By Animesh Roul
Combating Terrorism Center (CTC)
Dated: May 19,2015
How did Pakistan’s Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) transform itself from a terrorist organization into a legitimate political actor? Animesh Roul cites two major reasons – the organization’s support for the government and armed forces, and its efforts to improve its reputation through humanitarian activities.
Pakistan’s Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) is often compared with Lebanon’s Hezbollah thanks to its efforts at blending charitable works and Islamic proselytization with overt political activism. The JuD is consciously attempting to improve its image, taking advantage of Pakistan’s religiously charged socio-political environment. It appears that it is being aided by government policy, notwithstanding international sanctions imposed on the group. The JuD’s influence has now extended to even the most remote corner of the country through its exploitation of the media, the expansion of its social services that range from health care to education, and its ability to assist affected populations during natural calamities outside its epicenter of power in the province of Punjab.
The JuD has been banned by many countries and international groupings, including the United States, India, and the European Union, for its association with terrorist violence. As a sister organization to Lashkar-i-Tayyiba (LeT), JuD, along with all its associated entities, has been designated as a terror organization under UN Security Council Resolution 1267. Many of its top commanders have been designated as terrorists, including Hafiz Muhammed Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the two founding fathers of JuD and LeT, who were listed in December 2008.
More recently, in June 2014 the U.S. Department of the Treasury named Nazir Ahmad Chaudhry and Muhammad Hussein Gill of LeT as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs), taking the number of designated terrorists associated with LeT and JuD to more than 20. Treasury also listed six entities associated with LeT, including Jamaat-ud-Daawa, Al-Anfal Trust, Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, Tehrik-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awwal, Falah-i Insaniat Foundation (FIF), and Idara Khidmat- e Khalaq (IKK). Despite these efforts, JuD has flourished.
This article explores JuD’s shifting narrative and its efforts to secure socio-political legitimacy both by supporting the government and the military and by conducting humanitarian works intended to improve its reputation in civil society. The article also examines JuD’s efforts to strike a balance between its roles as a jihadi proxy for Pakistan, a political pressure group, a social welfare group, and its efforts to remain domestically relevant under direct state patronage.
The Historical Context
Pakistan arguably provides a unique environment for terror groups. Internationally designated terrorist leaders and operatives, sometimes claiming a cover as religious scholars or social workers, appear to travel and work with little legal restraint. This situation has its roots dating back more than 20 years to the early days of the mujahidin revival in the 1980s. Pakistan’s then-government served as a willing partner in efforts to fund and supply Afghan rebels in their fight against Soviet troops. As part of that process, it allowed the creation and operation of many activist groups. After the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan, elements within Pakistan’s government moved to use the mujahidin groups in their efforts to secure gains against long-time rival India. Some of the individuals and organizations that flourished, or their descendants, continue to operate today.
JuD, its sister group LeT, and Hafiz Muhammed Saeed are examples of this dynamic. JuD was originally created in 1985 in Muridke, Lahore, as a small preaching group. A year later it merged with Lakhvi’s group of anti-Soviet jihadists to form the Markaz Ad-Da’awa Wal Irshad (MDI) or the Center for Proselytization and Preaching. One of MDI’s early online releases clearly mentions Saeed’s original role and how the organization raised funds for jihad in the name of Mujahidin-e- Lashkar-i-Tayyiba. The group’s ostensible role was to implement humanitarian missions and preaching according to the Islamic tenets. Below the surface though, the group’s links to jihadi philosophies and aims were readily apparent. One MDI document details how “the brothers [Lakhvi, Saeed, and others] gathered and in 1989, Markaz Ad-Da’awa Wal Irshad was established. This caravan of Da’wah and Jihad, started its journey towards its destination under the guidance of Professor Mohammad Saeed.” Another document states: “We declare that Lashkar-e-Taiba is not a terrorist organization […] but is fighting for freedom and liberty of Kashmiris.”
