Jihadi Jaish

Prime Minister Modi’s unscheduled Lahore visit was the most dramatic turn in India-Pakistan bonhomie, so far. As the excited diplomats were moving to implement the ‘Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue’, the non-state actors jumped into the ring. As Delhi accused Jaish-e-Muhammad to be the spoilsport in Pathankot, Masood Hussain revisits Kashmir’s deadly decades to recreate the rise of an outfit by ideologue Masood Azhar while waiting for Jehadis to rescue him from Kotbalwal

Masood Azhar

When a grieving Ms Mehbooba Mufti interacted with party lawmakers for the first time with her father not around on January 17, the tenor of her speech, according to insiders, was a combination of emotion and strength. The speech that mostly revolved round her party’s alliance with BJP had only one high point: how the party founder Mufti Sayeed was pleased to learn that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has landed in Lahore.

But what Mufti might not have known, was that an attack on the Pathankot airbase on January 2, came up an instant irritant in the new Modi-Nawaz bonhomie. The assault killing six soldiers has led to deferring of the Foreign Secretary level talks.

Delhi’s accusation on Jaish-e-Muhammad for the attack had initially led Islamabad to assure action. Now, when Pakistan is mourning the January 20, 2016 Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan attack on Charsadda University, there is a strong possibility of delayed diplomacy.

The reappearance of Jaish on the scene in preventing Delhi and Islamabad from peacemaking makes the situation interesting. This outfit has a history of doing it and that is precisely why Jaish stands out in the long list of militant outfits that have spilled blood in Kashmir since 1988. Jaish’s meteoric rise in Kashmir followed a man’s capture and ‘release’ which in itself is interestingly long story.

By late 1993 the like-minded Pakistani sponsoring of Harkat-e-Jehad-e-Islami (HJI) and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) decided to merge on ideological basis. Then, HJI was operating in south Kashmir and Doda mountains and had succeeded in almost over-running various garrisons under the command of Nasrullah Mansoor Khan Largyal (arrested November, 17, 1993), the man who had lost his one eye while fighting Russians in Afghanistan. The HuM had just begun from the north Kashmir. A young cleric Moulana Masood Azhar was deputed to Kashmir for managing the merger under Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA).

Azhar was no ordinary man. Son (born July 10, 1968) of a Bahawalpur school teacher, the class-VIII dropout graduated from Karachi’s Binori Mosque Jamia Islamia in 1989. When the seminary’s Harkat-influenced management, sent him for 40-day crash course in Jehad at their Yavar (Afghanistan) camp, Azhar got a bullet in his left leg and remained hospitalized for 20 days. With no possibility of getting into the battlefield, he used his writing and oratory skills. Prior to his taking over as the editor of two Jehadi publications, Azhar was instrumental in exposing the “misuse” of  Pakistani UN Peacekeepers by Americans in their battle against Somalia’s Ittehad-e-Islamiya militants. He even flew many Pakistani journalists to Nairobi to help Islamabad take a stand.

By his own admission, the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 shifted his attention towards India. In 1993 when he accompanied various Jehadi leaders including Sajad Afghani to Bagh (Abbaspora) and Rahim Yar Khan (PaK) migrant families, he got his first introduction to Kashmir. In later 1993 when Sajad Afghani was appointed HuM chief, Azhar accompanied him up to Dhaka and returned home after pushing him into India.

For forging unity at ground zero, Azhar flew to Delhi from Dhaka as Adam Isa on a fake Portuguese passport on January 29, 1994. He first visited Darul Uloom Deoband and Nudwat-ul-Ulama. Ruined Babri Masjid was his second destination. Then he reached Jammu and travelled to Kashmir by bus.

After forging the unity and visiting many places, Azhar was arrested by BSF on February 10, 1994. The dramatic arrest came while routine checking of vehicle on the Jammu – Srinagar highway. As their cab was stopped, their Kashmiri guide, Farooq, escaped while firing in air. Unarmed Sajad and Azhar became suspects. It was only during interrogation that Sajad’s identity led to the “big catch” news.

A few days later when Arjun Ray, then Brigadier General Staff at the 15 corps, presented the duo before the media, the Pheran-clad Azhar denied every accusation of the soldier. He denied he was Harkat publicity chief or an ISI operative. He said he was a cleric and a journalist who wanted to assess the state of human rights. He admitted he has flown to 12 countries but denied it was for raising Jehadi money. Eventually, the cleric was confined to the Kotbalwal sub-jail where he is remembered as a cool and calm prisoner, who prayed and preached a lot and emerged a faith-healer to inmates and jailers.

Soon after, efforts started to free him. The first bid was on June 7, 1994 when HuA kidnapped British TV producer David Mackie, 32, and teenager Kim Housego, son of Financial Times journalist David Housego from Pahalgam and freed on June 22, after the local pressures were built. Housego later reported his abductors wanted their barter with some jailed militants including Azhar.

