In late November 2008, international media attention was riveted by a series of highly orchestrated attacks across India’s financial capital, Mumbai, which left at least 173 people dead and hundreds more injured. The only attacker taken alive by Indian security forces disclosed his membership in Lashkar-e-Tayaba, the militant wing of the Pakistani Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD). In February, Pakistan’s Interior Minister finally confirmed that the attack had originated from inside the country. Later, the government placed Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the amir of the JuD, under house arrest while investigations continued. On June 3, 2009, Saeed was released when the Lahore High Court ordered that there was insufficient evidence to detain him. Some commentators have seen this as proof of JuD’s continued close relationship with the secret service in Pakistan but there can be little doubt that insufficient direct evidence was a real problem in this case.

What exactly was the extent of JuD involvement in the Mumbai attacks? While this may take quite some time to unravel, it is nevertheless instructive to think about the seemingly sharp increase in the reach and ambition of alleged JuD militancy. What does such militant adventurism suggest about the changes in the organization’s vision and goals?

The JuD was established in the late 1980s during the last years of the first Afghan war. Saeed, one of JuD’s founders and its current amir, was a member of the student wing of Jamaat-e Islami, the most influential Islamist party in South Asia. He had spent a few years in Saudi Arabia before returning to Pakistan to support the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. He was joined in this effort by Zafar Iqbal and Abdul Rehman Maki. Saeed and Zafar Iqbal taught Islamic studies at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore. While the two are not scholars and writers in the mold of Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e Islami, they emphasized the importance of education for their organization, particularly in the fields of science and technology. [1] Their headquarters in Muridke, near Lahore, hosts a computer college and schools for boys and girls. This emphasis on education on technology distinguishes the JUD from other militant organizations in Pakistan.

Until the early 2000s, the JuD’s main focus remained on militancy rather than education and proselytizing. Young men from the smaller towns of Punjab were recruited to fight in Afghanistan. Looking for adventure and/or motivated by the appeal of jihad, these recruits formed the JuD-affiliated Lashkar-e Tayaba (which translates as army of the pure). The vast majority of Lashkar’s initial members were small-time crooks, thugs and criminals. As with many other militant groups at the time, the JuD benefitted from CIA funding, which was channeled through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Despite manifold transformations since its establishment, the JUD has never shaken off allegations of continued association with intelligence agencies (national and foreign) and the criminal world.

Among jihadi groups, the JuD had been formed rather late in the day when the Soviets were already beating a retreat from Afghanistan. This deprived the JuD of its initial mission and left the Lashkar without a clear target for its activities. Militants returning from Afghanistan, as well as others who had trained but not joined the fight were redirected toward fighting sectarian battles within Pakistan and in Kashmir. Unlike most such groups that became deeply embroiled in sectarian violence, Lashkar militants set up camps in Pakistani or Azad (Free) Kashmir and claimed a presence within Indian-held Kashmir, too. Up to this point, the JuD was indistinguishable from Lashkar; there was significant overlap in leadership, and students enrolled in JuD schools often were recruited for Lashkar activities in Kashmir and elsewhere.

Finding Its Niche in a Changing World

The increased international attention on Islamic militancy after September 11, 2001 and, in particular, the US invasion of Afghanistan had a transformative effect on Pakistan and its homegrown militants. At the initial stages of the current war in Afghanistan, US pressure on the Musharraf regime to clamp down on jihadi organizations impelled a restructuring of the JuD-Lashkar relationship. In 2004, the groups officially separated, which allowed JuD to escape another round of Musharraf’s attempts at banning militant organizations. While Sipah-e Sahaba Pakistan, Jeish-e Muhammed and its splinter group Jamaat ul-Furqan, Harkat ul-Mohajiroon, Hizbul Tehrir and Tehrik-e Jafria (a Shi’i group) were banned, JuD remained legal. Although the separation between JUD and Lashkar is largely cosmetic, it meant that certain decisions by the latter are now out of direct control of the JuD amir, Saeed.

