It was the first Friday of December. Outside Minto Park Lahore, the roads were blocked with pickets; only the pedestrians were allowed to cross after detailed search at four entry points to get to the park for attending the national convention of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). The JuD, led by Hafiz Saeed, is known to the world for its extreme position against India as well as the US. India blames it and Hafiz Saeed for having plotted the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Outside the gates of the park, the private militia of JuD, wearing commando uniforms much similar to that of Pakistan Army’s, were vigilant, searching each person and guiding them to the entry points that were gender-segregated.
“Infidels — India, Israel and America — are conspiring against Islam and Pakistan and we are here to give them the message that the Muslim Ummah is awakening and united. There is need to wage jihad against these infidels,” says Ataur Rehman, a 25year old JuD supporter from Islamabad. He believes the relief work of JuD is helping in increasing the group’s network and gaining public support. “Our relief work is extended to the whole of Pakistan including Sindh, where in Tharparker the JuD has managed to peacefully convert around 600 Hindus to Islam just because of our relief work.”
The national convention, according to Hafiz Saeed, its chief, is aimed to give the “message of solidarity and unity to the enemies trying to destabilise Pakistan through terrorism and sectarianism.”
Saeed came to the pindaal seated on a horseback. His pictures are flashed all across the social media. “If India was not willing to give the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir, the Pakistan government was justified in helping them. Jihad is the only option to liberate Kashmir from India,” he said while addressing the national gathering. He termed Kashmir the jugular vein of Pakistan as declared by Jinnah and justified to wage Ghazwa-e-Hind. India and Israel were the open enemies of Pakistan, he said, and were hatching conspiracies to destabilise the country through terrorism.
Incidentally, that very day the JuD held its convention in Lahore, a group of gunmen stormed an army base in a northern border town of Indian Jammu and Kashmir, killing around 20 Indian soldiers, according to the Indian media. The Indian side blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba, of which JuD is said to be an offshoot, for the attack.
However, JuD denies any link with LeT saying the latter is a Kashmiri group operating inside Indian Kashmir and it has nothing to do with them.
Surprisingly, a couple of days after the national convention of the JuD convention in Lahore, its chief Saeed and his party lost thousands of followers on twitter as the company suspended their official twitter account. They made a new account after a day but that was also deleted, JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid tells TNS, adding that the account deletion seems to have been done on Indian complaints because both India and America were “conspiring against them”.
“There were 26,000 followers of Hafiz Saeed on Twitter and thousands were following JuD,” says Mujahid. They have announced to plan “legal course of action” against twitter after consulting their legal team.
“This is an attack on freedom of expression; how they can do this to us,” Mujahid maintains.
Mujahid further expresses that the objective of the recently held national convention was to give a call for peace in the country and that one of the messages was for India “to give the right of self-determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir as per the United Nations resolutions”.
About JuD’s increasing shift to relief efforts, senior journalist Arif Jamal and the author of the book Call for Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba (1985-2014), says: “JuD hid itself behind the charity work in the wake of the 9/11 attacks when it became difficult for it to operate openly as a jihadist organisation. This proved quite a successful strategy. This made JuD an acceptable organisation for those sections of the Pakistan which normally would not support a jihadist organisation.”
He says that behind the smokescreen of charity, JuD not only could recruit new members in an unprecedented numbers but also raised huge funds. “This strategy has been so successful that JuD has now emerged as a major and biggest politico-religious party. Now JuD leads and other politico-religious parties follow.”
Prominent political analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi thinks that JuD’s role outside Pakistan and Kashmir is likely to be reduced henceforth. JuD, now, is viewing itself as a major player within the Pakistani domestic context.
Rizvi views that starting with the political demonstration following the Raymond Davis episode and, subsequently, as part of the Pakistan Defence Council, the JuD agenda in the domestic domain is being strengthened over time. Now it is focusing more on welfare and humanitarian programmes as well as entrenching itself as a social cum political force by building its open and secret network, primarily in the Punjab province.
“Thus JuD is strengthening itself to the extent that any attempt to dislodge it will be challenged in an effective manner. In the next of couple years, it will become an active domestic player on the political far right that stands with the Islamists,” says Rizvi.
In the light of JuD’s role in Pakistan Defence Council and the allegations that JuD is acting as the B team of the army, Jamal says, “JuD’s strategy of not turning its guns against the Pakistani state and re-inventing itself as a politico-religious party helped it become the most favoured jihadist organisation of the Pakistani military. This status particularly helped it grow into a huge jihadist machine. However, I don’t think this relationship will last or the JuD will play the subservient role forever. Sooner or later, the day will come when it also spins out of the military control like other Taliban groups.”
When asked as to what should the state should do to counter JuD’s manifesto of jihad, Arif Jamal concludes by saying, “Pakistan must abandon using jihad as an instrument of its defense policy, both in Kashmir and Afghanistan. It has not worked in the last 65 years and it won’t work in the next 65 years.”
Note: A shortened version of this article appeared in The News on Sunday, December 14, 2014.