What should someone in Pakistan expect from your new book? Could you summarise your findings for us?
In this book, I have tried to show that there is no difference between the “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban”. All the bad ones were once good. The difference between my book and other books on the JuD and other radical Islamist groups is that I have basically used primary JuD sources to trace its origins and of all its Pakistani and global affiliates. The JuD and its precursor, Markaz Dawa wal Irshad (MDI), produced tonnes of literature from 1989 to 2001 that contained a lot of information. The book has 1,225 endnotes, mostly from the JuD publications like monthly Mujallah Ad-Dawa and Voice of Islam.
In one of your interviews you said, the “LeT will pose a far-bigger danger and challenge [to Pakistan] than all other groups combined”. How powerful and dangerous do you think the LeT is as of right now?
All Islamist jihadist groups have global ambitions and agenda. The LeT is not an exception. It is a huge organisation with some 300,000-500,000 active members under arms. Currently, they are using Pakistan as a springboard to carry out jihadist operations in other countries, particularly India and Afghanistan. They are doing it with impunity because it is in line with Pakistan’s policy of using jihad as an instrument of its defence policy. But sooner or later, the LeT and Pakistani state will have a falling out for one reason or the other. When, and not if, that happens, the LeT will try to do what others have done.
Those who believe there would never be any rupture between the LeT and the state should remember that those attacking the state today are the same people who were once allied with it. These “bad Taliban” were recruiting and training young people openly in the 1990s. As a jihadist group grows in number, the threat it poses to world peace becomes bigger. Being the biggest jihadist group, LeT poses the biggest problem.
What does the LeT really want? Is it with Pakistan? Does it have any support from the army/intelligence?
At the national level, they would like to impose their ideology on Pakistan. There is no place for politics and nationalism in their ideology. For them, the international borders are not Islamic. Therefore, they would go beyond national borders. The JuD leaders publicly condemn nationalism and politics.
Hafiz Saeed has publicly called the Pakistani Constitution “batil”, which is a very strong word in Islamic literature. The Mujallah Ad-Dawa published his statement in December 1999, and many other such speeches. He has repeatedly said he and his party did not believe in the Pakistani Constitution and will not follow it. His speeches and writings are available in the JuD library.
I disagree with those who say the Pakistan Army and jihadist groups have a common agenda. In reality, the army uses them to wage jihad in Kashmir. As an institution, the army does not have an agenda to wage a global jihad though there may be individuals in it who may share the global ambitions of these jihadist organisations. Unfortunately, it pays a very heavy price for using jihad as an instrument of its defence policy. That price is turning a blind eye to these groups’ other activities.
Arif Jamal is a US-based independent journalist and author. He started his career as a journalist in Pakistan in the late 1980s and has also worked with and contributed to several international publications, including the New York Times, Radio France International, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He has reported from around 20 countries and is now a frequent commentator on South Asia. Hs publications also include books like A History of Islamist Militancy in Pakistani Punjab and Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir.
Hafiz Saeed constantly denies involvement in 26/11 and challenges others to prove his group’s involvement. What do you have to say about that?
After 9/11, Pakistani jihadist groups stopped claiming responsibility and Hafiz Saeed is following that policy. However, the world has enough evidence about the 10 attackers. The world knows who they were and where they came from. The confessional statements of Ajmal Kasab, Abu Jundal, and David Headley give a lot of details about the planning and execution of the attacks.
Let us not forget that JuD mouthpiece, Mujallah Ad-Dawa, had been publishing LeT claims of responsibility of attacks not only in Indian-administered Kashmir but also India itself, such as the attack on the Red Fort in 2000. In short, the Mumbai attacks were not isolated. There was a clear pattern which you can find in the JuD monthly publication. If the claims published in the organisation’s publications between 1989 and 2001 were true, the JuD would appear a far bigger militant organisation than my book shows it to be.
The JuD is always found on the forefront helping victims of natural calamities despite being banned. Why and how do you think banned groups continue to function so publicly?
Most jihadist groups in the world have their charity wings. The charity work helps them raise money and recruit for jihad. Muslims give more money in the name of charity than in the name of jihad. However, the JuD has perfected the art of charity work to the extent that it has come to be known as a charity.
How much support do you think the LeT and its aliases have from Pakistan’s mainstream political parties, tacit or otherwise?
I think the LeT enjoys considerable popular support in Pakistan. First, Pakistanis are familiar with only their charity work in the country. Secondly, Pakistanis see them as an organisation that fights India. Pakistanis instinctively know that their army has not been able to win any war against India and that the LeT made the lives of Indian Army hell.
In 1948, Pakistan lost two-thirds of Kashmir to Indian Army, there was no substantial gain in 1965, in 1971 Pakistan was divided by the Indians and the Indians decimated the Pakistan forces in Kargil in 1999. Thus many in Pakistan have little to rejoice about. They think these jihadist groups may bring some reason to be happy. They don’t understand the consequences.
Our ‘assets’ fighting in India is an open secret, but what about the Indian assets fighting in Pakistan?
I would be surprised if you tell me that India is not involved in Pakistan. However, Indian involvement in Pakistan is far smaller than Pakistani involvement in India. This is the reason why Pakistan is unable to produce any evidence of Indian involvement in Pakistan. Indian security forces have killed thousands of Pakistanis in Indian Kashmir and India itself. Hundreds of Pakistanis have been arrested on charges of terrorism in India. This is confirmed in articles published in the JuD publications. For example, during 1990-2001, Mujallah Ad-Dawa claimed responsibility for killing thousands of Indian soldiers. It also claimed that a large number of JuD/LeT members died during jihadist operations.
JuD leader Abdullah Muntazar has claimed that some 5,000 members died in India and Indian-held Kashmir. My guess is Indian involvement is limited to funding some groups and individuals. But, there is no hard evidence.
Which political leader has the potential to successfully lead the country in the long run? And what about the army’s role?
All the Pakistani political leaders, including those I don’t like, have the ability to lead the country. The problem is that the military has total control over some parts of governance. For example, the defence policy. It also has total control over the country’s foreign policy on the US, Afghanistan, India and several other important countries.
When something goes wrong, which is quite often, the civilian government is blamed because it is in the foreground. Unless the Pakistani military concedes turf to the civilians, which is their right, or the civilians snatch it from the military, the situation will keep worsening. Most of Pakistan’s current problems such as terrorism are a direct result of wrong defence and foreign policies.
Do you foresee most if not all terrorist/extremist groups joining hands formally to wage a global ‘jihad’?
No I don’t. The reason is that most Islamist and jihadist parties suffer from sectarianism. Some hate other Islamist groups and other sects more than they hate non-Muslims. JuD is no exception. However, the Ahle Hadith and Salafist groups can gather under one umbrella or Deobandi groups can get under a Deobandi jihadist group. Another possibility is weaker groups adopting the ideology of stronger groups and uniting to wage a global jihad.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 24th, 2014