Book Review: The True Face of Jehadis – By Amir Mir

The True Face of Jehadis; Inside Pakistan’s Network of Terror
Amir Mir
Roli Books Private Ltd
Pages xvii+ 308, Rs. 395

Review by: Kalim Bahadur

Amir Mir’s volume The True Face of Jehadis is a very comprehensive and a definitive handbook on the rise and growth of the militant Jehadi groups in Pakistan. Amir Mir traces the origins of the militant groups to Gen Ziaul Haq regime’s campaign against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the late seventies. Khalid Ahmed in his foreward also refers to Pakistan’s intervention in Afghanistan and its consequences on Pakistani society and certain sections of the armed forces. Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan was managed totally by the Pakistan military’s intelligence agency the ISI. . The Zia regime which had no legitimacy whatsoever depended upon Islam and Islamisation as the sole plank for its legitimacy which got a boost after the Soviet armies intervened in Afghanistan. As a consequence Islamic political parties and sectarian groups acquired more power. Hard line fundamentalist Islam became the ideology of the Pakistan state. Though the first Kashmir war in 1947 had been called Jehad, now Jehad had become the major plank of not only of the Islamic parties which was also promoted by the United States intelligence agencies which were mobilizing militant Islamic volunteers from all over the Muslim world to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. The Pakistani agency the ISI was also strengthened and it acquired power over many civilian institutions. . One may not be able to agree with Amir Mir that the ISI which was abetting the militancy in Afghanistan, its goal was changed to that of combating it after 9/11. The resurgence of Taliban during the recent period and the promotion of the insurgency in Kashmir during the last one decade show that the ISI is still playing an important role in the foreign policy of Pakistan.

Amir Mir rightly asserts that though there was a Pakistani decision to align with West after 9/11 and to cut ties with the Islamic militants in Afghanistan and in Kashmir the infra structure of terrorism built during the last two decades has not been dismantled. This has happened mainly because of the continued domination of the ISI and also because of the use of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy which has not been abandoned by the Pakistani establishment. Amir Mir has also analysed the involvement of the state agencies in several attempts to assassinate General. Musharraf. These conspiracies have linkage with the network of the Jehadi sympathisers well entrenched even in the army units which are stationed in Rawalpindi. The obvious conclusion is that there is a strong section of pro Jehadi officers who are pitted against liberal officers. It is well known that General Ziaul Haq had promoted those officers who were pro-Fundamentalists. The military colleges during the Zia regime gave preference to young men who were associated with the youth wings of the fundamentalist parties like the Jama’at-i-Islami who by now have reached the higher echelons of the armed forces. The pro Jehadi policy of the military received a setback, according to Amir Mir by the ghastly murder of the American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. It was clear that there was some linkage between the Pakistan intelligence set up and the Al Qaida. This was confirmed by the involvement of the Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed who was a double agent of the ISI and the Al Qaida. Shaikh Ahmed Omar belonged to Jaishe Mohammad led by Azhar Masood of the Indian Airlines hijacking fame. Later Sheikh Ahmed Saeed preferred to take shelter with a former ISI operative who later handed him over to the police. Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed has been awarded death sentence for the murder of Daniel Pearl but the sentence has not been carried out for obvious reasons.

Amir Mir has given very interesting profiles of the Jaishe Muhammad and its leader Maulana Masood Azhar and ups and downs in his relationship with Pakistan’s intelligence establishment. Maulana Masood Azhar was also one of the three terrorist leaders who were released as a result of the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane in December 1999. In fact the entire hijacking drama succeeded because of the coordinating efforts of the ISI. The author has also given a detailed description of the Lashkare Toiba. The LeT had played no important role during the war in Afghanistan but was more focused on Kashmir. In the India Pakistan declaration of January 2004 Pakistan had assured that it would not allow its territory for launching terrorist attacks on India however, on the other hand Hafiz Mohammad Saeed the leader of the LeT had been assured by the Pakistani establishment that there would be no restriction on the activities of the LeT (the Jama’at al Dawa). The LeT boasts of being the largest Jehadi out fit in the subcontinent. There has never been any restriction on collection of funds, training of volunteers and recruitment of Jehadis by the group. What a great irony to hear the feigned hurt and claims of innocence by the Pakistan establishment after LeT being accused by India for the recent 7/11 attack on the trains in Mumbai. It was not the first operation by the LeT. It had already carried out the attack on the Red Fort in December 2000 and other places in the rest of India.

