Identity, Equality, Unity
Editor’s note: Here is a collection of three articles from 2001 and 2002 to remind World Shia Forum readers of the state of Shia genocide in Pakistan almost a decade ago. Not much has changed in terms of Pakistan army and government’s support to Jihadi-sectarian terrorists, nor in terms of the overall Nazi style apathy and silence in Pakistani society and media. The only difference now is that the scale and intensity of Shia genocide and persecution is taking place on a much higher scale.
The Friday Times, September 2001
Leader of the anti-Shia religious party Sipah Sahaba, Maulana Azam Tariq, has been released after being honourably acquitted of all charges of terrorism. He was picked up after he went and met Maulana Akram Awan in Chakwal earlier in the year after the latter had threatened to overthrow General Musharraf and impose Shariat on Islamabad. Maulana Tariq had thereafter announced that his party will also forcibly impose principles of Sharia in selected cities of the country. While he was in jail facing trial, his party had warned the government of dire consequences. In the interim, there was a spate of shia killings in Karachi, mainly targeting doctors and other prominent personalities. Workers of Sipah Sahaba had started offering arrests to pressure the government into releasing their leader.
Lashkar and Sipah linkage:After being acquitted of charges of terrorism, Maulana Azam Tariq has once again publicly dissociated himself from the terrorist activities of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and called on it to give up violence. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, run by terrorist Riaz Basra, is dedicated to Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the founder of Sipah Sahaba. (Jhangvi’s anti-shia tapes are famous.) When the Lashkar activist who killed the Iranian diplomat Sadiq Ganji in Lahore in 1990 was about to be hanged Maulana Azam Tariq, instead of dissociating himself from the terrorist, actually led a campaign for the remission of his sentence and even offered diyat (blood money) to Iran. Another splinter of Sipah, Jaish-e-Muhammed, also reveres late Maulana Haq Nawaz jhangvi. In fact its leader Masood Azhar first wanted to name his militia Lashkar-e-Muhammad but was advised by his ‘handlers’ to avoid the association with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The sectarian Jaish was given territory near Balakot for guerrilla training for incursions into Kashmir, which makes the state party to the sectarian mess in Pakistan. It is expected that after the release of Maulana Azam Tariq the killings of doctors and prominent citizens of Karachi will taper off. This is not the first time the state has made a deal with him.
That the state is involved in Shia killings in Karachi has been reported in the press in Pakistan. That there is a strong Deobandi-Sipah presence in Karachi with links with MQM Haqiqi, courtesy intelligence agencies, has also been noted. This makes Maulana Azam Tariq the most powerful man from Karachi to Gilgit. Indeed there are cities where his writ runs stronger than that of the state. A French scholar who is writing his biography and lived in his house in Jhang for a time observed that Maulana Azam Tariq’s day normally began by giving orders to the city’s administration. His orders have been equally effective when he was in jail. He is in fact the most powerful man of the Deobandi jehad organised by the state and is definitely more powerful than the chief executive of Pakistan on a given day on the basis of his ability to make things happen.
State officers who kill Shias:The press is careful in reporting the sectarian truth in Karachi but some signs of a desperate kind of courage have come to light after the heart-rending murders of the Shia doctors in the city. Amjad Bashir Siddiqi wrote in The News (5 August 2001): ‘These sectarian organisations, with enormous money in their pockets, spend it without any limits to free terrorists or to bail them out, and more importantly, to ingress into the administration. Recently, money was spent to free a terrorist from the custody of CIA, who, three days later assassinated the chief of Sunni Tehreek, Saleem Qadiri. Lately, they are also trying to wriggle free another activist of their party now on death row and are ready to spend as much money as needed to ensure that Mansur, convicted for the killing of seven members of three families in PECHS back in 1993, gets bail’.
The article goes on to describe how the Jaish-e-Muhammad leader Maulana Masood Azhar, whose entry was banned in Sindh because of the wave of sectarian terrorism, was stopped at Karachi airport and was asked to go back. Azhar phoned someone and the ban was immediately lifted to allow him to enter Karachi, after which he had a meeting with home secretary, Sindh. Azhar also later went to Ghotki in violation of the ban and was ignored by the local SDM there who was probably himself anti-Shia. The officer was pulled up, but later still, when Maulana Azhar tried to enter Sukkur and was stopped by the district administration it was pulled up this time for not giving him unhampered passage to anywhere in the city. The article adds: ‘Another serious problem has been the criminalisation of the jehadi elements, some of whom have been involved in sectarian killings. Recently, commissioner Karachi Shafiqur Rehman Khwaja gave Rs 200,000 to the prime suspect of Saleem Qadri’s murder, Arshad Polka, as compensation money for being a victim of terrorism. Polka had died during the attack on the Sunni Tehreek leader.’ The article goes on to link the state machinery with sectarian killers. Officers aligned to sectarian killers do two things: they get the criminals released in case they are caught after the act, and they see to it that caught terrorists are not allowed to be linked to the jehadi militias. The state is in fact the killer of the Shia in Pakistan.
