Maulana Masood Azhar, founder and leader of Jaish-e-Muhammad – an outfit dedicated to ‘jihad’, the liberation of Kashmir and similar heady stuff – has been one of our more enduring ‘jihadi’ symbols, a long-standing fixture on the ‘jihadi’ scene.
He was arrested in India in 1994 and spent years in Indian prisons. When an Indian civilian aircraft was hijacked in December 1999, the hijackers demanded the Maulana’s release. The plane was flowing to Kandahar.
Maulana Azhar, Omar Saeed Sheikh, serving a sentence in Hyderabad jail for his role in the killing of the journalist Daniel Pearl, and Mushtaq Zargar, the third militant, were flown by Indian authorities to Kandahar and handed over to the Taliban, then ruling Afghanistan. The then Indian foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, flew to Kandahar to supervise the handing over of the militants and the freeing of the passengers.
The Taliban brought Maulana Azhar and his two companions to the Pak-Afghan border at Chaman where they were said to have ‘disappeared’. Maulana Azhar was later seen being hailed as a hero and feted at various places. It took some time for the military government of Gen Pervez Musharraf to realise that this glorification of someone freed as a result of a hijacking was not something to celebrate…at least not openly. The Maulana reduced his public profile.
Jaish hit the headlines once more when along with the Lashkar-e-Taiba it was accused of being behind the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. On the one hand Pakistan was fully engaged with the United States in the ‘war on terror’ and here was this huge distraction caused by our ‘jihadi’ friends. Indian and Pakistan troops took up battle positions on the border.
There is thus a long history attached to Maulana Azhar. Since ‘jihad’ at one time was a sub-franchise of our school of national ideology based in Aabpara, Islamabad, it is not too far-fetched to infer that the Maulana and our strategy handlers have known each other for a long time.
So either we are first-rate idiots or we take the rest of the world to be peopled by idiots. For does it take a degree in advanced mathematics to see that if there is an adventure across the border – such as the attack on the Indian parliament, or the Mumbai attacks in 2008, or the Pathankot attack now – the finger of suspicion will be pointed not at someone from outer space but at our own ‘jihadi’ apparatus, which we all recognise is very powerful with its tentacles spread far and wide, and their present or erstwhile godfathers?
When Mumbai occurred the handlers of the attacks were seen to be operating from Pakistan. The Pathankot attack takes place and the Indians say the footprints go all the way to Pakistan. Either we say the Indians are talking nonsense and then we stick to our guns or we recognise the gravity of this charge. If Pakistan, not official Pakistan but the soil of Pakistan, was connected in any way with Mumbai, if there is any connection now with Pathankot, what will make us realise that this is embarrassing for Pakistan?
No one is saying anyone in authority here had anything to do with these operations. That would be suicidal, the height of folly. But if the presence of elements involved in these attacks can be traced to Pakistan, doesn’t it bring the focus back on Pakistan as a fount and haven of terrorism?
Our soldiers and officers are rendering huge sacrifices in this war against Islamist jihadism…so many have laid down their lives. At the same time there are loonies out there, with past links to the security establishment, treating these sacrifices with contempt by carrying out adventures in the name of ‘jihad’, thus nullifying the spirit of the army’s war against Islamic jihadism. Is this too complicated to understand?
There are varieties of ‘jihadists’: some on the run because of the army’s operation, some gone into hiding and some living in relative openness. Maulana Azhar belongs to this last category. He wasn’t going around making speeches or leading rallies but everyone knew his whereabouts in his hometown Bahawalpur. So the question arises: if he was a free man and not on the run, what kind of an eye was being kept on his activities?
No doubt there is an element of speculation in this narrative because we don’t know all the facts. And we don’t know what kind of leads the Indians have provided to our authorities. But the Indians are shouting from the housetops that Jaish is involved. From the reported arrests of some Jaish activists it appears we are not entirely disbelieving what the Indians are saying.
So then who is to blame? What were the erstwhile godfathers doing? And why hasn’t the Punjab government, with its fixation on metros and the like, taken the terrorism issue more seriously? Southern Punjab is not Fata. If the TTP with its assortment of allied outfits like the so-called Punjabi Taliban could be taken on in Fata and if major operations could be carried out in Karachi, why was Bahawalpur not kept under the radar, especially when it was common knowledge that it was a hotbed of militancy?
Now there is talk of a Rangers’ operation in Punjab along the lines of what we’ve seen in Karachi. The Punjab government was keeping alive the fiction that there was really no militancy problem in Punjab. Pathankot, if a southern Punjab link is proved, gives the lie to this story.
Greater understanding regarding this whole issue is required. This is not about pleasing India. It is not about salvaging the foreign secretaries’ or any other talks. Action against jihadi-terrorism – whether carried out here or transported across border-lines – is about us…it’s about the health and future of Pakistan.
The time for all kinds of ‘jihadi’ activity – whether or not there was any justification for it in a simpler past – is over. What will it take for our strategy masters to realise that it is a proposition which is no longer viable and affordable? We cannot revisit the past. We didn’t plan the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan. It happened and certain things occurred as a consequence…and we just had not the vision to figure out the consequences of our actions.
But the present and the future…that’s in our hands. We shouldn’t need the United States to give us advice. We don’t need India to dictate to us what we should be doing in response to Pathankot. It is self-interest, self-survival, self-preservation which should be telling us that the time of the Masood Azhars is over.
We can have zero relations with India, no talks, no normalisation. And yet we should dismantle and throw into the sea what remains of the infrastructure of ‘jihad’. It brought us not the sovereignty of Afghanistan or the liberation of Kashmir. It turned our country into a war zone.
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