Amir Mir has also investigated Al Qaida’s base in Pakistan. He says that Karachi has become an important base of the group. It is even surmised that Osama Bin Laden may be hiding in Pakistan’s biggest and richest megapolis while the American are looking for him in Pakistan’s North western borderlands. Amir has given pen portraits of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, While Pakistan claims to have uprooted the Taliban, the followers of the group have already got control of large areas in Waziristan which has been turned into a base for all kinds of foreign terrorists who are launching raids into Afghanistan at frequent intervals, notwithstanding the vociferous protests by Hamid Karzai.

Amir Mir has concluded his very interesting and well researched volume with an analysis of General Pervez Musharraf. According to him Musharraf has given the impression of being a liberal or what he calls a believer in ‘enlightened moderation’. From being a supporter of the Taliban regime (Pakistan was one of the three countries which had recognized the Taliban ruled Afghanistan) who had unabashedly used terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy in Kashmir; he took a U-turn in the after math of 9/11. However, there is no evidence that he has taken strong steps to dismantle the terrorist infra structure. Almost all the terrorist outfits including Lashkare Toiba, Jaishe Mohammad, Hizbul Mujahideen and others, sectarian groups like Sipah Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi etc are allowed complete freedom to carry on their activities through out Pakistan with out any let or hindrance from the authorities. A Pakistani scholar has recently pointed out that Pakistan remains the centre of ideological extremism and the home of growing Muslim culture of grievances and anger against western domination or real or perceived injustices against Muslims. He goes on to say that it is time for Pakistan’s rulers to recognize the deep roots of the jihadist ideology and network within Pakistan.

Amir Mir’s study is a text book on Pakistan’s involvement with Jehadi labyrinth from which it is not easy for that country to get out. The book should be read by every one who wants to origins and growth of Jehadi movement.


The True Face of Jehadis: Inside Pakistan’s Network of Terror by Amir Mir

Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia

Pakistan’s status as the frontline state for worldwide jihad is central to its governmental institutions and their absolute command over society. The role of the establishment in injecting religious fanaticism and hatred is a classic case of ideological mobilization of society in the name of God. Journalist Amir Mir’s new book uncovers the overt and covert roots of Pakistan’s
descent into intolerance and terrorism and its deadly impact on South Asia and beyond.

In the Foreword, Khaled Ahmed of The Friday Times describes how the jihad in Kashmir had a deleterious effect on Pakistani society. Massive state-sponsored public indoctrination in favor of holy war against India produced “a society deeply influenced by the rhetoric of jihad”. The denial mode and “fantasy for jihad” among ordinary Pakistanis today is the result of decades of brainwashing and deficit of objective information about terrorism.

After the Afghan war, Kashmir’s “liberation” became the sole agenda of thousands of Pakistani terrorists. By 1995, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) collaborated with the Jamaat-e-Islami to raise a Taliban-type force of young Pakistani students to fight Indian forces in Kashmir. Since September 11, 2001, Islamabad has been “struggling hard to control the jihadi monster it created”. (p 6) With the state’s active connivance, Pakistani support structures continue to breed more jihadis. The leaders of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) “enjoy full freedom of movement and speech despite an official ban”. (p 8) Terrorist training camps flourish with renewed vigor on both the Indian and Afghan borders of the country.

The suicide bombers who tried to assassinate Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf in December 2003 belonged to JeM and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). They colluded with Pakistani air force, army and military intelligence personnel, an indication that “jihadi tentacles have spread far and wide” and boomeranged on their own masters. (p 21) Since the soldiery hails from the ranks of the urban and rural poor, it is practically impossible for it not to be infected by the virus of Islamist bigotry being propagated by thousands of deeni madrassas (religious seminaries). Musharraf’s half-hearted attempts to give the army a liberal outlook acceptable to the West barely ruffle the deeply ingrained zealotry that runs in its veins. Pro-jihad officers occupy the top echelons of the military, making a mockery of the so-called “purges” in favor of moderation.

