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Why Pakistan is desperate for Lashkar-e-Taiba's friendship

In the weeks after the Kargil war, as hundreds of Lashkar-e-Taiba cadre massed for what would become the most murderous years of the Kashmir jihad, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed issued a hate-filled manifesto for war. “The Hindu is a mean enemy”, he said in a speech,“and the proper way to deal with him is the one adopted by our forefathers, who crushed them by force. We need to do the same”.  In later speeches, he would speak of conquering India.

Earlier this week, documents released by Pakistan’s provincial government showed that the schools where Saeed's message is taught are subsidised with public funds.  Budget documents for 2012-2013 showed the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Lashkar’s parent organisation, received a grant in aid of Rs 61.35 million.  Finance MinsiterMujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman also announced his government intended to set up an Rs 350 million knowledge park in Muridke. Though it remains unclear if this will be run by the Jamaat-ud Dawa, there’s little doubt that it will contribute to the Lashkar’s prestige in the region, showing that it has clout with the government.

Hafiz Saeed. Reuters.

Hafiz Saeed. Reuters.

India’s external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, has expressed concern over the development — and the media has voiced outrage. The only thing that’s surprising about the news, though, is the surprise: from the moment of its birth, the Lashkar has been a government of Pakistan enterprise.

Ever since 2010, it’s been public knowledge that the Punjab government—ruled by new prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, and run by their faction of the Pakistan Muslim League—subsidises the Lashkar. In June, 2010, Punjab minister Rana Sanaullahtold the BBC his government had given Jamaat-ud-Dawa institutions some $940,000 in grants.

Less than two years earlier, following the 26/11 attacks, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations had promised his government would “after the designation of Jamaat-ud-Dawa under 1267 the Government on receiving communication from the Security Council shall proscribe the JUD and take other consequential actions, as required, including the freezing of assets”.

Even though the Jamaat-ud-Dawa remains sanctioned under the United Nations 1267 list, Pakistan’s done nothing: scholar C Christine Fair, on a recent visit, found it was running offices right next to military installations.

Little in its genesis suggested the Lashkar would end up becoming South Asia’s largest jihadist group. In 1982, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, the key organiser of the 26/11 attacks, ended his studies at the Jami’a Muhammadia seminary in Gujranwala, and left to fight in Afghanistan’s Loya Paktia region — the heartland of Islamist warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani.  He was repelled, though, by local jihadists’ freewheeling religious customs.  In 1984, he broke away and formed a new group drawing legitimacy from the neo-fundamentalist Ahl-e-Hadith sect.

In Lahore, meanwhile Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, his brother-in-law Abdul Rahman Makki and Zafar Iqbal, all teachers of Islam at the Islamic University of Engineering and Technology, had formed a religious group — and decided to sponsor Lakhvi’s fledgling organisation.

The group gained the support of Abdullah Azzam — the man who, until his assassination in 1989, ran the Maktab al-Khidmat, or office of service, which funnelled Arab jihadists into Afghanistan.

In 1987, group established their first training centre in Paktia — but the jihad in Afghanistan ended before it had a major presence.

From 1990 or so, the birth of the Kashmir jihad gave the Lashkar a new opportunity.  It entered operations in 1993, as the Inter-Services Intelligence grew increasingly disillusioned with fractious — and unreliable — ethnic-Kashmiri jihadist groups. Funds — and power — followed.

The Markaz Dawa wal’Irshad — as the Lashkar’s parent body was then known — received funds to purchase Muridke, on the Grand Trunk Road 30 kilometres from Lahore, where it set up multiple higher education, medical and welfare facilities.  The organisation was, by 2001, operating in at least 74 districts.  Part of the cash came from Saudi jihad financiers, notably Sheikh Abu Abdul Aziz, Mahmood Bahaziq and Lakhvi’s brother-in-law Abdur Rahman Sarehi — the last held in 2003 for his connections with al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

Even today, no jihadist organisation has the kind of infrastructure the Lashkar boasts of at Muridke: a model school and science college, a state of the art computer centre, science labs, all this in addition to religious education. There’s the free Abdul Aziz Hospital, which has been operating since 1999; a propaganda press; a 15 acre farm; a children’s playground.  Elsewhere in Pakistan, the organisation runs ambulance services and charities.  It has even operated in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Myanmar — though often through pseudonymous fronts.