ISI and Shia killings:Monthly Newsline (June 2001) actually wrote that the intelligence agencies were ‘in’ with the sectarian terrorists: ‘The official quoted above has no hesitation in accusing the ISI of orchestrating such (Shia) murders through the militants of sectarian parties, adding that Sipah Sahaba terrorists are trained by the agency. The Sipah Sahaba are supported by the MQM Haqiqi Group. Sources reveal that Sipah Sahaba’s (sic!) Riaz Basra has been spotted in the company of a colonel who has also given him shelter in his house. Similarly, when three members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were picked up by the police, another colonel, who identified himself as their PRO, requested that they be released forthwith’. It should be noted that Riaz Basra has been described by the magazine as a Sipah activist! Karachi has killed 450 people in cases of sectarian violence since General Musharraf took over the government in October 1999. Lately the killing is one-sided because the Sunni-Deobandi combine is simply too strong to be countered by the Shia organisations.
The shia-sunni conflict is as old as Islam itself in the Indian subcontinent, but it was effectively marginalised by a secular British raj which treated it as a law-and-order issue. After 1947, the policy was continued and the worst sectarian riots were defined by the state as no more than public disorder which the executive handled as violation of the CRPC, the legal code of criminal procedure. The clergy involved in the conflict gradually became tired as the citizens mixed and intermarried across the sect boundaries. The breakdown of the secular state under General Zia’s martial law brought the shia-sunni differences to centre-stage.
General Zia versus the Shias:General Zia took over the populist slogan of Nizam-e-Mustafa and imposed ‘shariah’ on Pakistan. It really meant the imposition of the Sunni Hanafi ‘fiqh’ or jurisprudence followed by the majority population from which the shias were excluded. The two early laws under ‘shariah’ that he enforced failed miserably: the first, abolition of ‘riba’, failed because of the inability of the Islamic scholars to reinterpret Islam for modern conditions; the second, ‘zakat’, failed because the shia jurisprudence, called ‘Fiqha-e-Jaafaria’, had a conflicting interpretation of zakat. In 1980, an unprecedented procession of shias, led by Mufti Jaafar Hussain, laid siege to Islamabad and forced General Zia to exempt the shia community from the deduction of zakat. The concept of sunni ‘ushr’ (poor-due on land) is also rejected by shia jurisprudence.
It appears that, when the anti-shia movement started in Jhang in the 1980s, General Zia not only ignored it but saw it as his balancing act against the rebellious shia community. This was worsened by Imam Khomeini’s criticism of General Zia. The rise of Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi in the stronghold of big shia landlords in Punjab changed the sectarian scene in Pakistan. There is evidence that General Zia was warned of Jhangvi’s anti-shia and anti-Iran movement, but he ignored the warning and allowed it to blossom into a full-fledged religious party called Anjuman-e-Sipah-e-Sahaba of Pakistan (ASSP). In small towns, the old shia-sunni debate restarted with the fury that had become dampened in the past. The tracts which carried this debate were scurrilous in the extreme and helped the clerics to whip up passions. Meanwhile, in 1986, General Zia allowed a ‘purge’ of Turi shias in the divided city of Parachinar (capital of Kurram Agency on the border with Afghanistan) at the hands of the sunni Afghan mujahideen in conjunction with the local sunni population.
Pakistan versus the Turis of Parachinar:Parachinar was the launching-pad of the Mujahideen attacks into Afghanistan and the Turis were not cooperative. Tehrike-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqha-e-Jaafaria had come into being during the dispute over zakat in 1980. When the Parachinar massacre occurred, it was led by a Turi leader, Allama Arif-ul-Hussaini. Allama Hussaini was murdered in Peshawar in August 1988, for which the Turis held General Zia responsible. That was also the year of General Zia’s death (within a fortnight of Hussaini’s murder) in an air-crash in Bahawalpur, and for a time there was rumour of shia involvement in his assassination although no solid evidence supporting this speculation was ever uncovered. The NWFP governor General Fazle Haq, whom the Turis accused of complicity in the murder of Allama Hussaini, was ambushed and killed in 1991. (Mehram Ali, the shia terrorist who blew up the Sipah leader Maulana Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi at the sessions court in Lahore, was trained in Parachinar).
In 1989, the Afghan mujahideen government-in-exile came into being in Peshawar after the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan. At the behest of Saudi Arabia, the exiled shia mujahideen of Iran were not included in this government. The Saudis, according to author Barnett R.Rubin in The Search for Peace in Afghanistan (page 103) paid over 23 million dollars a week during the 519-member session of the Mujahideen ‘shura’ as bribe for it. In 1990, Maulana Jhangvi was murdered at the climax of his anti-Iran and anti-shia campaign of extreme insult and denigration. The same year, as if in retaliation, an activist of Sipah-e-Sahaba shot the Iranian consul Sadiq Ganji dead in Lahore. The tit-for-tat killings were thus started. Maulana Isar-ul-Qasimi, chief of the Sipah, was gunned down in 1991.