A more fundamental shift can be discerned in JuD’s relationship with its patron, the ISI. For the last four decades, the ISI has been a key conduit of US interests in Pakistan. This relationship was particularly intense during the regime of Zia ul Haq when the ISI channeled CIA money, weapons and training to support the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The favored position accorded to JuD, particularly in the last decade, has made it more dependent upon the ISI and, in turn, accorded the ISI greater control. However, given the new pressures — both domestic and external — in the aftermath of September 11 and the restructuring within ISI itself, more complex dynamics were at play and the JuD was impelled to expand its relationship with society.

The venture into social services, in particular the establishment of schools, free clinics and emergency relief services, allowed JuD some degree of autonomy but also came at the price of flexibility of operations by the Lashkar. Certain kinds of activities, especially sectarian violence within Pakistan, could compromise the legitimacy that the JuD derived from its expanded societal involvement. In this context, the focus on Kashmir took on a new salience. Jihad in Kashmir was a legitimate venture in Pakistan, and had the added advantage, from the ISI’s point of view, of occupying jihadis outside of Pakistan while also keeping the Pakistani army’s overt confrontations with India to a minimum.

Societal Entrenchment

How does one measure the depth and significance of the JUD’s societal entrenchment? Quantifiable measures include the number of schools; in 2007, there were roughly 200, mostly in Punjab but a few in Sindh as well, with a total student population in the range of 35,000. Another measure is the number and circulation size of publications; the JuD in-house printing press, Dar ul-Andulas, produces pamphlets, booklets and six magazines, including the monthly al-Dawa with a circulation of 200,000. The number of people treated by its free clinics is estimated at 6,000 patients per year, and 800,000 hepatitis vaccinations were administered in 2007. [2] Another form of evidence is the number of people who rallied to support the JuD in 2008. Hindus from inner Sindh demonstrated after the JUD was implicated in the Mumbai attack in 2008, protesting that the organization was a charity that helped them by providing food and water, and that any clamping down would have a negative impact on their daily lives. [3]

A more nuanced understanding of the JuD’s attempts at social entrenchment can be derived through a consideration of the ways in which people used the JuD’s central Lahore mosque complex when I carried out fieldwork there in 2005. The Masjid Qadsia is located in what used to be an affluent area, but is now a predominantly lower middle-class residential and commercial part of Lahore. The complex is dominated by the mosque for men with a capacity of approximately 2,000. During Friday afternoon prayers, worshipers tend to spill out onto the road. A large majority of the men who came to pray at the mosque on Fridays were not members of the JuD. They worked in the shops, workshops, offices and government buildings in the area and came to this mosque because of its proximity.

The complex also includes a women’s section that can accommodate close to 1,000. Women from the neighboring residential areas sometimes came to offer prayers at the mosque. However, the women’s section only reached its full capacity for JuD-organized events and rallies. Attached to the mosque custodian’s living quarters are two large rooms that are used for women’s study circles, or dars sessions, and smaller gatherings. The wide variety of pedagogical exercises carried out under the banner of dars include lectures and mosque addresses following prayers, discussions of exegetical issues in private homes, and before prayers at weddings and funerals.

The library in the complex was used by many local men studying in different schools and colleges. For those seeking escape from constant disturbances by family members in their cramped homes, the library served as a quiet retreat. While some were amenable to JUD proselytizing, others saw this unwanted intrusion as the cost they had to pay for accessing the quiet space in the library. The Masjid Qadsia was being opened up to serve a social function — something akin to a local community center — with limited direct utility for recruitment to the ranks of the LeT. However, this was a tentative opening up of the JUD to the community around it.

The JuD’s need to at least appear to distinguish itself from the Lashkar, and the fact that the latter’s activities in Kashmir had reached a level beyond which it was getting hard to expand because of resistance from local Kashmiris (on both sides of the border), meant that the organization faced a dilemma in (re)defining its mandate. There was an internal tussle within the organization about whether to continue with militancy or to move towards more of a socio-political role. A spectacular chance to display its social service capabilities was afforded the organizations when a devastating earthquake hit the Kashmir region in 2005. Thousands of people were left stranded and desperate in the mountainous region. While the Pakistani army waited for NATO-donated Chinook helicopters to arrive before starting rescue operations, JuD and Lashkar activists rushed to the scene and carried injured people on their backs across the difficult terrain to medical help. In many cases, they were the first ones to reach the stranded locals. The JuD’s humanitarian arm, the Idara Khidmat-e Khalq, maintained field hospitals in Muzaffarabad and Balakot, operated ambulance services and surgical camps, constructed 1,000 shelters and provided electricity through generators. [4]

In the post-September 11 international context, where militant Islam was increasingly used as the foil against which US policy was defined, JuD needed alternative options. The organization’s increased social welfare, humanitarian relief and community resourcing built on its original recruitment activities, but soon expanded to draw in many different kinds of people and groups. However, the continued US presence in Afghanistan, almost a decade long now, changed the dynamics once again, and gave new impetus to militancy.

