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Why Pakistan's old jihadis pose new threat – at home and in Afghanistan

In an interview, a jihadi talks about why state-sponsored militants who once fought in Indian-controlled Kashmir are now joining the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Fed a diet of jihadi fiction about injustice against the Palestinians, he decided in 1992 to join Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the militant wing of a mainstream religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, which was sponsored and trained by Pakistan's intelligence agency. His career, he says, began under the command of infamous Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a man now desperately sought by the US for his attacks in Afghanistan.

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Dilawar participated in four sorties into Indian-administered Kashmir before he was forced into "retirement" because the government dropped its support for Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. He returned home, married, and began to farm.

But "a true jihadi never retires," he is quick to emphasize. Dilawar recalls with satisfaction how he abandoned his field and returned to the front – this time in Afghanistan. "There is no feeling quite like killing kaffirs [infidels]," he says, pointing proudly at the deep scar from a shrapnel injury.

Dilawar's friend Akbar Ali Alvi, a former Jamaat-e-Islami official, adds: "The war may be in Waziristan [a tribal district] and Afghanistan now, but, God willing, we will bring it to the streets of New York and Washington."

Once sponsored by US, Pakistan

Many Punjabi militant groups, which like Hizb-ul-Mujahideen were founded in the 1980s and '90s, profess similarly expansive goals. Others are dedicated to violence against Shiites or to battling Indian forces in Kashmir. Some fought with the mujahideen in Afghanistan against Soviet forces, (1979-89) with support from the Pakistani and US governments.

Principal among these groups are Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lash­kar-e-Jhangvi, and Jaish-e-Moham­med (JeM), based in the south of the province, and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), in the center.

After the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and Pakistan's then-leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf pledged support for its "war on terror," the Pak­is­tani government was forced to ban some of these militant groups and scale back its dealings with them, especially with JeM and LeT, which had been used to conduct covert proxy wars with India.

But many groups continued to operate openly, and some established ties with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. On Nov. 25, Pakistan indicted seven alleged LeT members for involvement in the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai (Bombay).

The US has repeatedly expressed concern about these groups and about the Pakistani government's failure to rein them in. A recently passed US aid program, the Kerry-Lugar bill, provides $7.5 billion in civilian aid over five years – but it attached conditions that Islamabad crack down specifically on JeM and LeT.

The Pakistani government may hesitate to target these groups because it might be able to use them again someday as proxy fighters against India or Afghanistan, and because it wants to avoid becoming their next target.