Pakistan groups still rally for jihad
Despite a government ban, militant organizations marked last week's independence day with call to arms.
It's about 100 degrees outside, under a blazing Punjabi sky, but Amr Hamza seems to be on a roll.Skip to next paragraph
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In a rally to celebrate Pakistan's independence day last week, Mr. Hamza is calling on the faithful - about 10,000 of them, mostly members of the religious extremist party Jamaat-ud Dawa, or Society of the Call - to defend Islam against its enemies.
The word he uses to describe this defense is "jihad," a term with similar historical baggage as "crusade." Hamza means it as a call to arms, in this case against Indian forces that control the Muslim-majority province of Kashmir.
"Are you ready to crush the Hindus between your teeth?" he shouts, and the entire crowd rises to its feet and says "Hanh," the Urdu word for yes. "Are you ready to crush the Americans between your teeth?" he asks. "Hanh."
Rallies such as this one, in towns and villages across Pakistan, show that jihadist parties such as Jamaat are alive and thriving, more than a year after they were banned by the government of President Pervez Musharraf.
Some Pakistanis here say that rallies for Jamaat - which once called itself Lashkar-i Tayyaba, and which both India and the US listed as a terrorist group - are merely an expression of support of their religion and their fellow Muslims in Kashmir. But for Pakistanis who support the US-led war on terrorism, and for Washington, it's a troubling sign that Pakistan remains a breeding ground for extremist groups and for an ideology of cultural war shared by Al Qaeda.
"In high-profile cases, the Musharraf government has arrested a few people, but it's far more important to roll up the network of support for these jihadist parties," says Samina Ahmed, project director for the International Crisis Group, a think tank in Islamabad. "But the network will remain in place until the government takes sustained action."
Like many observers here in Pakistan, Ms. Ahmed argues that Pakistan's military continues to maintain its long alliance with religious parties, who share a common goal: the so-called "liberation of Kashmir." This alliance was put on hiatus after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she adds, when Pakistan broke its alliance with the Taliban government in Afghanistan, and broke relations with religious parties at home.
But in the leadup to the national parliamentary elections last October, Pakistan's military, under commander-in-chief Musharraf, began open negotiations with the religious parties. The military released from jail many of the extremist leaders - including Jamaat's Hafiz Saeed and Jaish-i Mohammad's Maulana Azhar - whom it had jailed on charges of terrorism.
US embassy and Indian officials say that cross-border terror attacks continue, but they note that militant groups no longer take credit for the attacks.
"The mullahs and the military both believe that Pakistan has a rightful claim over Kashmir, and both believe in the jihad, the fight for Kashmir," says Ahmed. "But it is certainly in the interests of Pakistan to contain these groups, both because of its international reputation, and also because more Pakistanis are being killed in these attacks than anyone else."