Since then, the state of Pakistan has had to answer for the killing of more Iranians in Pakistan. Another consular officer was gunned down in Multan and a number of Iranian air force trainees were ambushed in Rawalpindi on inside information received by the killers, thus making the army not uninvolved in the sectarian mayhem. Most commentators in Pakistan are scared of telling the truth. Most inter-sectarian dialogue is fake since its great facade of speech-making is nothing but divine-sounding hogwash. Almost all Muslim clerics lie when it comes to sectarian deaths.
The Jihad Within
By Naziha Syed Ali
9 MAY 2002
Last month, in a mall in the upmarket Clifton area, a group of women was asked by one of the shopkeepers whether they were Shia, presumably on account of their appearance that indicated Iranian origins. When they replied in the affirmative, the man, in a voice dripping with venom said, “We will hunt down and kill each one of you Shias.” Terrified out of their wits, the women beat a hasty retreat from the mall.
In the Defence Imambargah some months ago, two individuals, ostensibly beggars, were thrown out by security staff when they were noticed surreptitiously jotting down the registration numbers of cars standing in the parking lot. With many victims having been murdered in their vehicles after being tailed by hitmen, the men’s actions seemed ominous to say the least. Then, on the eve of Muharram this year, a circular by a leading gas company in Pakistan advised its Shia employees against hosting majalis at their homes for security reasons.
Meanwhile, the sense of insecurity among the medical community is palpable. Says Dr. Habib Soomro, general secretary PMA Karachi; “I personally know of 25 doctors who have left the country since the murder of Dr. Alay Safdar Zaidi in March this year.” These doctors include four of Dr. Zaidi’s friends who, at each other’s urging, had returned to Pakistan around the same time a year ago, leaving behind lucrative jobs in the US in order to serve their country. Among this group was cardiologist Dr. Imran Afridi. During his short-lived tenure at the National Institute of Cardio-Vascular Diseases, Dr. Afridi had, according to Dr. Soomro, wrought a miracle in the management of the government-run hospital.
Many doctors, either unable or unwilling for various reasons to resort to migration, live in mortal fear of becoming the target of an assassin’s bullet. Dr. Mujawir Hussain escaped an attempt on his life in 1998 that left him a paraplegic. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, he reopened his clinic in his Model Colony home and continued to practice. In January this year, armed men opened fire on his house. Although he was not injured, the incident traumatised him to such an extent that he closed down his clinic altogether.
It is common knowledge that sectarian violence is a spillover of the establishment’s two-decade-old foreign policy on Kashmir and Afghanistan. The cornerstone of this policy was the fuelling of a jihadi culture in the many madrassahs that were allowed to proliferate unchecked across the country. Activists of the predominantly Deobandi militant organisations, who fought the establishment’s proxy wars, were actively patronised. In this climate, religious extremism of all hues flourished, and those who extended the concept of jihad to include the extermination of individuals belonging to other sects were also allowed to operate with impunity. The statistics are telling: in 1993, there was one sectarian murder; in 1994, there were 57.
There are a myriad examples of the state’s kid glove treatment towards religious militants. When the Sunni Tehreek chief, Saleem Qadri, was killed in Karachi last June, the bullet-riddled body of a Sipah-e-Sahaba-e-Pakistan (SSP) activist, Arshad Polka, was discovered on the scene. Despite his affiliation with the overtly sectarian organisation that had spawned the LJ, the city’s senior bureaucracy suggested that his family be paid compensation. When this grotesquely inappropriate gesture attracted censure in the press, the proposal was dropped, and the case file mysteriously disappeared. No inquiry was instituted against the concerned officials. Likewise, on main Tariq Road, SSP activists forcibly took possession of a public park located adjacent to the Dolmen shopping mall, and erected a mosque on the site. The city administration quietly looked the other way.
On January 12, 2002, President Musharraf announced a ban on five more jihadi and sectarian organisations, besides the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Sipah-i-Mohammed which had been banned last year. These included the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammedi, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Sipah-e-Sahaba and Tehrik-e-Jaffaria. Despite this, however, there has been no decline in sectarian killings even though the measures taken in the wake of the announcement were unprecedented, at least in Karachi. These included sealing the organisations’ offices and rounding up their leaders and activists. Prior to the ban, these militant organisations wielded such clout that the police dared not touch them, despite the fact that they harboured highly dangerous criminals. For instance, it was common knowledge that SSP activist, Haider Farooqui, was personally responsible for training perhaps a thousand jihadis in Afghanistan. Known in police parlance as “Cheetah” for his supposedly remarkable agility, Farooqui remains at large.