The second attempt was in October 1994 when Pakistani Briton Ahmad Omer Saeed Sheikh, son of a shipping tycoon and an LSE graduate, kidnapped three British and an American tourist in Saharanpur (UP) under the name of al-Hadeed outfit. He brought them to Ghaziabad where he killed an inspector when the police raided. Finally, Delhi police released the hostages and arrested Sheikh from Mandi in November 1994.

The third attempt was sensational when in the first week of July (4 – 8) in 1995 shadowy al-Faran kidnaped  Britons Paul Seymour Wells and Keith Charles Mangan and American Donald Fred Hutchings and John Donald Childs from Liderwat in Pahalgam. Childs escaped. Norwegian Hans Christian Ostroe and German Dirk Heserts were captured in Zojibal, in the same area. On Aug 13, the beheaded body of Norwegian Ostro was found. The rest four are missing and presumed dead. Kidnappers wanted 17 of their comrades out from jail with Azhar on top.

The fourth alleged attempt was in June 1999 when Sajad Afghani died in Kotbalwal. Authorities claimed he died of asphyxia in the 23-foot long tunnel he had dug to escape. Militants, however, termed the story concocted. Interestingly, this alleged jailbreak fetched authorities a formal offence against Azhar at a time when courts had almost dropped all charges against him.

Finally came the IA hijacking on December 24, 1999 when IC-814, a Delhi bound plane from Kathmandu was first taken to Amritsar, Lahore, and Dubai and eventually to Taliban-ruled Kandahar. With one person slain on board, and 27 women and children freed in Middle East, NDA government eventually relented and flew three persons to Afghanistan to get the 146 passengers in exchange after many days. Those freed included Azhar, Ahmad Omer Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar.

Kandhar hijacking.
Kandhar hijacking.

Post-release, Azhar repeatedly stated in his speeches that 18 militants sacrificed their lives to get him freed. Quickly he married. Later he announced creation of Jaish from Karchi’s Masjid Falal. “I need men who can come along with me and liberate the freedom fighters, the Kashmiri Mujahideen from the jails of India,” Azhar shouted. “I need Mujahideen who can fight a war for the liberation of Kashmir, who can teach India an unforgettable lesson.”

Since February 2000, it existed in Kashmir. The first major attack that introduced Jaish formally came on April 19, 2000 when Afaq Shah, a 20-something old city resident drove heavily loaded hijacked car DL 3CC 4045 to the main gate of 15-corps and blew himself up. In this first suicide bomb attack in 13 years, four soldiers and three civilians were injured.

On December 25, 2000 Jaish sent Birmingham (UK) militant Abdullah Bhai driving his car to the same spot for blowing himself up, killing over a dozen soldiers.

After remaining constantly in news, on October 1, 2001, Jaish’s Marwat (NWFP) recruit Wajahat Hussain drove a hijacked BSNL vehicle JK01C-1342 from Barbarshah locality with 125 Kgs of RDX and smashed it at the main entrance of the state legislature. Three of his colleagues barged in and triggered a crisis that led to partial destruction of the legislature. Of the 38 people killed 22 were blown up by the car explosion alone. The slain included Jaish’s 4 Pakistani militants, seven cops, three paramilitary men, 13 state employees and the rest were civilians. Most of the lawmakers had providential escape as they had left the sitting barely minutes before. With External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh visiting America, Pakistan and US joined India in condemning the terrorist attack.

On December 13, 2001, Jaish attacked the parliament that eventually led the NDA government to mobilize the army brining Delhi and Islamabad very close to the war.

Jaish was one of the many non-local militant groups that stayed away from the unilateral ceasefire announced by Vajpayee government on November 19, 2000. They in fact carried out various attacks reducing the efficacy of the initiative.

Jaish and Lashkar-e-Toiba have originated from the same stable but are completely different on ground,” explains a police officer, who has had a decade of counter-insurgency experience. “Lashkar is mostly restricted to India, especially Kashmir, in its operations but Jaish has a pan-Muslim world ideology and sees Kashmir just one step on that front.” The outfit lacks the “political maturity” of Lashkar and is lured by the “big picture” that does not exclude Taliban or al-Qaeda.

Police taking Masood Azhar in custody.
Police taking Masood Azhar in custody.

Jaish introduced and practiced suicide attacks in Kashmir. Lashkar has used Fidayeen attacks in which attackers mounted dangerous operations and fought without killing themselves, voluntarily. It is perhaps the only outfit that attempted to recruit women. On October 13, 2005, a teenager Yasmeena blew herself up on the highway near Awantipore, a few kms away from her Samboora residence. Investigations revealed she was wife of Adnan, a Pakistani Jaish militant, for eight months. She had left her home much earlier and returned back dead, in pieces. The outfit claimed her to be member of Banaat-e-Aaiyesha, its female outfit, a claim that even separatists rejected.

