Pakistan did it. Or at least it seems like they did. Almost a week after Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said that India will wait till Pakistan takes action against the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack, several Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorists were arrested and their offices sealed as part of a crackdown following the terror attack on Pathankot Air Force Station earlier this month.
The assault pointed to a pattern of deadly onslaughts that Indian and Pakistani officials say are designed to derail reconciliation efforts between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Days after the United Jihad Council claimed responsibility for the attack, details emerged about the identity of the gunmen’s handlers: JeM founder Maulana Masood Azhar, his brother Abdul Rauf Asghar, Ashfaq Ahmed and Kashim Jaan.
And then, an audio clip — featuring a monologue — popped up on JeM websites, reportedly celebrating the Pathankot attack and mocking India, which incidentally has been taken down.
The clip, uploaded to alqalamonline.com, featured 'startling disclosures' about how the attack was executed, The Times of India reported and stated that the 13-minute address by JeM was transcribed by a magazine in Bahawalpur, Azhar's hometown.
'India was watching Lashkar and not Jaish'
Relatively new compared to other Islamist jihadi groups, JeM has ascended the ranks of global terror networks quickly. Founded in 2000 by Azhar, who was released by India after the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in Kandahar, the outfit's last major mission was the attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December, 2001. Catapulted by popularity after Azhar's brazen release, the outfit claims that it will use violence to force withdrawal of Indian security forces from Jammu and Kashmir, with each of its offices in Pakistan serving as schools of jihad.
For more than five years, intelligence services across the world have warily watched the rebirth of the Jaish-e-Muhammad. "People threatening to snatch away jihad from us can't even snatch away your wooden toothbrush," Abdul Rauf Azhar, the military chief of the Jaish, and brother to Maulana Masood Azhar, is heard saying in a video.
Considered to be the biggest danger to India after Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish has managed to raise enough funds for a lavish new 16-acre headquarters in Pakistan's Bahawalpur. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, Azhar was the general secretary of the newly established Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA) in 1994 and was on a 'mission' in Jammu and Kashmir when he was arrested on 11 February.
When he was released, the HuA had been included in the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations which had compelled the outfit to rename itself as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). However, Masood Azhar decided to float the new outfit JeM rather than rejoin his old outfit. He was also reported to have received assistance in setting up the JeM from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the then Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and several Sunni sectarian outfits of Pakistan.
JeM quickly gained notoriety for its attacks in Indian Administered Kashmir (IAK), and later in India and Pakistan. It carried out the first suicide attack in the history of the Kashmir conflict on 19 April, 2000.
Later in December of 2001, following the attack on Parliament, the US State Department added JeM to its foreign terrorist organisation list. Pakistani authorities arrested Azhar on 29 December, 2001 for his supposed involvement in the attack, but he was released a year later after the Lahore High Court ruled his arrest unlawful.
Jaish's slow but sure rise was acknowledged by the US and India for the first time in their joint statement in January of 2015 when they equated the terror group with global threats like LeT, (Dawood Ibrahim's) D-Company and Haqqani Network. Little noticed by the world, Jaish, according to experts, owes its growth to the fact that Indian intelligence watched LeT and not them. “The big difference is that the Lashkar is being watched by the world, and the Jaish isn’t,” a senior intelligence official told The Indian Express.
But the JeM, which is believed to have ties with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, has long since broadened its scope of operations. Soon after it was formed, the group turned its attentions westward, as American troops kept arriving in Afghanistan. Pakistan was forced to begin shutting down Jaish’s operation in 2003, after the Indian and US administration exerted pressure. The growing fissure between General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime and the Islamists, though, was key: following two assassination attempts on Musharraf carried out by Jaish associates, the army came down hard on the group.
In 2014, Azhar came into view again, holding his first public rally in years. It was a well-organised event, with thousands ferried to the venue. The rally took place in Muzaffarabad, in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). The occasion – the launch of a book written by Afzal Guru.
The same year, JeM marked its return to the Valley with a pre-dawn suicide attack on an army camp in Uri. In November, it launched a similar attack on an army camp in Kupwara’s Tangdar area, triggering fears that the JeM was gaining ground in Kashmir once more, at a time when the number of local youth joining militancy had seen a sharp rise.
Jaish, now an enabled-outfit, funded by hard cash, began to expand and innovate.
Unlike LeT, which primarily worked for the freedom of Kashmir but carried out attacks in other parts of India including in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Varanasi, Kolkata and Gujarat, JeM's operations fanned out. Data by SATP shows that JeM activities have increased steadily since 2012. From minor suicide bombings in Jammu and Kashmir till the Indian Parliament attack in 2001, Jaish has grown by leaps and bounds. "The life of nations depends on martyrs. The national fields can be irrigated only with the blood of the best hearts and minds," Azhar wrote in his book Fathul Jawwad.
Hard cash is JeM's foundation
The outfit is run by mobilising hard cash. The organisation revived the al-Rahmat trust, once run by Allah Baksh, the father of the Azhar brothers. The trust began soliciting funds in Pakistan and the Gulf monarchies, to build 313 mosques and seminaries, according to reports.
Even though a few countries have banned al-Rahmat — in November 2010, the US imposed sanctions calling it the “operational front” for JeM, and the UAE followed — it continues to operate through publicly-advertised bank accounts in Pakistan.
Jaish’s weekly magazine al-Qalam, in which Azhar publishes under his pen-name ‘Saadi’, is openly sold along with other daily which glorifies Taliban violence.
Anticipating the ban on its funding activities and asset freeze in 2002, JeM withdrew most of its bank assets, dispersed some of it among low-ranking members for safekeeping, and invested in legal businesses. The group began to raise money through legal activities that include commodity trading, real estate, and production of consumer goods, an extensive research by the Stanford University, mapping militant organisations across the world, revealed.
However according to Livemint, in 2013 ISI began to cultivate Azhar, in an effort to use pro-government jihadists as a counterweight to anti-Pakistan jihadists. He found a ready pool of cadre in southern Punjab. “Having no alternative ideology like Marxism or Liberalism which may challenge the feudal stranglehold, Deobandi militancy remains one of the few ways to counter it,” social scientist Tahir Kamran told the publication.
Talking point again
Whether Pakistan's bold step of apprehending several JeM terrorists and detaining Azhar himself will yield any results is still unknown, the fact that JeM has become a talking point and made it to the headlines is not good news. Not for the security of the nation, not for the political situation in Kashmir or for ties between India and Pakistan.