The 'jehad factories'

Published : Aug 04, 2001 00:00 IST

Inspired by slogans that appeal to religious sentiments, thousands of young people in Pakistan flock to organisations that thrive on the message of a holy war.

DOZENS of people gathered at the home of Dr. Moazim Shaikh in an upmarket locality of Karachi on hearing the news of his death. None of them was crying; in fact they appeared relaxed. Moazim's father, Hafeez Shaikh, proudly hugged everyone who entered the house and served them sweetmeats, as was desired by his son. This was followed by a feast in the evening. Hafeez Shaikh, an engineer, believes that Moazim, his only son, is a shaheed (martyr). Shaheeds never die; they pass from one world to another. "I'm glad that my son departed like a true Muslim," he told those who came to condole the death.

Twenty five-year-old Moazim was involved in an encounter on April 7 with the Indian troops near Doda Baniyal district in the Jammu sector. (According to his family, about 18 Indian soldiers died in the battle that lasted 10 hours.) He is one of the hundreds of young militants who have died in Kashmir, one of the world's hottest spots of Islamic jehad (holy war). He was motivated to join the "holy warriors" in Kashmir when he was studying in Chandka Medical College, Larkana. He became a member of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Recalls Hafeez Shaikh: "In fact he wanted to go for jehad when he was in his third year of MBBS, but his mother convinced him to postpone it till he had graduated."

Moazim did not return home after he appeared for the final year examinations. He went to the rugged mountains of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) to get trained as a militant. He came home six months later, only to seek his parents' permission to go to the Valley for jehad.

Moazim, who operated in Kashmir under the name Abu Hamza, had crossed the Indian border at least twice and returned successfully. But this time, he was selected for a fidai (suicide) mission by the Lashkar high command. His mother says that when he left he asked her to do two things - to put henna over his hands and to pray for his martyrdom. "He was all set to sacrifice his life for the cause of Islam."

The Lashkar-e-Toiba has given a new dimension to its Kashmir operations by launching suicide missions. Founded on Islamic fundamentalism, the organisation, with its headquarters at Markz-e-Dawa-ul-Irshad in Muridke near Lahore, apparently adopted this strategy to raise the sagging morale of its cadres after the Kargil misadventure. But Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, chief of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, says: "We have started target-oriented fidai missions to prove that no place is out of our reach." In fact, he says, any militant who enters "Indian-held Kashmir" goes with the idea of never coming back. So, according to him, there is nothing new as far as the commitment of these militants is concerned.

This seems to be true. The militants vow to die as shaheed. "I had been in jehad for the last three years and it is my desire to die as a martyr," says 20-year-old Osama (not his real name). Three of his comrades sitting next to him say, "Inshallah, may God grant your wish."

Lashkar insiders argue that a fidai does not necessarily mean a suicide-bomber, but one who is ready to complete his mission even in the most difficult situations. Fidaeen have often come back after accomplishing their missions, they say, citing the example of the six militants who attacked the Red Fort in Delhi on December 22, 2000.

PAKISTAN has been a breeding ground for Islamic militants for the past two decades. Until the 1980s, religion remained largely a personal matter. It was perhaps deeply ingrained in the national identity, but was kept apart from the day-to-day functioning of the state and the life of the general public. However, with the advent of General Zia-ul-Haq's martial law and the entry of the Soviet forces into Afghanistan, the clergy became powerful. This was in no small measure owing to the flow of funds from Saudi Arabia and of funds and arms and support in the form of training from the United States. Many international developments, especially the entry of Soviet forces into Afghanistan and the Iranian revolution, gave a boost to extremist politics. Pakistani youth, stirred by the call for jehad, went to Kashmir, Afghanistan, Sudan and Algeria to join militant groups. Some of them have gone to Sinkiang province in China to lend support to Muslims whose relations with the Chinese central authorities are increasingly becoming hostile.

In recent years, scores of Pakistanis from different social backgrounds have joined the "struggle" for Kashmir's independence which, they believe, is the first stage of their goal of making Islam dominant over other civilisations. A senior leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen said in Karachi: "There are countless trained youth who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the lasting glory of Islam."

In the earlier stage of jehad, the majority of militants came from impoverished families. They used to be recruited from religious schools known as madrassas. Nearly three million young people study in thousands of madrassas in Pakistan. Militant Islam is at the core of the curriculum of most of these schools. Insiders say that in the last few years, which have seen a surge of Islamic militancy, recruits have come from diverse backgrounds, including from highly educated middle-class and upper-class families and even from among highly qualified expatriates. Says a militant: "In recent years, we have even trained youngsters of Pakistani origin who are born in the United Kingdom, the U.S. and other Western countries." For instance, 17-year-old Taha Maqsood, who hailed from the U.K., drove to one of the militants' centres in Karachi and offered himself for jehad. After completing the formalities, he was taken to the camps, trained and sent to Kashmir. He died near Kupwara district early this year. Says one of his seniors: "I tried to stop him and asked him to wait till he becomes mature, but he asked, 'Can I not give my life for my Muslim brothers and sisters who are under siege in India?' Impressed by the level of his motivation, the leadership of the outfit that he had approached selected him for one of the operations in Kashmir, where he died in a shootout with Indian troops in January."

The militants share the conviction that Western countries, particularly the U.S, and Russia, India and Israel are Satan's agents. They believe that Islam is in danger and that it needs their services.

THE strong links that U.K.-based Muslims have with the jehadi outfits and their involvement in terrorist activities have prompted the British Home Ministry to declare as terrorist groups 21 outfits, at least half a dozen of them operating from Pakistan. These include the Al-Qaidah, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Islamic Jehad and the All-Jamatul Islam.

Despite international pressure on the Pakistan government, the jehadi organisations continue to recruit militants brazenly. The process is simple. These organisations set up stalls in all 106 districts of the country. The organisers use catchy slogans to attract the youth. They speak about the "deplorable state" of the Muslim ummah (Muslim nations) in various parts of the world and exhort the youth to come forward to participate in jehad. Some organisations announce their recruitment drive through newspaper advertisements, wall writings, posters and banners, which carry among other things the organisers' phone numbers and addresses.

The jehadi organisations have vast, effective networks to collect funds. Donations pour in from all segments of society. Donation boxes are kept in shops and restaurants and mosques all over the country. "We don't object to keeping jehad fund boxes in our establishments because helping the Mujahideen is also a good deed in the eyes of Allah," says Mohammed Saleem, an automobile dealer in Karachi.

The recruits are taken to training camps, most of them located in the northern parts of Pakistan and POK. Al Akhwan Academy, located in the mountainous region of Chakwal, about 110 km from Islamabad, can train a batch of 750 recruits at a time. Markaz-e-Toiba, which can train 400 recruits at a time, meets the needs of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Al-Badar-I and Al-Badar-II in Muzaffarabad specialise in commando operations. The staff comprises Pakistan Army personnel, both serving and retired, and veterans who have spent a good part of their lives fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

About 18 organisations - including the Jaish Mohammed, the Hizbul Mujahideen, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Al-Badar and the Jamait-ul-Mujahideen - are engaged in terrorist activities in Kashmir, and most of them have a similar training programme for militants.

THE basic training lasts six to eight weeks. It starts with a process of indoctrination, in which the recruits are made to read Islamic literature and be psychologically prepared for jehad. They are asked to climb mountains in the dark, carrying on their shoulders bags weighing 20-30 kg. The "night walk" is a crucial part of the training because most of the time militants have to walk for hours mostly in the night to sneak into the Valley. During this session, the trainees are constantly watched, and only those who are found committed and physically fit are selected for the next stage of training. According to a knowledgeable source, some elimination at the basic training stage is important because the other stages are expensive - they cost a minimum of between Rs.1.5 lakhs and Rs.2 lakhs per person.

Those who fail to qualify are sent back to either their native places or their colleges or universities with a brief to prepare other youth for jehad. The selected ones are sent for 'the special task force (STF) course', after a short break of two to three weeks. During this session the recruits are trained in handling guns, firing methods, dismantling and assembling weapons, the mechanics of bombs, detonation techniques and maintaining arms and ammunition. They handle all kinds of weapons - from pistols to Kalashnikovs to rocket launchers to rocket-propelled grenades. They are also trained in planning operations, collecting maps and diagrams, handling communication systems, deciphering codes and other operations relating to terrorist activities. Methods of ambush and camouflaging form part of this course, which normally lasts 12 to 14 weeks.

The STF course is followed by a winding up session during which tests are conducted to assess the trainees. Certificates are sent to the heads of the organisations to which the youth belong. Says a youth who underwent training recently: "Actually this training is a must for a militant to carry out missions effectively, inflicting the maximum damage on the enemy."

The best candidates are sometimes recalled for commando training, which lasts about three months. The recruits are sent to jungles or deserts and made to do physical exercises. They are also taught survival methods, which include eating leaves and snakes.

Sometimes militants are trained for specific operations by special trainers. For instance, the training given to the group chosen to carry out an attack in Srinagar recently was different from the one given to the group that attacked the Red Fort.

A militant says: "We have been so accurate in our targets in the last few years, right from Kargil to a host of other activities, that the confidence of the Indian government is shattered. The hijacking of the Indian plane (to Kandahar) is a good example, which confused the government to the extent of not letting the plane land on its own land."

WHEN a militant organisation decides to carry out an operation, it usually forms a group consisting of a guide and five to ten militants (the strength depends on the nature of the mission). The group members are given new names in order to conceal their identities. These names are usually those of "Islamic warriors" of the past - Jahangir, Abu Hamza, Abu Huraira, Salahuddin, Osama, Talha, Hasan Bana, and so on. Says a militant: "These names are given to them not only to conceal their identities but also to create a jehadi spirit in them."

Each militant carries 10 to 15 kg of weapons and stores and usually crosses the border at night. This is seen as the most difficult part of the operation because they have to traverse a rough terrain. For this reason, insiders say, the Mujahideen do not take heavy weapons with them. Instead they carry weapons that would be useful in situations of emergency. Says a Hizbul Mujahideen commander: "The majority of the weapons and explosives are supplied to us by Indian Army officials themselves or by others who snatch them from Indian soldiers and sit in our hideouts inside Kashmir. In fact, some Army officers supply us arms and information because they get regular handouts from the Mujahideen, while others do it out of fear. Quite often they request the Mujahideen groups to suspend their activities when they are under pressure from the top."

Most of the jehadi militants, however, believe that the Indian Army lacks courage. Says Jahangir (not his real name), who has crossed over to Kashmir over a dozen times in the past three years: "Quite often Indian troops have surrendered before us. When they are caught, most of them cry for mercy and plead with us not to kill them. Many of those who were spared became our agents later."

All the jehadi organisations are supported by the Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI). Militants normally avoid talking to the media. Many of them are today critical of agencies such as the ISI.

Fed up with its meddling in jehad affairs, some militants have even quit their organisations. Says one of the militants who returned home while in the middle of his training: "I went for jehad as a part of my religious duty and not to please the Pakistan Army agents or any group or individual. I withdrew because I was disappointed with the way the members of these intelligence agencies were greeted in the camps."

But those who are dejected form a minority. Thousands of youth are ready to die for "the glory of Islam". In a letter written from the Srinagar jail, a militant says: "It is high time Muslims all over the world raised the flag of Islam before they are made to sleep permanently by the enemies of Islam."

The present conflict in Kashmir, which started in 1989, has claimed over 30,000 innocent lives and there seems to be no end to the violence. The churning out of more and more militants by the madrassas could further endanger the peace in the region.

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