Foreign Policy Blogs

The many names of the game

Osama bin Laden: killed and al Qaeda: on the run. That’s the balance sheet — more or less — that the U.S. has to share with the world. Meanwhile, its biggest ally in the War on Terror — Pakistan — has nothing to present except that its own people have been terrorized by militants, with thousands sacrificing their lives. Pakistan’s contribution to the War on Terror has been so limited that the U.S. was not willing to trust it with the Seal Six mission.

The world focused on the Northern areas of Pakistan to capture or kill the al-Qaeda or Taliban operatives. But the harsh reality is that even if these operatives are eliminated, there are other outfits in the rest of the southern part of Pakistan that have the same aims, will and training as that of al-Qaeda or Taliban.

After 2001 Pakistanis were spoon fed the propaganda that the violence in Pakistan is due to America’s presence in Afghanistan. As a result, many hate the U.S. intervention and see Islamists as the defenders of Pakistani sovereignty. Those who support the Islamists for their religious beliefs are relatively few in number, but they are better organized. The arrests of extremists depends on the willingness of Pakistan’s secret agencies and/or the influence of the Saudi government.

The dual policy of keeping the U.S. happy while supporting the terrorist outfits was charted out by the then-President of Pakistan Gen. Pervez Musharraf. He half-heartedly banned some 23 organizations but failed — deliberately — to bring their sponsors to justice.

The story of Southern part of Pakistan is much scarier than the Northern part. Just as the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached, those “banned” outfits were on the rise, exploiting the anti-Americanism in the country and misusing the name of religion.

Jaish-e-Muhammad, the group blamed for an attack on the Indian parliament, is the second largest jihadi group in Southern Punjab. It carries out regular public gatherings and has strong influence in the U.K., Europe, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and even in the U.S. Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi was their financial patron-in-chief at one point. Another major financer is Saudi Arabia.

JeM changed its name a few times because of the “ban.” It went from Khudam-al-Islam to Al Rehmat Trust International to Usman Trust. Currently it is operating under the banner of Al Shafi Islamic Medical. Its publications were never out of print.

The failed Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, spent much of his time at a JeM madrassa in Karachi. He was transported to the North later by Laskhar-e-Jhangvi for further training.

LeJ’s parent organization — Sipah Sahaba Pakistan — changed its name from Millat-e-Islamia to International Quran Movement to Ehle Sunnat wa Jamaat. Its propaganda organ publications were available to the masses outside mosques and various market places.

The LeJ formed and operated its new wing, also known as Lashkar e Jhangvi al Almi (LeJ International). With its headquarters in Pakistan, it covers Europe and the U.K. The LeJ is organized into small cells of around eight cadres each, who operate independently of the others.

LeJ leader Malik Ishaq told an Urdu newspaper about his involvement in the killings of 102 people. He was allowed a stipend and provided a mobile phone in jail. Ishaq was released this year after the courts found no evidence against him.

Gen. Musharraf’s government carried out just one operation against the Islamic fundamentalists, under pressure from the Chinese government, when he ordered the Red Mosque Siege. Pakistani intelligence officials said they found letters from Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to the leaders of the mosque, directing them to conduct an armed revolt. One of the leaders was released by the courts later.

The LeJ, JeM and Harkat ul Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI) formed a common front called Lashkar-e-Umer with countrywide branches for close cooperation and pooled resources. These groups still support each other in one form or another.

The Karachi-based Al Rasheed Trust, was “banned” and listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department on September 22, 2001. The group is still operating and its chief was one of the few who had direct access to bin Laden.

Similarly, another group, the Falah-e-Isnaniyat Foundation (FIF) is linked with Lashkar and Jamat-al-Dawa and protected by the security establishment. These groups are also supported and funded by the Saudis.

The freehand operations of these groups have radicalized Pakistani society. Anti-Americanism spreads while Arabization has taken hold.

There are more and more mosques in each city, many run by such outfits. In some places three separate mosques of different sects are built next to each other. The sermons delivered there go unchecked and ultimately fuel the hatred and twisted ideology of dividing Muslims and bringing ‘sharia’ of their liking to the world. Public Billboards promoting jihad and hatred of America are everywhere cloaked as appeals for “charity.”

Pakistan’s internal crises include a deep cynicism that has seeped into every nook and cranny of everyday life. Politically, the army continues to run the popular narrative. Socially, if liberals talk about rapprochement with India, they’re accused of being controlled by RAW, the C.I.A. or the Zionists — or all three. The radical view that it’s acceptable to kill Shi’a, Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians and destroy their places of worship is widespread.

Because of this chaos, ordinary Pakistanis who want to travel, work and study abroad are finding it harder to do so. In the eyes of many immigration officials around the world, to be Pakistani is synonymous with being a criminal.

It’s been said many times that 9/11 changed the world. After the attacks, Afghanistan and Pakistan felt the heat.

Ten years later, the diseases that had been contained in Pakistan metastasize more rapidly than ever. Pakistan’s militants, all of them, are a threat to international peace. If the West’s strategy for combating radicalism continues on its present parochial course, the world will feel the heat.

The piece was first published at The Huffington Post