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A media-savvy Jamaatud Dawa

November 16, 2012

AS Pakistan’s government and security apparatus struggles to get its message across, an organisation with militancy as its main claim to fame presents a stark contrast.

Jamaatud Dawa, as the Lashkar-e-Taiba has been known since it was banned, was a relative latecomer to Twitter, only arriving in February this year. But whosoever manages the account @JuD_Official appears media savvy, generally polite and responsive.

The group is seen as a ‘clinically-efficient killing machine’ because of its militant activities in Indian-held Kashmir over the years. Its members have also been charged with the ruthless and brutal terror attack on civilians in Mumbai in 2008, all but propelling the two countries towards a war.

At the same time, the group’s ‘welfare’ arm was seen in action when that devastating earthquake shattered millions of lives in Pakistani Kashmir in 2005. In a tell-tale sign of perhaps their dual role, its volunteers, engaged in the relief effort, were reluctant to be caught on camera.

While Hafiz Saeed, the Saudi-educated firebrand orator and JuD founder, may have vehemently rubbished Western allegations that his organisation has military ambitions beyond its avowed stance on Kashmir, some of its actions have raised many an eyebrow.

For example, the Mumbai terror attacks could hardly have been connected with Kashmir, and were viewed as an attempt to ignite an India-Pakistan conflagration. Such a horror would have diverted Pakistan’s attention away from its fight against Al Qaeda-Taliban. Hence, the doubts and allegations.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the group is conscious of its image and keen to be viewed in terms other than a lethal militant force which has worked in close coordination with the army and intelligence services.

While at public meetings Hafiz Saeed and other leaders of his organisation unmistakably breathe fire, his TV appearances are marked by a measured tone and a fairly plausible line of argument. But it is social media where JuD’s sophistication becomes apparent.

Earlier this week, Hindustan Times carried a story that Ziaur Rehman Lakhvi, one of the key accused facing trial for the Mumbai carnage in Rawalpindi’s Adiyala prison, has fathered a child during his four-year incarceration. The child is said to be two years old.

The report says this was disclosed to his Indian interrogators by another key suspect, Abu Jundal, who was extradited from Saudi Arabia. Abu Jundal is reported to have said this good news was given to him by Lakhvi himself in a phone conversation.

According to this report, Abu Jundal’s answers led his Indian intelligence interrogators to believe that in prison “Lakhvi is treated like a state guest and not a terrorist.” So much so that his “youngest wife” was allowed prison visits and afforded privacy.

I am unaware whether Pakistani law allows conjugal visits in prison and also mindful of the fact that with a couple of weeks to go for the Mumbai carnage’s fourth anniversary, pressure would be mounting on Pakistan to do more to convict the accused.

So I thought I should ask the JuD Twitter account and this is how our exchange went:

@abbasnasir59: Is this true, @JuD_Official or propaganda? MT “@ramindersays: 26/11 plotter Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi fathers kid in jail: http://bit.ly/TFW3f6”

@JuD_official: @abbasnasir59 @ramindersays ‘Highly Placed Sensationalism’, Indian Media is always on top of it, especially when it comes to #ISI#LET @abbasnasir59:

@JuD_Official ‘Untrue, false, malicious’?

@JuD_official: @abbasnasir59 all of them, to the best of our knowledge.

@abbasnasir59: @JuD_Official I like (the) wriggle room in ‘to the best of our knowledge’. :)

@JuD_official @abbasnasir59 We have never underestimated journalistic smartness, have we? :)

This was just to illustrate how media-savvy and ahead of the game some of the militant groups are compared to even their handlers in the intelligence agencies. Perhaps, these groups feel the need to win friends more than the arrogant security set-up.

(I have followed the @JuD_Official account for several months and given its content believe it is legit. But since it isn’t officially ‘verified’ by Twitter, the organisation perhaps wishes to retain deniability and distance itself from it if it feels the need).

Responding to last week’s column, former ISI DG and railways minister, Lt-Gen (retd) Javed Ashraf has sent me an email. I feel bound by ethics to carry his view verbatim. It is self-explanatory so there is no point in my adding to it. I have had my say in my column anyway.

“I have read your article and feel compelled to clarify my position. I was targeted last week apparently in an organised manner by some especially on TV channels. Much was made of my telling a reporter to ‘shut up idiot’. They ran it all over the media and two anchors even ran their shows on it. Did you notice that none of them showed as to what remarks had been passed by this reporter which made me shut him up?

“NAB had called me to clarify some points in their ongoing investigation into the Royal Palm Golf Course Contract. As I came out, there was a crowd of reporters waiting outside the gate. I told them that ‘Sorry no comments. The case is sub judice’. One of the reporters shouted, ‘You destroyed Pakistan Railways. You Generals are corrupt.’

“I could have ignored him but such a remark which was a travesty of facts and a direct attack on my honour was not tolerated by me. Unfortunately it is open season for attack on generals and I got trapped into it at this stage. I am sure you will agree that this was no way to ask questions. You can verify my statement independently. Regards, Gen Javed Ashraf.”

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com