Several law-enforcement personnel had predicted that sectarian killings would continue with renewed zeal when the jihadi cadre returned from Afghanistan, and statistics appear to support this contention. Last year, there were 58 sectarian murders. In the first four months of this year, the tally has already reached 22, including five doctors who were killed within a space of one month. There seems to be no reprieve in sight.
In fact, there is a frightening new development among the militant cadres. Says one senior police official, “Before, each organisation had its own jihadi front; some, like the Jaish, were operating within both Afghanistan and Kashmir, while the Lashkar was engaged more deeply in Kashmir. Others, such as the SSP and LJ, were operating within the country. However, disillusioned with their leadership’s inability to prevent the government from forming an alliance with the US against Afghanistan, many of their top-level activists have broken away into splinter groups, united in the common goal of destabilising the government.” As he puts it, the “jihad-e-afzal” (the greater jihad) is over for the moment and the “ghar ka jihad” (the jihad at home) has taken its place. The splinter groups are also an outcome of the ban on the jihadi organisations which has removed the organisations’ central authority. This has made even nominal control over them far more difficult for law-enforcement agencies. They were able to exercise this control at least over the organisations’ principal leaders by a carrot and stick approach – for instance, by threatening to withdraw the police mobiles deputed for their protection if they did not comply with certain requests.
There are plenty of potential recruits for the new ghar ka jihad . Of the approximately 2000 activists of the banned organisations who were arrested in sweeping raids across the country immediately after President Musharraf’s announcement, a majority have reportedly been released, without any interrogation, on surety bonds.
Police sources believe that Shia sectarian terrorists have already been operating in splinter groups since 1996, when many leaders of their principal militant outfits were arrested in Karachi. “The Sipah-e-Mohammed is not the cohesive force that it was until about 1995,” says an official. “It was very active then and worked under different names such as Pasban-e-Islam and Sipah-e-Imam-e-Zamana. Their main leader, Zulqarnain Haider, is still at large.”
Tracking down terrorists, sectarian or otherwise, is usually a a complex job. For one, each participant is assigned a specific task in the operation – identifying the target, tracking his routine, acquiring the getaway vehicle or carrying out the assassination – and he is kept in the dark regarding other details. Thus, even if an activist is apprehended, he is unable to divulge the identity of the others. Moreover, many of these terrorists take refuge in the slums of Karachi, where the labyrinthine warrens provide easy escape routes.
Says a senior police official, “the terrorists’ modus operandi always includes the presence of the operation’s ‘commander’ at a safe distance in order to monitor events. He himself rarely engages in the actual act of assassination.” According to him, when the Masjid-e-Hur massacre took place in ’99, Naeem Bokhari alias Attaur Rehman, then second-in-command of LJ’s Qari Hye faction in Karachi, was in the immediate vicinity to ensure that everything went according to plan. It has been observed through the course of investigations that when they set their sights on a target, terrorist organisations pursue it with utmost single-mindedness. At times, says the official, an operation can take up to six months in the planning. Some targets are selected through a perusal of telephone bills, as in the case of Zafar Hussain Zaidi, director, ministry of defence, who was murdered on July 30, 2001. This information was revealed by the accused in the case, Shahid Mufti, the pesh imam of a mosque in Malir. During his interrogation by the police, Mufti admitted to complicity in 10 other sectarian killings.
A few months ago, law-enforcement agencies managed to net Riaz Basra, one of the most wanted sectarian terrorists in Pakistan, who has a price of 50 lakh rupees on his head. Basra’s arrest has till date not been officially disclosed, perhaps with a view to using him as a decoy to nab other terrorists. According to a senior police official, Basra himself was nabbed through an accomplice who, unbeknown to him, had been arrested earlier by intelligence agents and agreed to cut a deal with them in exchange for leniency. “These people have a hierarchical network through which they contact each other, usually after prayers at the mosque,” says a source. “We had to patiently wait for Basra to contact this accomplice. When he did so, the man asked Basra to meet him at his house at a certain time. The accomplice was milking his buffalo when Basra arrived and found intelligence personnel lying in wait for him.” He adds, however, that so far no militant has been trapped by Basra himself.
Getting criminals to switch sides in return for personal benefit is not a novel tactic and, although effective, it can present some unexpected obstacles, as was the case with LJ’s Asif Ramzi. The net was about to close around him some time back, when, says a source, a call from the higher echelons of power, which he refuses to identify, gave directions against proceeding ahead “because Ramzi is working for the law-enforcement agencies.” On the contrary, Ramzi remains on the police’s most-wanted list and has been listed as absconder in several murders.
