By Khaled Ahmed
February 16, 2019
Khaled Ahmed was born in 1943 in Jalandhar during the siege of Stalingrad. He has been an opinion writer based in Pakistan for the past 40 years. Over his decades of experience, he has worked for <em>The Pakistan Times, The Nation, The Frontier Post, The Friday Times and The Daily Times, three of which have been closed down either permanently or temporarily. He is now consulting editor at Newsweek Pakistan, based in Lahore.</em> Ahmed graduated from Government College Lahore during the 1965 war with India with an MA (Honours) on the roll of honour, along with a diploma in German from Punjab University. In 1970, he received a diploma in Russian (Interpretation) from Moscow State University. In 2006, he wrote the book, Sectarian War: Sunni-Shia Conflict in Pakistan at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC.
Adil Ahmad Dar, the 20-year-old school dropout who led the suicide attack at Pulwama in south Kashmir on February 14, was a Jaish-e-Muhammad “fedayee” warrior, trained for the job in the Valley. He was inspired by Burhan Muzaffar Wani, commander of a Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, earlier killed by the Indian army; and he was also inspired by the “defeat” of America at the hands of the Taliban.
One feared the inevitable: India will associate Pakistan with Dar and Jaish-e-Muhammad, the terrorist organisation that Pakistan stupidly allows to survive in Bahawalpur, south Punjab. A lot of anti-Pakistan rage will be manufactured in India after assuming that Dar actually crossed over into Pakistan, took instructions and money from the ISI. Indian commentator Rahul Bedi’s comment came as a relief, reminding India and Pakistan to take joint action instead of getting into another war of words: “Most militants in Kashmir are now homegrown.”
Jaish-e-Muhammad is banned in Pakistan but its leader, Masood Azhar, is allowed to live in peace in his hometown, in his madrasa Usman-o-Ali, Bahawalpur. His terrorist group was earlier called Harkatul Mujahideen, associated closely with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda. It became Jaish after an internal division. “Maulana” Masood Azhar had the ability to raise funds all over the world. In 1993, al Qaeda was involved in the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in Somalia while performing duties under the UN auspices, about which Osama bin Laden was to boast later. While in disguise in India — and up to no good in Kashmir — Azhar was captured in 1994.
In 1999, an Indian civilian aircraft was hijacked after take-off from Nepal by a group of terrorists led by Azhar’s brother, Ibrahim. The plane was taken to Afghanistan where the Taliban government, recognised by Pakistan, arranged for a swap of Indian passengers with the two al Qaeda terrorists, Umar Sheikh and Masood Azhar. After their release, both came to Pakistan and began operating freely. Sheikh, now in a jail in Hyderabad Sindh, came to Lahore, and Azhar went to the most powerful seminary in Pakistan, Jamia Binoria in Karachi, from where he issued threatening statements against President Pervez Musharraf.
Azhar damaged Musharraf more effectively after 9/11 when he attacked the Indian Parliament and caused a military stand-off between Pakistan and India that lasted almost a year. He was put under house arrest in his hometown, from where he had a way of vanishing from time to time. In 2009, according to a report published in London’s The Telegraph, Jaish-e-Muhammad had acquired a 4.5-acre compound outside Bahawalpur in addition to the madrasa Usman-o-Ali inside the city. While local authorities acknowledged that Jaish had spread out of the city, they denied that the new acquisition was anything more than a cattle farm.
In February 2014, Pakistan decided to break the unspoken embargo Azhar’s movement and got him out of his ISI-protected madrasa to speak to a public gathering of thousands in Muzaffarabad. His job was to castigate India for unfairly killing Afzal Guru, a “freedom-fighter” hanged in India for allegedly helping Jaish mount an attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001.
Most Pakistanis are tired of the so-called mujahideen and want India and Pakistan to cooperate instead of notching up bilateral terrorism, India feeling righteous about the Jaish threat and Pakistan preening on having captured RAW agent Kulbhushan Jadhav “red-handed”. Even if it wants to, India will not listen to good sense before the polls and Pakistan will be the hobby horse to beat up on. And Pakistan, economically belly-up and subliminally dying to “normalise” through the Kartarpur corridor, will go on mysteriously tolerating terrorists on its soil who kill its children.
The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan