Masood Azhar, in his own words

Print edition : October 13, 2001
PRAVEEN SWAMI

In India, Mohammad Masood Azhar's name first hit the headlines after the December 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814, when he was released from jail in return for the lives of people who were held hostage on the plane. More than a year later, after the bombing of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, his name has resurfaced. Who is this man Union Home Minister L.K. Advani is demanding that Pakistan extradite? After his arrest in 1994, Jaish-e-Mohammad commander Azhar provided fascinating insights into the world of Pakistan's religious right. Masood provides a graphic account of the use of seminaries as factories that produce cadre for the wars in Afghanistan, Jammu and Kashmir, and several other regions. Frontline has obtained a copy of one of Azhar's interrogation reports, which reveals the story of the making of the man running one of the most-feared terrorist organisations in Jammu and Kashmir.

"I WAS born at Bhawalpur on July 10, 1968. My father worked as the headmaster of the government school in Bhawalpur. I have five brothers and six sisters. My father had Deobandi leanings, and was extremely religious. One of my father's friends, Mufti Sayeed, was working as a teacher at the Jamia Islamia at the Binori Mosque in Karachi. He prevailed upon my father to admit me in the Jamia. Accordingly, after Class VIII, I studied at the Jamia Islamia and passed the almia (Islamic) examination in 1989.

A number of Jamia Islamia students were under the influence of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) leaders who had been students there. I was also influenced by the work of the HuM in the Afghanistan jehad. Jamia Islamia had on its rolls Arab nationals, Sudanese and Bangladeshis, apart from Pakistanis. All of them believed in the Deobandi ideology, and many were recruited for the Afghan jehad. I was also sympathetic to the cause, and when I met Maulana Fazal-ul-Rahman Khalil, the Amir of the HuM, he invited me to participate in tarbiat (training) at Yavar, in Afghanistan. Partly because of my poor physique, and also because of my literary skills, I did not complete the mandatory 40 days of training. Rahman-ul-Rahman instead asked me to bring out a monthly magazine for the HuM.

Maulana Masood Azhar.-

From around August 1989, I started bringing out Sada-i-Mujahid (Knock of the Mujahideen). I used to bring out about 2,000 copies and most of these were distributed free at public meetings, Friday prayers and so on. We used to carry news of our activities in Afghanistan, our functions, and the opening of new offices. By 1990, the HuM had offices in almost all important cities, including Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Gujranwala, Islamabad and Lahore. The HuM in theory allowed anyone to join, if they completed arms training in Afghanistan, were not affiliated in sectarian organisations like the Jiye Sindh Movement or the Mohajir Quami Movement, and had a full beard. However, we did not recruit Shias, or even non-Deobandis.

In 1993, 400 United Arab Emirates nationals and other militants were arrested by the Pakistan government at Peshawar. Because of international pressure, they were expelled from Pakistan. Some of the Arab governments, expecting trouble, did not want them back in their own countries. As such, a majority of them went to Sudan and Somalia, where they joined the ranks of the Ittehad-e-Islami. These people continued to correspond with us, describing the plight of the Muslims in Somalia. They told us that Pakistani troops under United Nations forces had been placed at the central positions of trouble, guarding the life and property of Americans. If one American vehicle moved, its armed guards were Pakistanis.

As such, the Ittehad-e-Islami was in a dilemma about when they should engage the Americans, who are the biggest enemies of Islam, because they also faced their brothers. In the attack on the Adib Radio Station by Pakistani troops, many persons of Ittehad-e-Islami lost their lives. As such, the Pakistanis, who until now were champions of Islam, found themselves unwelcome. I published these letters, and also organised for a team of journalists to meet these militants in Nairobi. After our return, a number of news stories appeared, condemning the role of Pakistani troops in Somalia. I also brought out a booklet on the issue, and distributed 5,000 copies.

Meanwhile, in January 1993, I was asked to come to Islamabad where I accompanied Maulana Rahman-ul-Rahman and Maulana Farooq Kashmiri to Bagh, Abbaspora and Rahim Yar Khan to meet the families of our militants who died in Kashmir. Sajjad Afghani also accompanied us on this trip. It was then he was told to take up command of the organisation in Kashmir. He was told to go via Bangladesh, since there was heavy snow on the India-Pakistan border. I travelled along with Sajjad Afghani by an Emirates flight to Dhaka. While Sajjad Afghani was handed over to some people for his crossing into India, I returned to Karachi.

After the formation of the Harkat-ul-Ansar by merging the Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami (HuJI) and HuM, a number of messages were sent to the chief commanders of both outfits in Kashmir to join hands. We did not, however, receive any confirmation of our orders. In January 1994, it was decided that I should visit the Kashmir valley. In the event, we learned that our orders had been implemented, but my travel plans went ahead as planned so I could ascertain the ground position, boost morale of our cadre, and resolve any differences between HuJI and HuM. I arrived in Delhi by a Bangladesh Biman flight that arrived from Dhaka early on the morning of January 29, 1994. I used a Portuguese passport, and the duty officer at Indira Gandhi Airport commented that I did not look Portuguese. However, when I told him I was Gujarati by birth, he did not hesitate to stamp my passport."

(Masood Azhar was arrested in February 1994, after travelling to Srinagar from New Delhi.)

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