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Markaz Dawa al Irshad: Talibanisation of nuclear Pakistan (contd.)

Paper No.  6


by B.Raman

Thereafter, Bin Laden invited a group of Peshawar-based Pakistani journalists to Khost in Afghanistan for a press conference. Addressing them, he announced that he had set up an International Islamic Front For Jihad Against the US And Israel. He claimed that Dr.Aiman al-Zawahiri, leader of the Jamatul Jihad of Egypt, who was present at the press conference, had played a crucial role in forming the Front and that leaders of Islamic movements in several countries, including Pakistan, had evinced interest in joining the Front.

Bin Laden, who was accompanied by Sheikh Taiseer Abdullah, who was introduced as his right-hand man, alleged that Muslims all over the world were suffering at the hands of the US and Israel and called upon them to wage a holy war not only against the US and Israel, but also against unpopular regimes backed by the US in order to protect their faith.He contended that the US was vulnerable and could be defeated in the same way as the USSR was defeated in Afghanistan leading to its (the USSR’s) dismemberment.

He recalled how the US was forced to withdraw its troops from Somalia and Aden after suffering casualties at the hands of Muslim fighters trained in Afghanistan and claimed that the killing of * 26 Americans in Saudi Arabia and the growing opposition of the Gulf people to the Western presence compelled the US Government to consider similarly withdrawing its troops from Saudi Arabia. * He added: "We are not alone in waging a struggle against the Americans and the Israelis. The Muslims have woken up and a large number of our Ulema and scholars are now speaking out against those who hate and harm Islam. The Americans can take away our resources or rule us by proxy, but they cannot stop Allah’s blessings and support for us. Infidel soldiers of the US and other Western countries are deployed in a country in which our holy places are located. This is the first time after prophethood was bestowed on our Holy Prophet that infidels are in control of this holy land. The Holy Prophet himself had said that "Mushriqeen" must be removed from our holy places."

Bin Laden alleged that 10,000 mujahideen had been jailed in Saudi Arabia and that, recently, 820 Islamic activists were arrested in Mecca and highly sophisticated weapons, including a Stinger missile and other surface-to-air missiles, were recovered from them. According to him, these weapons were supposed to be used against the foreign troops based in Saudi Arabia.

He said that Mullah Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, had no objection to his political activities. Mullah Omar had only asked him not to indulge in military activities from Afghan territory.

Mr.Wakeel Ahmed Mutawakil , the Taliban spokesman, stated the same day that Mr.Richardson had failed to convince the Taliban that Bin Laden was involved in terrorism. He added that Bin Laden had been given asylum by the previous Afghan Government because of his contribution to the Afghan jihad and that he was presently a guest of the Taliban.

The activities of Osman Bin Laden and his announcement of an International Islamic Front For Jihad against the US and Israel assume ominous significance in the context of his past and continuing links with the Markaz Dawa Al Irshad (the Centre For Preaching ) of Pakistan and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (the Army of the Pure), its militant wing. The Markaz and the Lashkar have been involved in acts of terrorism , not only in J & K, but also in other parts of India.

The Markaz was founded in 1987, at the inspiration of Osman Bin Laden, by Zafar Iqbal and Hafiz Mohammad Saeed of the University of Engineering and Technology of Lahore and Abdullah Azam of the International Islamic University, which has been funded by Bin Laden. Abdullah Azam was killed in an explosion at Peshawar in 1989 and, after his death, Zafar Iqbal and Hafiz Mohammad Saeed have been leading the Markaz while continuing to teach at the University.

The headquarters of the Markaz, occupying over 190 acres of land, are located at Muridke, about 45 kms from Lahore in Pakistani Punjab. Its vast campus contains a huge Jamia mosque for the construction of which Bin Laden had reportedly contributed Rs.10 million, a garments factory, an iron foundry, a wood works factory, a swimming pool and three residential colonies for the inmates. A big Islamic University is also coming up.

The "Herald", the monthly journal of the prestigious "Dawn" group of publications of Karachi, reported as follows in January,1998: "While the Dawa is involved in various areas, including religious education and social welfare, it is mainly through its militant wing that it is well known throughout the country. The Lashkar-e-Toiba provides military training to its members and prepares them to wage jihad. Although the Lashkar was initially involved in Afghanistan as well, its activities are now restricted to Indian Kashmir. Today, it is Pakistan’s largest so-called jihadi organisation."

It quoted an office-bearer of the Lashkar as stating as follows: " There are many other jihadi groups operating inside Kashmir, but their members are mainly local men (Kashmiris), assisted by fighters from other countries, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Eighty per cent of the Mujahideen in other jihadi groups operating in Kashmir come from that area, but the case with the Lashkar is exactly the opposite. Eighty per cent of its soldiers belong to Pakistan."

