By Ayaz Amir
Maulana Masood Azhar, founder and leader of Jaish-e-Muhammad – an outfit dedicated to ‘jihad’, the liberation of Kashmir and similar heady stuff – has been one of our more enduring ‘jihadi’ symbols, a long-standing fixture on the ‘jihadi’ scene.
He was arrested in India in 1994 and spent years in Indian prisons. When an Indian civilian aircraft was hijacked in December 1999, the hijackers demanded the Maulana’s release. The plane was flowing to Kandahar.
Maulana Azhar, Omar Saeed Sheik
h, serving a sentence in Hyderabad jail for his role in the killing of the journalist Daniel Pearl, and Mushtaq Zargar, the third militant, were flown by Indian authorities to Kandahar and handed over to the Taliban, then ruling Afghanistan. The then Indian foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, flew to Kandahar to supervise the handing over of the militants and the freeing of the passengers.
The Taliban brought Maulana Azhar and his two companions to the Pak-Afghan border at Chaman where they were said to have ‘disappeared’. Maulana Azhar was later seen being hailed as a hero and feted at various places. It took some time for the military government of Gen Pervez Musharraf to realise that this glorification of someone freed as a result of a hijacking was not something to celebrate…at least not openly. The Maulana reduced his public profile.
Jaish hit the headlines once more when along with the Lashkar-e-Taiba it was accused of being behind the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. On the one hand Pakistan was fully engaged with the United States in the ‘war on terror’ and here was this huge distraction caused by our ‘jihadi’ friends. Indian and Pakistan troops took up battle positions on the border.
There is thus a long history attached to Maulana Azhar. Since ‘jihad’ at one time was a sub-franchise of our school of national ideology based in Aabpara, Islamabad, it is not too far-fetched to infer that the Maulana and our strategy handlers have known each other for a long time.
So either we are first-rate idiots or we take the rest of the world to be peopled by idiots. For does it take a degree in advanced mathematics to see that if there is an adventure across the border – such as the attack on the Indian parliament, or the Mumbai attacks in 2008, or the Pathankot attack now – the finger of suspicion will be pointed not at someone from outer space but at our own ‘jihadi’ apparatus, which we all recognise is very powerful with its tentacles spread far and wide, and their present or erstwhile godfathers?
When Mumbai occurred the handlers of the attacks were seen to be operating from Pakistan. The Pathankot attack takes place and the Indians say the footprints go all the way to Pakistan. Either we say the Indians are talking nonsense and then we stick to our guns or we recognise the gravity of this charge. If Pakistan, not official Pakistan but the soil of Pakistan, was connected in any way with Mumbai, if there is any connection now with Pathankot, what will make us realise that this is embarrassing for Pakistan?