Even when sectarian terrorists have been apprehended, they have often been able to take advantage of legal lacunae in a hopelessly overburdened court system and obtained bail. A case in point: Abdul Ghafoor Nadeem, along with two others, was arrested for the murder of one Syed Adeel Raza Jafri on June 18, 1994. All the accused were subsequently released on bail. A month later, on July 23, six worshippers were massacred in a New Karachi mosque. Abdul Ghafoor Nadeem was again arrested but incredibly, obtained bail once again and remains a free man. He also happens to be the chief of the SSP, Karachi. Eight years later, both cases remain under trial. It is also no secret that judges, reluctant to convict terrorists out of fear for their lives and that of their families, are easily persuaded to adjourn case proceedings ad nauseam. According to police sources, even obtaining a remand from the court for suspects in sectarian murders is, for the same reason, an uphill task.
Recent events appear to suggest that a change in policy has been put into action. Until recently, one of the most wanted sectarian terrorists in the country was Lal Mohammed, better known as Laloo (head money: 20 lakh rupees). A native of Mailsi in Punjab, Laloo was reportedly a humble kabariya (dealer in second-hand goods), until he was recruited by Abdul Ghafoor Nadeem as his gunman. On August 14, 1996, an SSP procession in Guru Mandir was fired upon in which 14 people, including several maulanas, were killed. The Suzuki in which Laloo was accompanying Ghafoor Nadeem was also attacked; in fact the FIR of the incident was lodged by Laloo himself. Police sources contend that it was this incident that incited Laloo to embark on a litany of sectarian murders, although his name first came to the law-enforcement authorities’ notice with the killing of two Iranian engineers in Clifton in February 1998. Officially declared absconder in the murder of at least three Shias, including two doctors, he was also suspected, as second-in-command to Akram Lahori, of coordinating the assassination of the Pakistan State Oil managing director, Shaukat Mirza as well as Ehteshamuddin Haider, the brother of Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider.
On April 1, 2002, evening newspapers were emblazoned with the news that Lal Mohammed alias Laloo, one of the most wanted sectarian terrorists, had been arrested. When confirmation was sought, a reliable source in the police dismissed the information as an “April Fool’s joke” adding cryptically however, that “some important news will come to light in a couple of days.” Two days later, morning newspapers reported that Laloo had been killed in a “police encounter.” Interestingly, a fortnight prior to this incident, the same official had contended that “within the next eight to ten days, some of the splinter groups will be brought together to rein in the others.” Another source confirmed that the so-called “police encounters” in which five sectarian terrorists had been killed in Vehari and Bahawalpur recently, had also been fake.
Law-enforcement personnel also claim that in a recent development, the top tier of the two factions of the Lashkar have decided to set their differences aside. The rift in the LJ had taken place some time back, when certain members reportedly criticised the party’s head honcho, Riaz Basra, for poor planning of operations, with some even accusing him of collusion with intelligence agencies to get their colleagues apprehended. As a result of this infighting, the LJ had split into the Qari Hye and the Riaz Basra factions. With Basra’s arrest, his brother-in-law Akram Lahori became de facto chief of the group.
In the post-Afghanistan scenario, however, with the state apparatus no longer held hostage to a pro-jihad policy, the ground realities are quite different. “Nevertheless,” says a police official, “It is rumoured that Akram Lahori is unhappy with the reconciliation as it compromises his power base. In fact, one theory goes that a recent increase in sectarian killings in the Punjab, from where the Basra group draws most of its activist cadre, is a result of Lahori’s attempt to demonstrate his clout in the organisation.”
The steadily increasing number of victims have made a mockery of the government’s avowed aim to tackle sectarian violence with a firm hand. On the contrary, its actions so far, announced with much fanfare but dwindling swiftly into half-measures, may have served to render extremist elements more elusive than ever. Those entrusted with the task of apprehending them are aware of the risks involved, and their fears are well-founded; several police officials have been murdered, particularly in the Punjab, on account of actively investigating cases of terrorist killings. “These are people who will hunt you down even after your retirement,” says a senior official. “When we apprehend a terrorist, we don’t even want to hold a press conference and announce it for fear of being the next target. And if they can’t get you, they go after your family – look what happened to Ehteshamuddin Haider. He paid with his life for his brother’s stand against religious militants.”
By Naziha Syed Ali And Massoud Ansari
15 FEBRUARY 2002
A few months ago, the Karachi police received an invaluable tip from an informer, the registration number of a motorcycle believed to have been used by Akram Lahori, one of the most notorious sectarian terrorists at large in the country. Tracing the number, they found the vehicle now in possession of a man named Talha, whom they tailed for a day. Their patience paid off; they apprehended him in Malir while riding the motorcycle with one Shahid Mufti. Two other men suspected of links to sectarian organisations were also arrested in the same operation.