The murder of journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002 was masterminded by Sheikh Omar Saeed, a double agent of the ISI and JeM who was previously involved in terrorist attacks on high-profile targets in India. Musharraf himself admitted that Pearl had been “over-intrusive” in his investigations. Saeed had foreknowledge of the September 11 terrorist strikes and immediately informed Lieutenant-General Ehsanul Haq, then ISI director and corps commander for Peshawar. Saeed’s capture spurred ISI higher-ups to intervene and obstruct his interrogation findings from being made public. Holding him in an isolated cell “helps Musharraf keep a key witness out of American, British and Indian hands”. (p 43)

Since the end of 2003, JeM seems to have lost the favor of ISI because Washington is convinced of its links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Abdul Jabbar, the former right-hand man of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar, was released by security agencies in 2004 to set him up in open conflict with his mentor. LeT founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is now in the good books of the establishment since he is “agreeable to waging a controlled jihad in Indian Kashmir whenever asked to do so”. (p 66) The government cooperates fully with LeT fundraising, public rallies, recruitment and training. The terror outfit’s sprawling 80-hectare headquarters in Muridke has been transformed into a “mini-Islamic state” where uninterrupted jihad is planned.

Hafiz Saeed’s confidants are convinced that Musharraf will abandon neither terrorism nor the military option on Kashmir. The military regime is avoiding any action against LeT on the pretext that it has no links with Jamaat-ul-Dawa, the powerful political patron whose hand has been revealed in terror as far afield as Indonesia and Iraq. Mir notes that as LeT focuses on “global jihad outside Pakistan, it has a free hand to operate within the country”. (p 72)

HuM’s al-Qaeda connections are second to none. The naib ameer (commander) of the group, Muhammad Imran, announced openly in a courtroom that it was a brainchild of the Pakistani rangers and intelligence agencies. When HuM supremo Maulana Fazlur Rahman was taken into custody in 2002, Pakistan refused to oblige US demands for a debriefing. As soon as international pressure eased off, he was set free. Unlike Qari Saifullah Akhtar’s HuJI, Rahman is still allowed to call the shots on jihadist foreign policy.

Notwithstanding splits and desertions in HM, its leader Syed Salahuddin remains fully in control because of the ISI’s backing. At present, he operates from Rawalpindi with “instructions to wait and see”. (p 91) He has received clearances from Jamaat-e-Islami to assume a new role as a politician in Indian Kashmir. The Jamaat’s own cadres and office bearers are aiding al-Qaeda’s surviving members and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami across Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Tableeghi Jamaat, supposedly a preaching organization, is clandestinely assisting jihadist forces with the blessings of Pakistan’s elite bureaucracy, military, scientists and intelligence agencies. HuM, LeT and HuJI recruit through Tableegh in the guise of spreading Islamic theology. US intelligence believes that Tableegh is the fountainhead of the Pakistan-based jihad infrastructure.

Dawood Ibrahim, a billionaire gangster and Islamic extremist, lived with Pakistani government protection in Karachi for several years. Islamabad’s claim that he is no longer around is discounted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as “a face-saving exercise because it is in its interest not to give the don up”. (p 109) Mir discloses that Ibrahim may have moved to Islamabad after the September 11 attacks.

On the monster of sectarian violence, Mir comments that “fundamentalist Islam remains at the heart of the Musharraf establishment’s strategy of national political mobilization and consolidation” (p 114) The former head of the anti-Shi’ite Sipah-e-Sahiba (SSP), Maulana Azim Tariq, maintained a cozy working relationship with the ISI for more than a decade before being mysteriously killed in 2003. The SSP not only ran amok against minorities in Pakistan but also sent thousands of jihadis to fight in Indian Kashmir. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a spinoff of the SSP with highly vicious killers, might be working as al-Qaeda’s “Delta Force” in Karachi.

The surprise rise of the religious right in the 2002 elections in Pakistan was attributable to the encouragement of the Musharraf regime. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) has a special relationship with the military by sustaining the latter’s Afghan and Kashmir policies. The MMA provides Islamabad an alibi to argue that it cannot moderate its policies in Kashmir to the degree that Washington desires.

