Pakistan groups still rally for jihad

Despite a government ban, militant organizations marked last week's independence day with call to arms.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

It's about 100 degrees outside, under a blazing Punjabi sky, but Amr Hamza seems to be on a roll.

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.

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"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."

While 90 percent of the votes went to mainstream parties in national elections last October, a coalition of religious par- ties made gains that allowed them to control two key provinces along the Afghan border, Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan.

While Western diplomats here publicly say Pakistan hasn't changed its policy toward extremist groups, many privately worry that these two provincial governments may be tacitly supporting the resurgent Taliban.

Such worries do seem warranted. The six-party coalition that now runs the two border states have publicly stated their opposition to the US war in Afghanistan, and their desire to impose Taliban-style social rules at home. Intelligence experts also say that some of these parties maintain close ties with militant groups fighting in Kashmir.

The popular religious party Jamaat-i Islami, for instance, has long funded Al Badr and Hizbul Mujahideen, which have both gone underground in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir. And the party of Jamiat-i Ulema-i Islam long had ties with the Taliban, most of whose leaders attended Jamiat seminaries in Pakistan.

Government officials, however, say that the government's ties with extremist groups ended after Sept. 11, and there is no going back to the old policy.

"The policy of the government is clear," says Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, spokesman for President Musharraf. "There is no room for extremism in Pakistan, and we are absolutely sincere in getting it eliminated on our territory."

For the Jamaat-ud Dawa, which runs a network of social services, including 16 Islamic institutions, 135 secondary schools, five madrassahs, a college for science, and a $300,000-plus medical mission that includes mobile clinics, an ambulance service, and blood banks. Jamaat leaders reject the label of terrorism, but they say their mission under the Lashkar-i Tayyaba remains the same: preaching Islam at home, and fighting the enemies of Islam abroad (jihad).

"Jihad is not terrorism," says Qazi Kashif, editor of Jamaat-ud Dawa's newspaper. "It is not against the civilians, it is against the oppression, against the occupying forces in Afghanistan, in Kashmir, in Iraq, in Chechnya, in Palestine, in the Philippines. Our first priority is our nearby regime in Kashmir, against the Indian Army."

Unlike Osama bin Laden, who signed a document arguing that killing civilians was allowable if those civilians paid taxes to enemies, Mr. Kashif says the Koran strictly forbids killing civilians. "If you are against the civilians, that is not jihad. What happened [at the] World Trade Center, with the innocent women and children, we disagree with that."

But another Jamaat member, Tahir Rabbani, sees the present war in much larger terms. The duty of jihad, he says, will eventually demand a final battle between Islam and the West.

"Our task is to end oppression, and until Islam is established over the entire world, the jihad will be continued forever," he says. "There can be no peace without jihad."

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