While no formal charges have been made against the terrorist who runs Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), and nor will he ever be charged, another terrorist group has made been active. Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and its leader, Masood Azhar, are both active in gathering funds and recruits, all with the complicity of the state. JeM is a creation of Pakistan Army. In fact, the genesis of this terrorist group is well known. So brazen was the army’s plan to create a new terrorist group, it masterminded the hijacking of an Indian civilian aircraft, on its way from Kathmandu to Delhi, took it to Kandahar where its ally, Taliban, held the passengers hostage, killing one of them, to force the Indian government to release Azhar from a Jammu jail.
Along with Azhar, two other terrorists also were set free and were welcome by the Taliban and their ISI handlers when they arrived in Kandahar. This was in December 1999. A few weeks later, Azhar reappeared in Karachi, held a press conference and announced that he was launching a new jihad with a new group, JeM. Since then, Azhar and JeM have been growing rapidly in Punjab’s Bahawalpur where the group today operates from a fortress-like operation centre.
When Hafiz Saeed’s LeT was busy shoring up the Taliban with training and new recruits, it was JeM which was pressed into Kashmir. A series of suicide bombings were carried out by JeM terrorists smuggled into Kashmir with the help of Pakistan Army giving them covering fire. But these suicide missions did not succeed much with the Indian security forces quickly decimating the terrorists and their support base within Kashmir and outside. The JeM lost lot of its cadres and were forced to retreat. Angry patrons marginalised JeM and chose Hafiz Saeed, another loyal terrorist, to carry out attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. It is another matter that even LeT could not succeed.
Disgruntled elements within JeM, however, chose to turn against the patrons and took part in the assassination attempts on the army chief and martial dictator, General Pervez Musharraf. Even though investigations clearly showed JeM hand in the plot, even the strongman General could not dismantle the terrorist group, so powerful were its patrons within the army establishment, especially ISI. JeM was a critical part of the ISI’s terrorist strategy against India. It was the reserve force.
So whenever, LeT came under severe pressure from the international community, particularly after an attack against India, JeM was activated to keep the terrorist activity going. While it is true that LeT grew by leaps and bounds, both in terms of clout and wealth, JeM’s growth was slow and not so rapid. It’s main operational headquarters is Bahawalpur and in the recent years, the group has managed to raise another training centre near Karachi. There are reports of a similar centre near Peshawar. Like LeT, the group utilises scores of training centres set up and run by the ISI in PoK and in the tribal areas. Quite similar to LeT, although nowhere near the scale of operations which Hafiz Saeed runs, JeM has its own set of publications and charity trusts.
JeM’s importance to Pakistan Army, especially ISI, could be gauged from the Chinese bulldozing all attempts at the UN to sanction the group. The Chinese have been persuaded by Pakistan Army not to give in to the international pressure at the UN. Although the new Army Chief has reassured Washington that he would be going after all terrorists, but there are few takers, knowing that it is a standard statement every new army chief makes in Pakistan, especially when there is a new leader in White House.
For all practical purposes, JeM remains a critical cog in the jihadi strategy of Pakistan. The current events only strengthen this notion. If Pakistan is really serious about putting an end to terrorism emanating from its soil, it must charge both Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar under the anti-terrorism law and try them in the military courts. Their two groups should be dismantled forthwith and their properties seized. But this is too much to expect from Pakistan which has been playing this duplicitous game for decades now.