Shahid Mufti was a pesh imam (prayer leader) in Malir district’s Noorani Masjid, situated in the Shia majority area of Mohammedi Dera. Virtually every Friday, Shahid Mufti had cases registered against him for his vitriolic, anti-Shia speeches. During interrogation by the police, Mufti confessed to his direct involvement in 11 sectarian murders. His victims included the director research, ministry of defence Zafar Zaidi, the pesh imam of Babul Ilm, Hasnain Naqvi, Dr. Raza Mehdi, one of the many Shia doctors slain in Karachi last year, as well as Dr. Ishrat Hussain, a Sunni who, by virtue of his name, was mistaken for a Shia. Both Talha, who had also had a hand in sectarian murders, and Shahid Mufti, named Akram Lahori as the mastermind behind the killings who had assigned them their targets.
In the course of the investigation, it emerged that Lahori had also given Mufti a picture of the Pakistan State Oil managing director, Shaukat Mirza from a magazine cutting, telling him that the executive was a prominent member of the Shia community who must be eliminated. Lahori directed Mufti to watch the target’s residence in order to observe his routine. When, after some difficulty, he found the PSO executive’s residence, Mufti was discomfited by the presence of the security guards posted outside and, aware that his beard gave him a distinctive appearance, he passed on the job to Talha. But Talha was also chary of carrying out the assassination as he happened to be working in a shop located within the Clifton Shopping Galleria opposite the PSO office building and was thus well known in the area. It is believed that finally Lahori himself pulled the trigger on Shaukat Mirza on July 26, 2001. While it had long been suspected that sectarian activists had slain the PSO managing director, no arrests had been made and the trail had gone cold. Thus, with the arrest of Talha and Shahid Mufti, the Karachi police hit pay dirt. Police sources also contend without hesitation that Lahori was also the hitman in the murder of Ehteshamuddin Haider, Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider’s brother.
Akram Lahori, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s second in command after Riaz Basra, has a price of 40 lakh rupees on his head, including 20 lakhs each placed by the Punjab and Sindh governments. With another 25 lakhs announced as reward money in connection with the murder of Ehteshamuddin Haider, and 25 lakhs more offered by PSO for the arrest of its chief executive’s killer, the head money on Akram Lahori may well add up to 90 lakh rupees.
A manual issued by the Crime Investigation Department (CID), Punjab, listing the “the most dangerous terrorists” describes Lahori, who is also Riaz Basra’s brother-in-law, as between 32 and 33 years of age, 6 foot one inch tall with a heavy build and fair complexion. Ironically for a man believed responsible for masterminding and committing scores of cold-blooded murders, he is also mentioned as being “extremely soft-spoken.” According to the manual, Lahori was last seen in November 1999 in Lahore.
Following a steep increase in sectarian murders over the past few years, including some horrific massacres of worshippers in mosques, a ban had been announced on the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ), and the Shia sectarian organisation Sipah-e-Mohammed back in August 2001. Nevertheless, until January 12, 2002, when President Musharraf also banned their respective parent organisations, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and the Tehrik-e-Jaffaria Pakistan (TJP), along with Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Tanzeem-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammedi, activists of both outfits continued to be provided safe havens in imposing madrassas that were veritable states within the state. To add insult to injury, police mobiles used to be stationed outside the premises of all major extremist organisations’ offices for “protection” of those within, while innocent, unarmed citizens outside paid with their lives. Says a senior police official: “Our officers were very careful and diplomatic in their investigations, so no real threat was created for jihadi and sectarian organisations. In fact, the police automatically refrained when they saw the involvement of a major extremist organisation; individuals were a different story. If we took any action against SSP activists, they would start contacting different tiers in the government and drum up so much support that we would be compelled to retreat.”
During December 2000, when SSP activists resorted to violence and vandalism upon being prevented from taking out a procession in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, they were promptly arrested by the then SSP East, Captain Mir Zubair. Shortly after, he received orders to free the detainees. Upon his refusal to comply, a top police official, who was himself reportedly following directives from intelligence sources, personally intervened to ensure the men’s release. SSP Zubair was transferred from his post within the next few weeks.
Over the years, the sponsoring of jihadi organisations in the country by intelligence agencies to further foreign policy objectives had given rise to a culture of extreme religious myopia, and with the easy accessibility of weapons, activists of these organisations began to literally get away with murder and other heinous crimes. Says a federal law-enforcement official: “The intelligence agencies were not directly giving shelter to sectarian outfits; these were taking advantage of the support for the jihadi groups and using it to fight their own proxy wars. There were two aspects to this situation; one was not approved by the public or the state, while the other was state-sponsored.”
According to another official, “There was a method to this madness. When Vajpayee came to Lahore during Nawaz Sharif’s time, right-wing parties, such as the Jamaat-i-Islami protested strongly. The establishment did not support the government’s policy at the time. Now, although Musharraf is prepared to offer much more, there are no agitational politics apart from a few statements in the newspapers. Why?”