The "Herald" adds: " The Lashkar prefers not to reveal the exact number of men it has currently deployed in Kashmir.The Amir ( Hafiz Mohammad Saeed) decides how many Mujahideens should be sent to the (Kashmir) Valley. The decision depends on the number of deaths that have taken place. It also depends on the requirement and capacity of the organisation inside Kashmir to absorb the new fighters. What is known, however, is that the Lashkar recruits and trains many more men than it actually requires to fight in Kashmir at any given time.

" Compared to other similar organisations, the Lashkar has proved to be a resounding success. Since its inception, it has managed to attract thousands of committed young men to its fold. The driving force behind its massive success in recruitment is deceptively simple. It uses its impressive organisational network, which includes schools, social service groups and religious publications, to create a passion for jihad."

According to the "Herald", the Lashkar organises two kinds of military training – a 21-day basic course called "Daura Aam" and a three-months advanced course called "Daura Khas". The entire advanced course is geared towards guerilla warfare, with training in the use of arms and ammunition, ambush and survival techniques. Other Pakistani press reports after the arrest of Ramzi Yousef had also revealed that in the past some volunteers were also trained in aircraft-hijacking.

The Markaz and the Lashkar are extremely secretive organisations and take great care to conceal the real identities of their office-bearers except the Amir and their fighters. For this purpose, they emulate the Palestinian organisations in the use of "Kuniat", which are Arabic pseudonyms adopted from the "Kuniats" of the Companions of the Prophet and later Islamic heroes.

Whereas in the Palestinian organisations, the "Kuniats" die with the holder and the same "Kuniat" is not allotted to any other fighter, in the Markaz and the Lashkar, the "Kuniat" does not die with the holder. The same "Kuniat" is allotted to another fighter. It is not unusual to come across two individuals with the same or similar "Kuniats".

Past reports on the activities of the Markaz and the Lashkar had referred to two heroes of the organisation who had reportedly played a legendary role in assisting the Bosnian Muslims in their fight against the Serbs. One of them used to be referred to as Abu Aziz and the other as Abu Abdul Aziz.

Abu Abdul Aziz, who is suspected to be none other than Osman Bin Laden, is a leading financier of the Markaz and the Lashkar and had contributed Rs.10 million for the construction of a mosque and another sum for the construction of a special guest house inside the Muridke complex of these organisations. This guest house was initially built by Bin Laden as a house for his stay during his visits to Pakistan, but, after 1992, the Pakistani authorities do not allow him to stay in Pakistani territory for fear of annoying the US,Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He has, therefore, converted it into a guest house for his associates from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere visiting Pakistan. It is reported that this guest house was also used as a hide-out for Ramzi Yousef and Mir Aimal Kansi,a Pathan from Balochistan, who was arrested and taken to the US last year and subsequently convicted and sentenced to death for murdering two CIA officers outside the CIA’s headquarters in Washington in January,1993.

While Osman Bin Laden, also known as Abu Abdul Aziz, no longer attends the annual gatherings of the Markaz and the Lashkar at Muridke, he addresses them over the conference phone. Till 1995, he used to address from his hide-out in the Sudan and ,since 1996, he has been doing so from Afghanistan. Addressing the last annual conference at Muridke in November,1997, over phone from Kandahar, Bin Laden said: " Those who oppose jihad are not true Muslims."

There is some confusion about the real identity of Abu Aziz. He used to attend the annual conferences at Muridke till 1993 and was introduced to the gatherings as a Saudi Muslim of Indian origin who was co-ordinating the flow of assistance to the Bosnian Muslims. He has not been heard of since then. It needs to be checked up whether Bin Laden’s parents or other ancestors had, by any chance, migrated to Yemen from India before proceeding from there to Saudi Arabia. If this was so, there could be a possibility that Abu Abdul Aziz and Abu Aziz are one and the same person—Osman Bin Laden.

There are some distinguishing characteristics about the operational methods of the Lashkar militants. They do not shave or have a hair- cut and allow their beard and hair to grow long and are taught to employ extremely cruel methods such as beheading and disembowelling their victims from the security forces and non-Muslim communities. Like fighters of many other jihadi organisations, they generally wear shalwars which do not cover the ankle.

As regards ideology, the Markaz, an Ahle Hadith organisation of Wahabi orientation, was initially very close to Saudi Arabia, but seems to have developed differences with it because of its proximity to Osman Bin Laden and of its contention that even Saudi Arabia does not have an ideal Islamic society. Its criticism of the stationing of US and other Western troops in Saudi Arabia also contributed to this. It describes the Hindus and Jews, in that order, as the main enemies of Islam and India and Israel as the main enemies of Pakistan. Its Amir is a strong opponent of Western-style democracy.

