LAHORE: A former major who trained fighters for war in Afghanistan and occupied Kashmir keeps cropping up in terrorism investigations in Pakistan. But police say the grey-haired grandfather is shielded by his links to the army and powerful intelligence agencies.
The case of Ahsanul Haq shines a light on a murky side of the militancy infecting the country: the extent to which retired members of the security agencies allegedly support or tolerate militants they once nurtured for foreign policy aims.
The recent arrest of another retired army major with alleged links to the suspect in New Yorks Times Square bomb plot rekindled these concerns. The man has since been released, but the army says he was dismissed from the force.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Mr Haq seemed to embody the contradictions of this shadowy struggle. He said he sees nothing wrong with “jihad against infidels” but strongly denies being linked to terrorism.
The most recent allegations against him appear in a report by investigators of last year’s ambush of the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.
The document claims Mr Haq gave logistical support to unspecified Taliban and other fighters. It says cellphones used by the attackers were traced to locations close to a large garment factory owned by Mr Haq and his brother.
Senior Lahore police investigator Zulfikar Hameed said the force reported its suspicions to the ISI, which told him the major was not involved.
Therefore Mr Haq was no longer wanted by the police in connection with the attack, he said, though other high-ranking officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they still harboured suspicions about him.
Otherwise calm and soft-spoken, Mr Haq grew angry as he sat in his upscale Lahore home reading the report into the cricket team attack.
“The police are doing this just to say they have completed the case, to get promotions,” he said. “This is absolutely wrong.”
Mr Haq served in the army when it and the ISI created and fostered fighters in the US-backed war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
After the Soviets were driven out, the ISI trained thousands of young Pakistanis to wage guerilla war in occupied Kashmir.
Following the 9/11 attacks in US, the government of president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf outlawed the most notorious groups, and was believed to have purged several hundred ISI staff for being too close to the extremists.
But the crackdown was patchily enforced, and many of the militants behind the suicide attacks now rocking Pakistan are linked to the outfits created by the ISI. One such group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, is accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Mr Haq says he served with a Pakistani army unit close to the Afghan border during the jihad against the Soviet Union, supporting fighters there. He left the army in 1990 and says he began working for the ISI to train fighters for Kashmir.
On police radar
In 2007 Mr Haq showed up on the police radar, when a police investigation report identified him as a member of the “Mufti Sagheer” militant network which it said transported bomb-making equipment to Lahore.
Mr Haq said several of the group’s members trained under him in Azad Kashmir, but he insisted they had done no wrong.
“These men are behind bars just because they have beards and believe in jihad against infidels,” he said.
The police report calls Mr Haq “sympathetic to the core of his heart to the jihadi groups in Afghanistan and Kashmir. He supports jihadi organisations financially.”On Nov 1, 2007, came the suicide bombing of a Pakistan Air Force bus in Sargodha. Mr Haq was arrested and intelligence officials said he was suspected of being one of the masterminds behind the attack. They said he had travelled to Afghanistan and met Sirajuddin Haqqani and his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Taliban leaders blamed by the US for much of the violence against western troops in Afghanistan.
Mr Haq says he was cleared of involvement in the bus attack and “treated like a VIP” during his detention.
Now in his 60s, he says he lives a quiet life devoted to Tableeghi Jamaat.
Authorities say the militants who raided two places of worship in Lahore 10 days ago had stayed at the Tableeghi centre in the days before the attack. — AP
Source: Dawn, 08 Jun, 2010