The outfit that is being held responsible for the most of the cop-killing operations across Kashmir had highly committed mix of local and Pakistani cadres. Security officials said that Azhar coaxed Zargar, the only Kashmiri who was exchanged at Kandahar, to chip in and some of his cadres did help Jaish initially to mange local recruits.

It boosted the morale of its recruits by offering them the best of arsenal. In December 2003 when an SOG officer went to hunt a group of Jaish militants in Nagri Kreshipora (Kupwara), he was lured by a packet of Neroxine. As he opened it, he fell unconscious and was barely driven to hospital where he recovered 12 hours later. Subsequent investigations suggested the box emitting poisonous vapours was carrying a pen pistol with as many as 25 cyanide-dipped bullets of the size of 6.35 mm.

In 2002, the outfit played a key role in infiltrating the police in Sogam belt that eventually led to the assassination of state’s home minister Mushtaq Ahmad Lone and his security guards on September 11. Subsequent investigations suggested that the police station at Sogam was actually being run by Jaish.

With its terrifying actions, Jaish created many profiles. ‘Elusive’ Gazi Baba whom BSF killed on August 29, 2003 after many years of chase was one of them. Though police believed he was active in Kashmir since 1992 and has survived 100 raids, the real hunt started after he was accused of ordering the attack on parliament in 2001.

Police records remember him as Shahbaz Khan of Bhawalpur, who operated with dozens of code names and radio aliases. Half of police efforts were to trace his Kashmiri wife, Zamrooda alias Baby of Chewa in Safapora belt, who was also missing from her home for around 10 months after the parliament attack. Khan lays buried in Parimpora’s `Martyrs Graveyard’.

On November 2, 2005 when Ghulam Nabi Azad was to take oath of office, Jaish blew up a car near his predecessor Mufti Sayeed’s residence killing six persons including the bomber.

The worst instance involving commoners and the outfit was on April 15, 2006 when five civilians were killed and 47 injured in seven blasts in the city. A Jaish module, explained then State Police Chief Gopal Sharma, had loaded grenades in a mini-bus. “As they went on distributing the grenades like biscuits, recruits tossed them around and the bus moved on from one corner of the city to another,” Sharma said. “By the time, it reported back to Ajas village in north Kashmir, the bus still had 30 UBGL grenades, 8 hand-grenades, two explosive detonators, and five pencil time chargers in it.”

The robotic performance of Jaish, however, made it susceptible to penetration. Reporting for The Hindu on June 17, 2004, Praveen Swami reported how the outfit was reduced to an “army without generals” by an intelligent operation.

On April 8, 2004, the army announced killing of five top commanders of the outfit but the fact was one of the key commanders Asif who had multiple codes, was killed five months before. BSF’s intelligence gathering G-Branch had worked on a chance shootout by pushing their man to replace the slain militant, who in next many months operated as Jaish’s Seharie Baba. After killing its top men in Kashmir, the mole helped army invite two of outfit’s top men very close to LoC in Sogam where they were neutralized.

“The Jaish struggled for years to get a foothold in Kashmir after that, and the J&K Police and other security agencies were able to consistently foil its plans,” reported Muzamil Jaleel in The Indian Express (January 5, 2016). Sajad Afghani (II), its Kashmir chief, was killed on the banks of Dal Lake in March 2011. “…and four months later, a mole inside the Jaish created an opportunity for security forces to kill a group of Lashkar commanders along with one Jaish commander,” he adds. “The Jaish was subsequently seen as the militant group most infiltrated by security agencies in the Valley.”

Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar
Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar

The crisis triggered by al-Faran led US brand the entire Harkat clan as terrorists in October 1997 with 29 other groups. Post-ban, HuA bifurcated into earlier two. Whistleblower Wikileaks offers a number of documents offering details about Jaish functioning, within and outside Kashmir. Though most of HuM joined Jaish, the transition came at a cost. Pakistan media reported how Jaish and Harkat fought pitched battles for the control of the Harkat assets, a process that consumed Moulana Ludhyanavi, one of Jaish’s top supporters.

Post-9/11, the situation changed. Moderate Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone, for instance, who once welcomed foreign fighters, emerged as a strong voice against this “distortion” in Kashmir militancy. He started stirring the hornet’s nest since November 2000 when in Pakistan he cautioned Jehadi groups against “hijacking indigenous movement” of the Kashmir. He wanted the groups with “global agenda” to leave Kashmir. On May 21, 2002, Lone was shot dead in Eidgah when he was attending the anniversary of Molvi Mohammad Farooq, father of the peacenik cleric Mirwaiz  Umar. Hurriyat was never the same again.

Right now, says a police officer, Jaish is not as powerful as Lashkar. “The last attack we know was in Tangdar but you never know where it will strike,” the officer said. “Our assessment is that it is not an outfit that Islamabad supports unlike Lashkar.” That is perhaps why it retains the capacity to disrupt Indo-Pak peacemaking.


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