This isn't counting what it costs the Lashkar to train and equip the estimated 20,000 personnel who have passed through its military programmes.

From the Lashkar’s own accounts, much of its revenue has historically come from charitable solicitations raised across Pakistan, West Asia and Europe, as well as the collections of hides from Eid sacrifices which are sold for profit.  The charitable solicitations, however, began drying up after western governments cracked down on jihad funding after 9/11.

It’s hard to see, though, how this empire could sustain itself on hides alone — suggesting there’s at least some degree of continued funding from the ISI and the Pakistani state.

There’s at least some evidence to suggest the Lashkar doesn't actually spend as much on relief works as it claims — seeking, instead, publicity as a tool to garner support and legitimacy.  In a thoughtful paper, Tahir Andrabi and Jishnu Das have shown the organisation visited a total of 23 of the 126 villages affected by the great Kashmir earthquake — and only 268 of 28,297 households surveyed recalled them as participating in actual relief work. The army promoted the myth of the Lashkar’s role in earthquake relief, to deflect the elected government's international calls for action against it by saying it had widespread popular legitimacy.

Little imagination is needed to understand why the Lashkar is being propped up by the Pakistan government. Ever since 2010, al-Qaeda has sought to undermine the Lashkar’s legitimacy by hijacking its anti-India platform.  In June that year, al-Qaeda released a posthumous audio message from Said al-Masri, also known as Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, claiming responsibility for a bombing in Pune. “The person who carried out this operation was a heroic soldier from the Soldiers of the Sacrifice Brigade, which is one of the brigades of Qaedat al-Jihad [the al-Qaeda's formal name] in Kashmir, under the command of commander Illyas Kashmiri”.

Last year, Pakistani journalist Amir Mir revealed that al-Qaeda’s new chief in the country, Farman Ali Shinwari, had earlier fought in Kashmir. The scholar Tufail Ahmad has noted that al-Qaeda threats against India have become increasingly express. Last year, al-Qaeda ideologue Ustad Ahmad Farooq claimed that the killings of Muslims in communal violence in Myanmar “provide impetus for us to hasten our advance towards Delhi”.

Pakistan’s government has responded by seeking to facilitate the consolidation of pro-government jihadists on to a political platform.  Last year, Saeed drew massive audiences during the Lashkar-led Difa-e-Pakistan movement, set in place after the raid which claimed which claimed bin Laden’s life at Abbotabad.  Earlier, in 2010, Abdul Rehman Makki, the Jamaat-e-Islami's Farid Paracha and the Tehreek-e-Insaaf's senior vice-president Ejaz Chaudhury addressed an all-party meeting called to voice anger at India's alleged choking of river waters. Makki told the audience India was working to “to destroy the next generation of Pakistan.”

In a 2011 speech posted on the Lashkar's YouTube channel, Saeed claimed the Prophet Muhammad had called for a war “against the Hindu so that the greatness of the jihad can be evident".

Founded on the bedrock of the pious bourgeoisie of businessmen and white-collar employees, a class shut out of a share of power by landed elites and big capitalists, the Islamist message, in recent years, found a wider audience — notably, elements of urban youth and landless peasants with no other language of resistance.  Now, as the United States prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, Islamabad knows Islamists across the region will receive a new lease of life.  The social class the Lashkar speaks to is vulnerable to seduction by al-Qaeda, and patronage to pro-Pakistan jihadists like Saeed is a tool to prevent that outcome.

Islamabad knows this is a high risk strategy: the anti-state jihadists slaughtering its soldiers and civilians were, after all, once its clients. It is desperate, though — and only too willing to rent friendship.

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