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Kandahar to Karachi to Kashmir: Terror's many faces come together

Kandahar to Karachi to Kashmir: Terror's many faces come together

Publication: The Indian Express
Date: May 21, 2002

Introduction: As banned groups name and re-name themselves-Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami is biggest and latest-scouting for a piece of action

The May 8 bomb blast in Karachi which claimed 14 lives and blew a hole into Pakistan's attempts to put up a brave, new face, also gave terror a new name: the Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami. Khalied Ahmed, columnist With reputed Pakistani weekly The Friday Times and among the most authoritative commentators on Pakistan's homegrown jehadi groups, says this new group, an amalgam of other terrorist groups, could also be spreading its tenor in the Valley.

Ary Digital Tv's host Dr Masood, whole discussing the May 8 killing of 11 French nationals in Karachi, named one Harkat al-Jahad al-Islam as one of the suspected groups involved in the bombing. When the Americans bombed the Taliban and Mulla Umar fled Kandahar. A Pakistani personality also fled with him. This was Qari Saifullah Akhtar, leader of Harkat al-Jahad al-Islam, Pakistan's biggest jehadi militia headquartered in Kandahar.

A large number of Harkat fighters made their way into Central Asia and Chechnya to escape the Americans. The rest stole back into Pakistan to establish themselves in Waziristan and Buner. Their military training camp (maskar) in Kotli in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir swelled with new fighters and now the outfit is scouting some areas in the NWFP to create a supplementary maskar for 'jehad' in Kashmir.

Authorities have begun the process of reorganising the "jehad" by changing names and asking various outfits to merge in order to cut down the large number of outfits gathered in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami has been asked to merge with the Harkatul Mujahideen set up by Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khaleel who had close links with Osama bin Laden. The new name given to this merger is Jamiatul Mujahideen. It was earlier active in Kashmir under the name of Harkatul Jahad Brigade 111.

The Jamaat Islami's Hizbul Mujahideen has been made to absorb all the refugee Kashmiri organisations. Jaish and Lashkar-e-Tayba have been clubbed together as Al-Jahad. All the Barelvi organisations, so far located only in PoK have been put together as Al-Barq. Al-Badr and Hizbe Islami have been renamed as Al-Umar Mujahideen.

The sub-militia fighting in Kashmir is semi-autonomous and is led by chief commander Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri. Its training camp is 20 km from Kotli in PoK, with a capacity for training 800 "warriors", and is run by one Haji Khan.

Who is Qari Saifullah Akhtar? He was an adviser to Mullah Omar in the Taliban government. His fighters were called "Punjabi" Taliban and were offered employment, something other outfits could not get out of Omar. Approximately 300 Harkat fighters were killed fighting the Northern Alliance, after which Omar gave, Harkat the permission to build six more maskars in Kandahar, Kabul and Khost. From its base in Afghanistan, Harkat launched its campaigns inside Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya.

The Harkat is the only militia which boasts of international linkages - it is active in Arakan in Myanmar and in Bangladesh with seminaries in Karachi, Chechnya, Sinkiang, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Its fund-raising is largely from Pakistan, but an additional source is its activity of selling weapons to other militias.

According to some sources, the Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami had earlier merged with Harkatul Ansar - which was later reportedly renamed as Harkatul Mujahideen after it was declared a terrorist organisation by the US.

When Maulana Masood Azhar separated from Harkatul Mujahideen and set up his own Jaish-e-Muhammad, the Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami opposed Jaish in its journal Sada-e-Mujahid (May 2000) and hinted that "you know-who" had showered Jaish with funds. Jaish was given a brand new maskar in Balakot by the ISI.

Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami went into Kashmir in 1991, but was initially opposed by the Wahhabi elements because of its refusal to criticise the Deobandi congregation of the Tableeghi Jamaat.

As days passed, its warriors were recognised as "Afghanis". It finally had more "martyrs" in the "jehad" of Kashmir than any other militia.

To date, 650 Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami "Mujahideen" have killed in battle against the Indian army: 190 belonging to both sides of Kashmir, nearly 200 belonging to Punjab, 49 to Sindh, 29 to Balochistan, 70 to Afghanistan, 5 to Turkey, and 49 collectively to Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and the Arab world.

Because of its allegiance to Deobandism, Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami did not attack the Tableeghi Jamaat, and became the only militia whose literature was allowed to be distributed during the Jammat's congregations.

Those in the Pakistani establishment attending the congregation were greatly impressed by the militia's organisational excellence. It contained more graduates of the seminaries than any other militia, thus emphasising its religious character.

It kept away from the sectarian conflict unlike Jaish-e-Muhammad but its men were at times put off by populist Kashmiri Islam and reacted violently to local practices.

Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami has branch offices in 40 districts and tehsils in Pakistan, including Multan, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Bannu, Waziristan and Peshawar.

It also has an office in Islamabad. The militia has accounts in two branches of Islamabad's Allied Bank, which have not been frozen because the organisation is not under a ban.

(The Friday Times)

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