After the Soviets left Afghanistan, the MDI and LeT shifted their attention to Kashmir as part of Pakistan’s Operation Tupac. The LeT established a number of training camps in Pakistan’s Kashmir and engaged in terror attacks across the border in India’s Jammu and Kashmir, along with other Islamist terror groups nurtured by Pakistani agencies. There is evidence suggesting that MDI and LeT were jointly operated by the same group of leaders, even after the Pakistani government banned MDI’s operations in 2002 and despite some frictions between the two groups in 2004, which was reportedly resolved with help from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
There is significant evidence linking LeT to attacks on Indian targets and installations throughout the 1990s and beyond as the tensions in Jammu and Kashmir escalated. LeT was involved in skirmishes during 1999, fighting alongside Pakistan army regulars. LeT organized numerous terrorist attacks in India, including the December 2000 Red Fort (Delhi) attack, the May 2002 Kaluchak (J&K) massacre, and the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, among other deadly strikes. Even Pakistan’s government has admitted LeT’s role in the late November 2008 Mumbai attacks in its July 2009 report, and underscored the roles of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah, another LeT operative, in the tragic event.
The September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States and the December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament in the same year changed the security dynamics in the region and forced a response from Pakistan. Under significant U.S. and Indian pressure, the Pakistani government, led at the time by President Pervez Musharraf, on January 12, 2002, ordered a crack-down on militant groups active in the Kashmir region and in Pakistan, including LeT and Jaish-e Muhammad, another terror group active in Jammu and Kashmir.The order, however, did not affect Pakistan-Administered Kashmir (PAK), the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan), or the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
In an attempt to ensure continuity, the MDI’s senior leaders decided to split the organization into two distinct units as laid out in an internal MDI document from October 2002. The document describes the planned division in light of the fast-changing security scenario in the region and how JuD was reconstituted. “A general council of Lashkar-i-Tayyiba has been established which will work under the chairmanship of Maulana Abdul Wahid Kashmiri who belongs to Poonch [Jammu and Kashmir]. The Lashkar-i-Tayyiba will continue its jihadi activities in occupied Kashmir…rather it will further intensify them. On the other hand, to continue the mission of Markaz al-Dawa Wal Irshad in the country [Pakistan], JuD has been established. All the organizational, political, and reformatory work will be accomplished under the Jamaat.” This shift also marked the beginning of JuD’s move to the mainstream.
As part of the reorganization, Hafiz Saeed took control of JuD while Lakhvi became the supreme commander of LeT. Notwithstanding the internal arrangements, JuD maintained its financial and logistic support, especially for LeT operations in Jammu and Kashmir, via various existing charity fronts and other channels such as Idara Khidmat-e Khalaq (IKK) and Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FiF).
There is, however, much evidence to indicate that Saeed’s aggressive language directed at India going back nearly 20 years more accurately describes his ideological leanings and intent. On February 18, 1996, while addressing the Lahore Press Club, he stated that “jihad in Kashmir would soon spread to all of India and the mujahidin would create three Pakistans in India.” More recently in mid-April 2015, he stated in an interview with Channel-4 Pakistan that JuD would support action by the Pakistani army in Jammu and Kashmir. “We support the Pakistani government and Pakistan army in their efforts to help the people of Kashmir…we call it jihad.” He also admitted that Lakhvi has been a senior member of JuD, negating earlier claims by the JuD’s leadership, who in the months after the 2008 Mumbai attack had denied Lakhvi and Zarar Shah’s role within the organization.Six months earlier, the newspaper Dawn quoted Saeed saying that “if India can send its troops to Afghanistan, it can’t stop mujahidin from entering Kashmir to win freedom for the oppressed Muslim brothers.”
Hafiz Saeed and other senior JuD leaders have pursued several strategies to maintain JuD’s continued relevance in the face of growing international scrutiny and sanctions. JuD carried out humanitarian relief activities in the aftermath of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 floods in Pakistan via the IKK and FiF respectively. JuD had several motives. Not only was it able to heighten its public support, but by assisting in this way it was also able to gain favor with senior government officials. The JuD was careful to work in tandem with the Pakistani Army and other agencies during rescue and relief operations and use these opportunities to win the hearts and minds of the refugees. The JuD’s ability to reach inhospitable regions such as North Waziristan or Balochistan before government help arrives during natural calamities and other humanitarian relief operations has not surprisingly made the JuD quite popular.
Such activities also helps generate further charitable contributions, some of which it can funnel to LeT, and also refreshes the flow of recruits to the cause of Kashmiri reunification. JuD also used its humanitarian efforts, such as during relief operations, to spread Islamic teachings, along with a dose of Kashmiri or Afghan jihad.
The central government has been hesitant to take action against the JuD. On at least three occasions the government has cracked down on the JuD, and all three occasions were the result of India raising its concerns with Pakistan about the involvement of Lashkar-i-Tayyiba militants in attacks against India.