The situation today has indeed changed dramatically. Gone are the police mobiles positioned outside places such as the SSP’s headquarters at Nagan Chowrangi. “There was a time when even 20 mobiles could have gone there and done nothing against them because of the party’s links with jihadi organisations and some members of the establishment,” says a federal law-enforcement official. “Yet on the day of the crackdown, two mobiles were enough to haul off to jail all those present at the Nagan Chowrangi office and seal the premises. In fact, we encountered no resistance anywhere.”
According to sources, some SSP activists said that had only the Sunni organisations been targeted while the Shia ones continued their business unhindered, there would have been a strong reaction. The deafening silence from the public over the action also helped render the operation fairly smooth. As undoubtedly did the fact that the MQM is delighted with the crackdown against the religious parties that had seduced many of their supporters and hard-core militants into deserting their ranks and joining the jihadi organisations. Sources disclose that MQM militants began to switch over to jihadi organisations when “they realised that having a beard in Pakistan gave them a licence to get away with virtually anything.” As a result, the funds which they gleaned from various means, including extortion, and the sale of sacrificial hides collected during Eidul Azha – one of the major sources of revenue – had dried up considerably, instead going into the kittys of the religious organisations whose militants were too numerous for the MQM activists to counter.
In the ongoing operation, around 2000 activists belonging to the five banned organisations have so far been arrested and detained under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) across the country, including approximately 300 in Karachi. It was only once before that such a crackdown was launched against sectarian organisations and that was ordered by Shahbaz Sharif in the mid-’90s in the Punjab, in retaliation for which the Sipah-e-Sahaba carried out an abortive assassination attempt on the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. For the first time, head money was placed on various wanted sectarian terrorists by the Punjab police. At the top of the list was Riaz Basra, chief of one faction of the LJ on whose arrest 50 lakh rupees has been offered as reward money. A few months ago, Basra was reportedly arrested from Faisalabad on information obtained from another terrorist with 10 lakh rupees head money. Although his arrest has not yet been formally announced, police sources say that he is, in all probability, in the custody of intelligence agencies. After the action in the Punjab, the LJ, in respect of training if not operations, moved to Afghanistan, where the Taliban welcomed it with open arms. According to the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Farooq Awan, Crime Investigation Department (CID), Sindh, “The Taliban had given Qari Hye, who leads a rival faction of the Lashkar, an office in their defence ministry. The US war on Afghanistan has done incalculable damage to the organisation. Now neither Afghanistan nor the madrassas in Pakistan can afford it a safe haven.”
The ban ensures that when and if these activists are released, their activities will be severely curtailed. They will not be permitted to make speeches, take out rallies, display their parties’ flags, operate bank accounts belonging to their organisations or print propagandist literature in their name. Most crucial for them perhaps, they will no longer be able to openly solicit any funds, which they have done over the years in contravention of the Charitable Funds (Regulation of Collections) Act, 1953, that expressly forbids collection for charitable funds without approval from the relevant government authority. The penalty for violation of this Act is imprisonment for up to six months and/or a fine. However, as the hundreds of donation boxes placed at various points in all 106 districts across the country were evidence, any legal niceties were given short shrift by the organisations themselves while the authorities also turned a blind eye. Other lucrative sources of income for the extremist organisations were the practice of extortion (‘bhatta’) from commercial establishments, “qabza” (illegally occupied) properties besides of course, the sale of hides of animals sacrificed at the festival of Eidul Azha, which will be celebrated later this month.
The paltry amounts of money discovered in the seized donation boxes as well as in the frozen bank accounts indicate that the organisations had foreseen the ban and taken preemptive action. “US pressure on the Pakistan government after September 11 had led to the freezing of over 50 accounts belonging to Afghan and pro-Afghan organisations such as Harkatul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammed,” says a source. “It was quite logical for other militant organisations to conclude that the government may do the same with them so most withdrew the contents of their accounts.” Besides their aggressive fund collection drives within the country, militant organisations are aflush with contributions from Deobandi school acolytes from Saudi Arabia and have also been raising funds in the UK, US and the Gulf countries. “The bank accounts held by the Jaish-e-Mohammed alone in various banks amounted to 172,813,000 rupees some time before they were frozen,” reveals a source. However, when action was taken late last year, only a fraction of this amount was discovered. For instance, one of Jaish-e-Mohammed’s accounts, in the Muslim Commercial Bank Peshawar branch, contained only 900 rupees. “These groups may have either transferred the money to unknown places or deposited it in the name of their low-key supporters who also had the cover of business concerns,” contends another source.
However, it is pertinent to note that much of the transactions also took place on an informal level. When the SSP’s Karachi finance secretary was arrested after the murder of Sunni Tehreek chief Saleem Qadri, he revealed that his organisation received 32 lakh rupees a year from Karachi for the purposes of posting bail, assisting its imprisoned activists and the families of deceased activists. This entire amount was reportedly kept as “amanat” (safe custody) with one Maulvi Saadur Rehman, head of a religious school in Karachi and the withdrawals were made through written messages. According to the finance secretary, some time before the SSP activist Arshad Polka was shot dead in the aftermath of Saleem Qadri’s murder, he was caught with an unlicenced pistol. The 20,000 rupees bribe allegedly given to the police to let him off was also obtained from Maulvi Rehman. The lawyers fighting the cases of arrested LJ activists are also paid from this source. Even where the transfer of large amounts of money from foreign countries is concerned, the traditional method of hundi is preferred over formal bank transfers.