The Amir said in an interview to the "Herald": "Democracy is among the menaces we inherited from an alien government. It is part of the system we are fighting against. Many of our brothers feel that they can establish an Islamic society by working within the system. They are mistaken. It is not possible to work within a democracy and establish an Islamic system. You just dirty your hands by dealing with it. If God gives us a chance, we will try to bring in the pure concept of an Islamic Caliphate."

The "News" of Pakistan (November 23,1997) reported as follows on the ideology and beliefs of the Markaz Amir as reflected during its annual conference of November,1997: "The Markaz is trying to take advantage of the growing public discontent with the political system and widespread corruption. Using explicit references to the hardline Taliban in Afghanistan, it is making growing references to ending the democratic system in Pakistan. Prof.Saeed calls for a jihad to turn Pakistan into a pure Islamic state.

" He rejects democracy saying that "the notion of the sovereignty of the people is anti-Islamic. Only Allah is sovereign." The whole venue of the congregation was full of signboards with the slogan "Jamhooriat ka jawab, grenade and blast (the answer to democracy, grenade and blast)". Saeed was categorical in saying that his organisation had no immediate designs in Pakistan, even though the present system in Pakistan was not Islamic.

"He stated: "In fact, there is no Islamic government in the world. Not even in Saudi Arabia, where the system is closer to Islamic teaching, but still not fully Islamic." He expressed his happiness over the success of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"He said his organisation’s main interest in Pakistan was to pick people and train them to wage jihad in countries where an unislamic government was in power."

The paper quoted him as saying as follows: "God has ordained every Muslim to fight until His rule is established. We have no option but to follow God’s order. We continue to support other Islamic organisations in the world. This is a very long battle."

The paper concluded as follows: " The thumping success of the Muridke gathering took the government and the intelligence agencies by surprise…..Observers say the failure of the political government and growing poverty have turned Pakistan into a breeding ground of organisations carrying out jihad in various countries. Most intelligence officers interviewed by the daily view the unchecked military training of youngsters in the name of launching a jihad outside Pakistan as the most serious threat to the integrity and security of the country in the very near future."

Even though the Pakistani authorities are concerned over the impact of the organisation on Pakistani youth which could, in the long run, lead to the Talibanisation of Pakistan with a Pakistani version of the Taliban possibly getting its finger on the nuclear trigger, they continue to use the Markaz and the Harkat-ul-Ansar, categorised as a terrorist organisation by the US last year, in their proxy war against India and leaders like Mr.Mushahid Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Information Minister, continue to openly flirt with the organisation and bless its activities against India.

When the Markaz was started in 1987, it had a two-fold objective: to assist the Afghan Mujahideen and to rid Islam in Pakistan of what it projected as the corrupting influence of Hinduism. It continues to wage a sustained campaign against what it sees as the evil influence of sufism and Kashmiriyat. As it looks upon Kashmiriyat as the expression of the evil Hindu mind, many of its operations in J & K are directed against the Hindus.

Unlike the Kashmiri extremist organisations which describe their aim as the right of self-determination for the Kashmiris, the Markaz describes its objective as the liberation of the Muslims of J & K from the control and influence of the Hindus followed by the liberation of the Muslims of the rest of India. It describes Kashmir as the gateway to India and calls for the creation of three Pakistans or Muslim homelands—with Pakistan and J & K constituting one, the Muslims of North India forming the second and the Muslims of South India, the third.

Addressing the Lahore Press Club on February 18,1996,Amir Saeed said: "The jihad in Kashmir would soon spread to entire India. Our Mujahideen would create three Pakistans in India."

In an interview to the "Takbeer" of Pakistan (October 9,1997), he said: " We feel that Kashmir should be liberated at the earliest. Thereafter, Indian Muslims should be aroused to rise in revolt against the Indian Union so that India gets disintegrated."

Amongst other leading office-bearers of the Markaz are Yusuf Taibi, who is in charge of external relations, and Amir Hamza, Editor of its journal called " Majla Al Dawa", which claims to have a circulation of 70,000 ( Rs.12 per copy). The Markaz describes photo cameras, TV sets and movie films as unIslamic. It carries out periodic campaigns for the destruction in public of cameras and TV sets and appeals to the public not to see films.

The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and the CIA made full use of the Markaz against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, the CIA cut off its links with the organisation, but the ISI has been continuing to use it to instigate acts of terrorism not only in Kashmir, but also in other parts of India. The Markaz’s objective of radicalising sections of the Muslim community in North and South India and setting them up against the Hindus and the Union of India suits the operational aims of the ISI.

At the same time, the Pakistani authorities have been concerned over the Markaz’s links with Osman Bin Laden and other anti-monarchy Saudi dissidents. Their discomfiture is likely to increase with the announcement by Bin Laden of the formation of an International Islamic Front against the US and Israel.

The threat posed to regional peace and stability by the Markaz and the Lashkar needs to be adequately highlighted in international fora .


(Former Additional Secretary,Cabinet Secretariat and presently Director, Institute for Topical Studies)