The 10,000-odd deeni madrassas of Pakistan continue to churn out radical terrorists by the dozens every day. The government is unwilling to act against the madrassas for fear of unsettling its religious allies. The army sees in the large number of madrassa-trained jihadis a valuable asset for its proxy war against India. Mir asserts that “the Pakistani military dictator’s priority has never been eradication of Islamic extremism”. (p 147)

Sectarianism and virulence are not limited to madrassas alone. Public schools in Pakistan instruct students on jihad and martyrdom to construct “a national chauvinistic mindset”. (p 152) Jihadist journalism committed to pan-Islamic discourses receives state subsidies and jihadist publications thrive on government advertisements. Thanks to this propaganda barrage, al-Qaeda enjoys in Pakistan a virtually bottomless pool of ad hoc members, donors and harborers, particularly in Karachi. Many within the Pakistani security apparatus bear direct responsibility for the resurgence of the Taliban, which masses in the Waziristan, Chaman and Kurram Agency areas to cause mayhem across the Afghan border and then retreat to the safety of Pakistani territory.

Mullah Omar himself is said to be hiding in the tribal areas close to Quetta. In April 2004, the Pakistani army made peace with Taliban commander Nek Mohammad in an amnesty agreement mediated by two MMA parliamentarians. Abdullah Mahsud, the most wanted commander of the Taliban in South Waziristan has a brother and four cousins in the Pakistani army. According to the US 9-11 Commission Report, Pakistan benefits from the Taliban-al-Qaeda relationship as Osama bin Laden’s camps trained and equipped fighters for the insurgency in Kashmir. Mir remarks that the United States’ “reluctance to act against Pakistan and make it pay a prohibitive price for helping jihadi terrorists encouraged the Musharraf regime to keep the jihadis alive and active”. (p 186)

Al-Qaeda’s Abu Zubaydah, captured in 2002, claimed that the late head of the Pakistani air force, Mushaf Ali Mir, had prior knowledge of the September 11 terrorist plot. Mir had allegedly struck a deal with al-Qaeda in 1996 to supply arms and offer protection, a pledge that was renewed in 1998 in the presence of Saudi intelligence boss Prince Turki. Mir’s plane crashed in 2003 without explanation and it is speculated that the US forces carrying out anti-Taliban operations had shot it down near Kohat because of his links with al-Qaeda.

Investigations into the September 11 plot revealed that ISI’s then-head, hardliner pro-Taliban Lieutenant-General Mahmood Ahmad, ordered Sheikh Omar Saeed to wire US$100,000 to Mohammad Atta, the chief hijacker. In October 2001, Musharraf forced Ahmad into retirement after the FBI displayed credible evidence of his involvement in the terror attacks and knowledge that he was playing a “double game”. So frustrated was the FBI with the calculated blockading of counter-terrorist operations by the ISI that it formed its own secret Spider Group of former Pakistani army and intelligence operatives to monitor fundamentalist activities through the length and breadth of Pakistan.

For all of Musharraf’s denials, his government “clearly seems guilty of exporting terror to different parts of the world”. (p 257) British and Indian intelligence have nailed down proof of the ISI’s jihadist mafia imprint in several terrorist attacks of the past two years. The “real problem is sympathy for Islamic extremism in Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishments”. (p 261)

Banned Islamic charities such as Al-Rashid Trust, Al-Akhtar Trust and Ummah Tameer-e-Nau took full advantage of the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistani Kashmir and resumed their so-called welfare activities, with deadly consequences. Confident about their future as covers for jihadist funding and nuclear trading, they freely admit that “despite the US action, the Pakistani government has not imposed any restriction on our working”. (p 275) Musharraf does not want to hack at his own feet and deny himself the force multipliers from jihadist ranks by genuinely ending their stranglehold over Pakistan’s resources.

The evidence compiled by Mir in this book throws light on the real reasons Musharraf manages to stay in power in spite of ostensibly reversing Pakistan’s Taliban and Kashmir policies after September 11, 2001. But for his great “double game” of cooperation with the US and simultaneous obstructionism to help jihadis, a political typhoon would have long swept him out of the top seat.

The True Face of Jehadis: Inside Pakistan’s Network of Terror by Amir Mir. Roli Books, New Delhi, 2006. ISBN: 81-7436-430-7. Price: US$8.75, 310 pages.