Collateral Damage

The US-led war in Afghanistan and related American intervention in Pakistani politics have exacerbated problems that have plagued the country since its formation. Inequity, in such an already deeply unequal society, has increased significantly in the last decade, providing a catalyst for far-reaching militarization of society. To demonstrate a commitment to the US government, President Musharraf reduced basic state services as resources were directed to the “war on terror.” At the same time, the massive infusion of US aid provided immense benefits to a select few.

For the marginalized within Pakistan, options range from migration to crime, organized resistance and, of course, resignation. All of these options have been tried in different ways. But increased violence and militancy are gaining currency as arms, drugs and personnel for the Afghan war transit through the country, and as direct US attacks go unchallenged by the government. Pakistani army strikes against civilians in the border regions of Sarhad and Balochistan are an added dimension to these trends.

The JuD’s vision of its role changed as the war in Afghanistan began to spill over into Pakistan. The rise of militancy in Sarhad and Balochistan cannot be explained only as the retrenchment of Afghan Taliban among their tribal networks in Pakistan. The so-called Taliban in Pakistan are comprised of a host of groups with different aims and strategies, some of whom reject the Taliban label. Indeed, the politics of labeling these groups “Taliban” echoes the discourse of Pentagon policy in Vietnam as the war was expanded in Laos and Cambodia. [5]

The ongoing war in Afghanistan has given the option of militancy a renewed importance to an organization that only recently and very tentatively had begun to think about its role beyond violence. While JuD social activities have continued, their growth has been curtailed due to the renewed impetus for militant engagement within and outside of Pakistan. Fighters from JuD and Lashkar are suspected of training militants in the Pashtun belt, an area where their reach was limited until very recently. Further, it is alleged that Lashkar has become a “militancy consultant” available for hire to train others and to carry out operations beyond South Asia. Indeed, there is some talk of Lashkar entering the fold of that vast and nebulous network that is labeled al-Qaeda. [6]

It has taken approximately a decade of war, chaos and senseless loss of life in Afghanistan for “Operation Enduring Freedom” to be acknowledged as a failure in Europe. In the US, however, even the current low level of support for the war, recently polled at 52 percent, [7] seems very high to those in the region who have to live with its consequences. Quite apart from the damage done directly to the people of Afghanistan and those US soldiers who actually fight this war, the calculus of consequences must include the remilitarization of groups like JuD. It seems increasingly likely that any calculation of the collateral damage of this war in Afghanistan will include the fragmentation of and increased militancy in Pakistan.


[1] See Saeed Shafqat, “From Official Islam to Islamism: The Rise of Dawat-ul-Irshad and Lashkar-I-Jhangvi,” in C. Jaffrelot, ed., Pakistan: Nationalism Without a Nation (London: Zed Books, 2002).
[2] Graham Usher, “Dangerous Liaisons: Pakistan, India and Lashkar-e Taiba,” Middle East Report Online, December 31, 2008.
[3] Whether this can be accurately interpreted as a show of support remains contested; some allege, according to the BBC, that many demonstrators were brought in under false pretenses to protest against price hikes.
[4] See International Crisis Group, Earthquake Jihad: The Role of Jihadis and Islamist Groups after the October 2005 Earthquake (Islamabad/Brussels, July 2006).
[5] See Humeira Iqtidar, “Who Are the Taliban in Pakistan?” Open Democracy, April 30, 2009.
[6] See Stephen Tankel, “Lashkar-e-Taiba: From 9/11 to Mumbai,” International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, King’s College, London, April 19, 2009.
[7] USA Today, March 16, 2009.

How to cite this article:

Humeira Iqtidar "Pakistan’s Collateral Damage from the Wars in Afghanistan," Middle East Report 251 ( ).

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