Another indication of the fact that the ban did not come as a surprise was the fact that at the concerned organisations’ offices, even at their headquarters which were usually bristling with arms, virtually no weapons were recovered. Madrassas such as Jamia Farooqia used to be akin to forts, where the minarets served as lookouts for armed guards. Speculates a police official: “They must have stashed their weapons away with people sympathetic to their cause. Although we have not yet recovered any substantial cache of arms, they are out there somewhere and we will find them one day.” He adds that while unregistered weapons were used in crimes, many of the weapons that were openly displayed and were ostensibly for security purposes were registered. “In fact, armed intelligence agency personnel accompanied the entourage of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar.”
Despite the low recovery of weapons or funds in this latest operation, the arrest of significantly larger numbers of activists that has been continuing since August 2001 when the LJ and the Sipah-e-Mohammed were banned has led to some light being shed on some hitherto unsolved murders. When Dilawar Hussain (head money five lakh rupees) was taken into custody, he told the police that one Abu Bakr alias Chacha, a British national of Pakistani origin, had arrived in Pakistan from London en route to the LJ’s training camp at Sarobi, Afghanistan where he had donated about eight lakh rupees to Qari Hye’s faction. Before he left for London last year, Abu Bakr expressed his wish to participate in “physical jihad”. Asif Ramzi, chief of Qari Hye’s faction in Karachi, selected the target and provided him with the weapon and the car for the operation.
Accompanied by two others, including Dilawar, Abu Bakr in a drive, by shooting outside Jamia Imamia in Gulbahar, Karachi, killed a cook employed at the madrassa and one of the students. This was reportedly the first crime by LJ terrorists in which a silencer was used. While Ramzi remains a hunted man, the driver of the car, Rashid Andha, who had a price of five lakh rupees on his head, has since been apprehended through an informant’s tip. Abu Bakr returned to London after the incident, but there is no confirmation whether he remained there or returned to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against the US forces.
Although the crackdown has so far been a fairly comprehensive one, and may well bring about a decrease in sectarian killings, there are splinter groups that operate according to their own agenda and are thus difficult to preempt. For instance, a group of four Shia men, Qasim Zaidi, Hasan, Mushtaq and Mehdi Hasan, were arrested in connection with a firing incident at Rehmania madrassa in which four people were killed. When they were interrogated, it was found that they were not, as might have been expected, members of Sipah-e-Mohammed, the TJP’s militant wing. Although they confessed to the murders, they maintained that they had decided to commit them because they were enraged by the frequent sectarian killings of fellow Shias. According to a senior police official, “The Sipah-e-Mohammed is not such a cohesive force as it was until about 1995. It was very active then and worked under various different names such as Pasban-e-Islam, Sipah-e-Imam-e-Zamana. Then many of their leaders were arrested in 1996 in Karachi. Their main leader, Zulqarnain Haider, is still at large.”
For many terrorists, the driving force is their twisted concept of jihad rather than any material gain from their actions. Shahid Mufti, for instance, was paid only 500 rupees a month plus some more for expenses if he required. When he was arrested, along with Talha, he expressed no remorse for taking so many lives; on the contrary, he spoke of his “accomplishments” with pride. Such sentiments are openly expressed in publications such as LJ’s Intiqam-e-Haq, in which the organisation flaunts its role in sectarian murders.
Meanwhile, the Sunni Tehreek, which is a Barelvi organisation unlike the SSP, LJ and the other jihadi organisations that belong to the Deobandi sect, has been placed under observation. In the words of a police official, “That’s probably the most uncomfortable situation to be in. The SSP and TJP were earlier under observation and now they’re banned; the Sunni Tehreek knows they can’t take this lightly.” He says that although the party was initially a terrorist wing of the MQM, it is now mainly engaged in taking over mosques of other sects and building mosques on encroached land. “Nevertheless, you can be sure that their dossiers are being compiled and their phones tapped.”
While the government appears to be serious in its aim of putting an end to the politics of extremism, merely arresting the militant cadres of the offending organisations will not prove to be enough. They cannot be kept behind bars for an indefinite period under the MPO. A sea change needs to be brought about at the grass roots level so that no more of the country’s youth is drawn into their ranks. The forthcoming festival of Eidul Azha will be the first real test for the military government, for this is the occasion when militant outfits fill their coffers with the sale of sacrificial hides. If the interior ministry’s estimate that approximately 5000 militants belong to the five banned organisations is correct, one can safely assume there will still be many more takers for the hides.