.........The biggest militia we know nothing about
A n a l y s i s
ARY DIGITAL TV’s host Dr Masood, while discussing the May 8 killing of 11 French nationals in Karachi, named one Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami as one of the suspected terrorists involved in the bombing. When the Americans bombed the Taliban and Mulla Umar fled from his stronghold in Kandahar, a Pakistani personality also fled with him. This was Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami, Pakistan’s biggest jehadi militia headquartered in Kandahar. No one knew the name of the outfit and its leader. A large number of its fighters made their way into Central Asia and Chechnya to escape capture at the hands of the Americans, the rest stole back into Pakistan to establish themselves in Waziristan and Buner. Their military training camp (maskar) in Kotli in Azad Kashmir swelled with new fighters and now the outfit is scouting some areas in the NWFP to create a supplementary maskar for jehad in Kashmir. Its ‘handlers’ have clubbed it together with Harkatul Mujahideen to create Jamiatul Mujahideen in order to cut down the large number of outfits gathered together in Azad Kashmir. It was active in Held Kashmir under the name of Harkatul Jahad Brigade 111.
Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami and the Taliban:The leader of Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami, Qari Saifullah Akhtar was an adviser to Mulla Umar in the Taliban government. His fighters were called ‘Punjabi’ Taliban and were offered employment, something that other outfits could not get out of Mulla Umar. The outfit had membership among the Taliban too. Three Taliban ministers and 22 judges belonged to the Harkat. In difficult times, the Harkat fighters stood together with Mulla Umar. Approximately 300 of them were killed fighting the Northern Alliance, after which Mulla Umar was pleased to give Harkat the permission to build six more maskars in Kandahar, Kabul and Khost, where the Taliban army and police also received military training. From its base in Afghanistan, Harkat launched its campaigns inside Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya. But the distance of Qari Saifullah Akhtar from the organisation’s Pakistani base did not lead to any rifts. In fact, Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami emerged from the defeat of the Taliban largely intact. In Pakistan Qari Akhtar has asked the ‘returnees’ to lie low for the time being, while his Pakistani fighters already engaged are busy in jehad as before.
The Harkat is the only militia which boasts international linkages. It calls itself ‘the second line of defence of all Muslim states’ and is active in Arakan in Burma, and Bangladesh, with well organised seminaries in Karachi, and Chechnya, Sinkiang, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. (The latest trend is to recall Pakistani fighters stationed abroad and encourage the local fighters to take over the operations). Its fund-raising is largely from Pakistan, but an additional source is its activity of selling weapons to other militias. Its acceptance among the Taliban was owed to its early allegiance to a leader of the Afghan war, Maulvi Nabi Muhammadi and his Harkat Inqilab Islami whose fighters became a part of the Taliban forces in large numbers. Nabi Muhammadi was ignored by the ISI in 1980 in favour of Hekmatyar and his Hezb-e-Islami. His outfit suffered in influence inside Afghanistan because he was not supplied with weapons in the same quantity as some of the other seven militias.
According to the journal Al-Irshad of Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami, published from Islamabad, a Deobandi group led by Maulana Irshad Ahmad was established in 1979. Looking for the right Afghan outfit in exile to join in Peshawar, Maulana Irshad Ahmad adjudged Maulvi Nabi Muhammadi as the true Deobandi and decided to join him in 1980. Harkat Inqilab Islami was set up by Maulana Nasrullah Mansoor Shaheed and was taken over by Nabi Muhammadi after his martyrdom. Eclipsed in Pakistan, Maulana Irshad Ahmad fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets till he was killed in battle in Shirana in 1985. His place was taken by Qari Saifullah Akhtar, which was not liked by some of the Harkat leaders, including Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khaleel who then set up his own Harkatul Mujahideen. According to some sources, Harkatul Mujahideen was a new name given to Harkatul Ansar after it was declared terrorist by the United States. Other sources claim that it was Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami that had earlier merged with Harkatul Ansar. But relations with Fazlur Rehman Khaleel remained good, but when Maulana Masood Azhar separated from Harkatul Mujahideen and set up his own Jaish-e-Muhammad, Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami opposed Jaish in its journal Sada-e-Mujahid (May 2000) and hinted that ‘you-know-who’ had showered Jaish with funds. Jaish was supported by Mufti Shamzai of Banuri Mosque of Karachi and was given a brand new maskar in Balakot by the ISI.
Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami and Kashmir jehad:The sub-militia fighting in Kashmir is semi-autonomous and is led by chief commander Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri. Its training camp is 20 km from Kotli in Azad Kashmir, with a capacity for training 800 warriors, and is run by one Haji Khan. Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami went into Kashmir in 1991 but was at first opposed by the Wahhabi elements there because of its refusal to criticise the grand Deobandi congregation of Tableeghi Jamaat and its quietist posture. But as days passed, its warriors were recognised as ‘Afghanis’. It finally had more martyrs in the jehad of Kashmir than any other militia. Its resolve and organisation were recognised when foreigners were seen fighting side by side with its Punjabi warriors. To date, 650 Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami mujahideen have killed in battle against the Indian army: 190 belonging to both sides of Kashmir, nearly 200 belonging to Punjab, 49 to Sindh, 29 to Balochistan, 70 to Afghanistan, 5 to Turkey, and 49 collectively to Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and the Arab world.
Because of its allegiance to the spiritual legacy of Deobandism, Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami did not attack the Tableeghi Jamaat, which stood it in good stead because it became the only militia whose literature was allowed to be distributed during the congregations of the Tableeghi Jamaat, and those in the Pakistani establishment attending the congregation were greatly impressed by the militia’s organisational excellence. It contained more graduates of the seminaries than any other militia, thus emphasising its religious character as envisaged by its founder and by Maulvi Nabi Muhammadi. It kept away from the sectarian conflict unlike Jaish-e-Muhammad but its men were at times put off by the populist Kashmiri Islam and reacted violently to local practices.
In Central Asia, Chechnya and Burma: The leader of Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami in Uzbekistan is Sheikh Muhammad Tahir al-Farooq. So far 27 of its fighters have been killed in battle against the Uzbek president Islam Karimov, as explained in the Islamabad-based journal Al-Irshad. Starting in 1990, the war against Uzbekistan was bloody and was supported by the Taliban, till in 2001, the commander had to ask the Pakistanis in Uzbekistan to return to base. In Chechnya, the war against the Russians was carried on under the leadership of commander Hidayatullah. Pakistan’s embassy in Moscow once denied that there were any Pakistanis involved in the Chechnyan war, but journal Al-Irshad (March 2000) declared from Islamabad that the militia was deeply involved in the training of guerrillas in Chechnya for which purpose commander Hidayatullah was stationed in the region. It estimated that ‘dozens’ of Pakistani fighters had been martyred fighting against Russian infidels. When the Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami men were seen first in Tajikistan, they were mistaken by some observers as being fighters from Sipah Sahaba, but in fact they were under the command of commander Khalid Irshad Tiwana, helping Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldashev resist the Uzbek ruling class in the Ferghana Valley. The anti-Uzbek warlords were being sheltered by Mulla Umar in Afghanistan.
Maulana Abdul Quddus heads the Burmese warriors located in Karachi and fighting mostly in Bangladesh on the Arakanese border. Korangi is the base of the Arakanese Muslims who fled Burma to fight the jehad from Pakistan. A large number of Burmese are located inside Korangi and the area is sometimes called mini-Arakan. Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami has opened 30 seminaries for them inside Korangi, there being 18 more in the rest of Karachi. Maulana Abdul Quddus, a Burmese Muslim, while talking to weekly Zindagi (25-31 January 1998), revealed that he had run away from Burma via India and took religious training in the Harkat seminaries in Karachi and on its invitation went to Afghanistan, took military training there and fought the jehad from 1982 to 1988. In Orangi, the biggest seminary is Madrasa Khalid bin Walid where 500 Burmese are under training. They were trained in Afghanistan and later made to fight against the Northern Alliance and against the Indian army in Kashmir. The Burmese prefer to stay in Pakistan, and very few have returned to Burma or to Bangladesh. There are reports of their participation in the religious underworld in Karachi.
Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami has branch offices in 40 districts and tehsils in Pakistan, including Sargodha, Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan, Khanpur, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Mianwali, Bannu, Kohat, Waziristan, Dera Ismail Khan, Swabi and Peshawar. It also has an office in Islamabad. Funds are collected from these grassroots offices as well as from sources abroad. The militia has accounts in two branches of Allied Bank in Islamabad, which have not been frozen because the organisation is not under a ban. The authorities have begun the process of reorganisation of jehad by changing names and asking the various outfits to merge. Harkat al-Jahad al-Islami has been asked to merge with Harkatul Mujahideen of Fazlur Rehman Khaleel who had close links with Osama bin Laden. The new name given to this merger is Jamiatul Mujahideen. Jamaat Islami’s Hizbul Mujahideen has been made to absorb all the refugee Kashmiri organisations. Jaish and Lashkar-e-Tayba have been clubbed together as Al-Jahad. All the Barelvi organisations, so far located only in Azad Kashmir, have been pout together as Al-Barq. Al-Badr and Hizbe Islami have been renamed as Al-Umar Mujahideen.