In January 2002, as a result of the September 11 terror events in the United States and the December 2001 Indian Parliament attacks, the Pakistan government did take action against militant groups including LeT. The government intervened in JuD facilities and placed its top leaders under house arrest following the July 2006 Mumbai commuter train bombings. Saeed was detained until mid-October that year and subsequently released by the Lahore High Court for lack of concrete evidence against the JuD leader.
Then, in early December 2008, in the wake of the LeT’s Mumbai attacks and under pressure from the United States and India, Pakistan launched a brief police operation against LeT hideouts and training camps. Top leaders including Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi, and Zarar Shah were arrested and security forces again took control of JuD establishments across the country.
Despite these actions, there are many signals that the JuD enjoys a privileged status with various levels of government. This kind of protection has helped the group fuel its move into the mainstream of Pakistani society and politics. Despite the UN ban, the central government has not shut down JuD’s or FIF’s establishments completely, claiming that the groups were primarily charities. Following the June 2009 verdict from the Lahore High Court that quashed all terrorism charges against Hafiz Saeed, JuD was able to continue its move into the mainstream.
In many regards, the government intervention in the wake of Mumbai attacks can be best seen as an effort to avoid international criticism. Additionally, it is no secret that the provincial government of Punjab has provided and continues to provide significant financial and physical security for JuD’s properties and establishments.In fact, the government approach could be interpreted as protecting the JuD in an effort to use it to further policy goals with an apparent degree of deniability. On January 24, 2015, for example, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, clarified that there is no ban on JuD’s activities, only that its accounts have been frozen and a travel ban has been implemented restricting foreign travel by its leaders, in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution.
Pakistani agencies, such as the ISI, have systematically used Islamist ideologues such as Saeed to raise issues like Jammu and Kashmir, but at a distance. This analysis is supported by the fact that most of the Kashmir-focused terror groups, including LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Hizbul Mujahidin have never targeted Pakistan or its interests abroad. In contrast, the government has occasionally used these groups to counter other anti-Pakistan militant extremist groups such as the Pakistani Taliban. The government has even deployed ideologues such as Saeed in government-run militant rehabilitation or reform programs.
Most recently, JuD has heightened its profile by supporting Saudi Arabia. It spearheaded a campaign along with other religious groupings such as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), pressing the government to send troops to Saudi Arabia to protect Muslim holy sites against possible aggression by the rebels in Yemen.Issues like these are another way that JuD can garner public and government support while pleasing multiple stakeholders, including the people.
The Mainstreaming of JuD
Over the years, JuD has grown into a socio-religious behemoth with its Islamic education and health service units spread across Punjab and other parts of Pakistan. Free education and free medical treatments comprising five hospitals, 200 dispensaries, ambulance services, and 250 schools fuels growing support for JuD’s presence and facilitate its legitimacy substantially within the Pakistan.
Despite international pressure, it appears that at least some elements of the Pakistani government consider actors such as Saeed to be assets. There are clear signals that this is so, to include, for example, his participation in the de-radicalization and rehabilitation of former militants, as mentioned above. Other evidence is seen in the group’s own conclaves and rallies, such as “Revival of Pakistan Ideology” and the Takbeer Conventions that focus attention on its pro-Pakistan agenda.These conventions are usually well attended by political and religious leaders and the general populace.
JuD is also engaged in transforming its self-image. It aggressively uses social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as the Internet, and a variety of Urdu- and English-language publications to showcase its socio-religious works, including health and education programs. There are also reports about JuD’s political ambitions and possible participation in Assembly elections in Punjab province, its traditional stronghold.The JuD itself, however, claimed that the group or leadership do not believe in power politics, but are engaged in educating people on various political and security issues and in constructive criticism of political actions. This could be loosely termed as political activism, and may be prelude to large-scale political action in the future, something that would complete the JuD’s move from the shadows into the light and cement its legitimacy.
The shift from an entity that supported violence in Kashmir and India in general into a ubiquitous pro-State entity hints at JuD’s likely new trajectory of Islamic nationalism, fueled by the legitimacy of its jihadi roots. With highly motivated, trained, and committed cadres, JuD could find success in national politics or as a significant lobby. These many developments underscore JuD’s apparent move into the mainstream, but also raise concerns about the direction of politics in Pakistan.