Exclusive: Jaish-e-Mohammed's giant new training centre begins to blossom in Imran Khan's Pakistan
Prime Minister-designate Imran Khan’s rise is key to the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s prospects. For months, the Jaish-e-Mohammed campaigned against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, describing him as a traitor to Pakistan and Islam.
New Delhi: In the moments before his son was born, Muhammad Asghar Khan recalled, “the room filled with a miraculous light, reaching up to the sky, and the smell of perfume filled the whole house”. “The midwife came out, bearing this bundle of happiness and laughter. ‘Allah’, my wife and I prayed, ‘we commit this child to jihad in your path. Do not let us love him so much, that we shirk this duty’. In time, as he grew tall, we handed him over to the fields of jihad”.
Earlier this year, Muhammad Asghar Khan’s first-born son — operating under the code-name Hanzala — was shot dead by Indian troops near the Line of Control. He was, Khan wrote in the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s house-journal al-Qalam this week, the second member of the family to give his life for the jihad.
For the past three months, photographs obtained by Firstpost have revealed, that Jaish-e-Mohammed has been secretly building work on a 15-acre complex on the outskirts of the city of Bahawalpur—five times the size of its existing headquarters. The complex, the Jaish hopes, will train thousands of young children like Hanzala, harvested from the south Punjab countryside.
Prime Minister-designate Imran Khan’s rise is key to the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s prospects. For months, the Jaish-e-Mohammed campaigned against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, describing him as a traitor to Pakistan and Islam. In areas like Bahawalpur, the organisation threw its weight behind Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf.
Now, it’s going to ask for the debt to be repaid.
Facing sanctions from the multi-national Financial Action Task Force for failing to act against terror financing — sanctions that would cripple its access to the international banking system Pakistan has committed to a 26-point action plan that would choke groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed. The plan has to be implemented by September, 2019, or Khan could find every international transaction linked to Pakistan subjected to special scrutiny, scaring off potential investors.
In spite of the looming threat of sanctions, though, it’s clear little action is being taken. This week’s al-Qalam, for example, calls for pilgrims headed for Haj to pay cash donations of up to Pakistan Rs 12,000 to the group, instead of making personal ritual animal sacrifices, as custom demands.
The Jaish is listed as one of 33 legally-banned organisations by Pakistan’s National Counter-Terrorism Authority,which states on its website that the ban came on 14 January, 2002. However, the organisation makes no secret of its existence, with al-Qalam describing Abdul Rauf Asghar, one of Masood Azhar's brothers, as 'General of the Jaish-e-Mohammed'.
Local government records show that much of the land for the new Bahwalpur complex was purchased by Azhar; market prices in the area range between Rs 8 million and Rs 9 million per acre.
Sources who have visited the seminary said that the complex already includes kitchens, medical facilities and classrooms and a large underground facility, possibly for use as secure housing or indoor firing range. There are also plans, the sources further added, for a swimming pool, archery range and sports fields.
In time, the Jaish-e-Mohammed hopes, the new complex will emerge as the crucible in which a new jihadist cohort will be forged. In one recent article, Azhar called on young people in Punjab to stop being seduced by social media and online internet, and instead devote their time to physical sports.
“Flags of the jihad are flying on every street-corner in Kashmir, and we are victorious in Afghanistan”, he wrote. “Prepare yourself to be Muslim who practices his faith with the mujahideen".
Entwined with the fundraising that powers this quest is the story of Nawaz Sharif’s showdown with the country’s all-powerful army. Following the 2016 attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, the former Prime Minister moved rapidly against the Jaish, publicly accepting evidence that it had carried out the strike. He also ordered the arrest of Masood Azhar. The Army, however, stepped in to ensure that Azhar was only detained at an Inter-Services Intelligence-run safehouse in Islamabad.
From 2016, writing under the pen-name Sa’adi, Azhar railed against Sharif. “The rulers of our country are sad that we have disturbed their friends,” Azhar wrote. “They wish to arise on the Day of Judgment to be judged as friends of (Prime Minister Narendra (Modi) and (former Prime Minister) Atal Bihari Vajpayee”. “Their actions against mosques, seminaries and jihad are dangerous for the integrity of the country itself.”
In another article, Azhar described Nawaz Sharif as a “traitor”, “even worse than (General) Pervez Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari”. He concluded: “Pakistan’s rulers have reduced their own country into a heap of ashes. Every single one of them comes, spreads fire and then escapes abroad”.
Last weekend, a top Jaish-e-Mohammed ideologue called on the organisation’s supporters—who are ideologically opposed to democracy, which they cast as anti-Islamic—to act pragmatically. “Choose the party that is pious and reject the corrupt”, wrote Talha Saif, one of Masood Azhar’s brothers. “Pick a party that rejects fohashani [vulgarity] and uriyani [nudity]”.
The reference to the party of piety and honesty would have been lost on no-one—especially since, local residents have told Firstpost, Jaish-e-Mohammed cadre were involved in tearing down posters put up by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League.
Now, with Imran Khan in power, the Jaish-e-Mohammed will be able push its plans into overdrive. There’s already some evidence to show how the funds will be raised. In 2017, al-Qalam had called on landowners to gift their ushr, a religious tithe levied on the harvest, to help “martyrs, prisoners detained for Islam, the families of religious warriors, seminaries, offices and needy individuals”.
The call was issued in the name of the Al-Rehmat Trust—an internationally-proscribed organisation which the United States Treasury says raises funds for jihadist operations.
Pakistan’s Zakat and Ushr law, promulgated in 1980, set up layered bodies from the national to village-level to administer compulsory religious tithes. However, a 2013 audit report found no ushr had been calculated or collected from landlords and leaseholders since 1990—leaving religious groups free to lay claim to this wealth.
Local leaders of the Jaish, reports in al-Qalam show, have fanned out across rural Punjab, addressing mosque congregations to raise funds. In a sermon delivered at the Farooq-e-Azam mosque in Pattoki, not far from Nawaz Sharif’s home town of Raiwind, a Jaish leader, identified by the name “Maulana Ammar,” urged an audience of hundreds to make cash donations, asserting that “jihad was a mandate of the Shari’a”.
In 2016, videotape surfaced showing young men outside the Jamia Uloom-e-Islam seminary in Karachi openly collecting funds from congregants, saying it was for “the brave young men of the Jaish-e-Mohammed who are fighting for the victory of the name of god and Islam”—even though the Jaish is proscribed by Pakistan’s own laws.
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