in 2009 during a JuD rally, Makki had offered then Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to help Pakistan Army with 10,000 trained volunteers to fight a decisive war with India. This kind of bravado coupled with JuD’s long-held views against democracy had endeared it in the eyes of Pakistan’s security establishment and deep state.
In 1997, while addressing a JuD rally, many leaders of the organization had expressed strong views against democracy and supporters of democracy. According to Praveen Swami’s ‘India, Pakistan and Secret Jihad’, the banners on the occasion read: Jamhooriyet ka jawaab, Grenade aur blast (Answer to democracy is grenade and blast). This however, seems to have completely changed over the years. Yahya Mujahid now insists that this never happened and that JuD conceded to the Constitution of Pakistan and is committed to democratic system. “We might not agree to be part of this system, i.e. parliament etc., but we do accept the supremacy of the constitution”, he said.
He strongly denied any linkages of Let with sectarian organisations like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). “We are not against any particular sect but we do retain our identity as Ehl-e-Hadith”. We are not militants, we are just preachers and social workers but India hates us because we have very strong position against her atrocities in ‘occupied Kashmir’, he said.
In 2006, responding to the international pressure, Pakistan had to take some action on JuD-run facilities. Instead of closing them down, the Government argued with the UN to keep the facilities intact so that the users of these facilities do not lose these important services. As per the mutual decision, Punjab Government took over the administration of the Dawa Markaz in Lahore and allied facilities that provided health and education services to the poor. To carry on with this ‘take over’, the government has been allocating funds to the tone of Rs 6 to 10 million (USD 60,000 to 0.1 million) every year since 2006.
Speaking at a seminar in July 2015, Pakistan’s then Federal Minister for Information, Mr. Pervez Rasheed had said that the Punjab Government had acquired the facilities and was responsible for the entire administration. Talking to this correspondent, JuD spokesperson confirmed that the facilities were indeed acquired by the government, but JuD was providing ‘software’ of the services in terms of teachers, doctors, administration of curriculum etc. “All the salaries and recurrent expenditure comes from the Government, JuD doesn’t spend a penny”, he said.
The Spokesperson disregarded the conclusion that the ‘take over’ has in fact benefitted JuD for it could now spend the resources on other things while the government keeps funding the services. As per some residents of the area, the facilities still carry the name of JuD on their signboards. The Administrator appointed by the government is only a ceremonial head, all the work is led by the JuD staff, tells a senior journalist.
JuD has recently become active through political rallies in different cities of Pakistani Administered Kashmir, Punjab, Sindh, etc. In Sindh especially, JuD has expanded its network with record speed. It is especially active in the areas inhabited mainly by lower caste Hindus, which is an extremely poor community. There have been many reports lately regarding conversion missions of JuD that work on Hindu community of Sindh especially the adolescent girls and boys and are instrumental in converting them to Islam. A Sindhi journalists told that most of this conversion is inspired by the financial and in-kind help that JuD extends to these poor people. Yahya Mujahid, however, strongly rejects these allegations.
JuD’s relationship with groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), is based purely on the convergence of their goals viz a viz Kashmir. They otherwise have different ideological backgrounds, with JeM following Deobandi school of thought and JuD being adherent of Ehl-e-Hadith. Another difference between JeM and LeT/JuD has been very strict command & control system and protocols of action within the latter. This is why so many splinter groups have emerged from JeM, but LeT/JuD has remained comparatively more unified over the years. There have been, although, some defections from JuD lately, but they have remained individual specific, not organizational.
JuD, however, has an uncanny ideological similarity with ISIS in terms of global jihad and establishment of an Islamic state. This is one reason why most of the defections have happened from JuD to ISIS. The call for global jihad, appeals to the trainees (and the trained) of JuD easily. However, as per Yahya Mujahid, the JuD emphasis on global jihad remains theoretical and its penchant for the establishment of Islamic state is also ‘quite opposite to the ideology of ISIS’. The Islam ISIS follows in order to establish Islamic state is based on violence and coercion, while we intend to make the state Islamic through Falah and Islah (welfare and guidance), says Mujahid.
Looking at the chessboard of militancy, a noteworthy observation has been the smart tactics followed by JuD, of transferring its ready crop of foot soldiers to LeT ensuring potential deniability for ownership of the militant actions by these foot soldiers. The funeral-in-absentsia of Anas Ahmed, one of the slain attackers of Uri Attack, by JuD was announced after the attack, which was cancelled after the news appeared on social media. Despite this ‘act of solidarity’, he was not owned as a JuD worker.
To conclude, JuD has been able to maintain the face of ‘harmless preachers’ and philanthropist while influencing the minds of the youngsters through direct training and social media, for jihad against India and the ‘forces of kufr’ incorporated carefully in their current training courses and skill-building campaigns for social work. Those who speak up against it are considered to be the agents of the enemy because it’s only the enemy who is affected by JuD/LeT, which do not attack Pakistanis.
As far as the security establishment is concerned, they would publicly claim that every institution of the state of Pakistan has decided to go after each and every terrorist outfits irrespective of the targets of these outfits, Pakistan or elsewhere in the world. But in private, they would commonly complain that the liberals who demand action against JuD/LeT and JeM, must understand that Pakistan cannot open a front in its mainland while the Army is busy fighting the terrorists in North Waziristan alongside troubled borders in West and in the East.
In short, any sustainable and decisive action against these outfits is not in the offing.
This article was originally published by StringerAsia.com on 20th December 2016