How significant is Jaish-e-Muhammad in Kashmir today?

The killing of Masood Azhar’s nephew Talha Rashid notwithstanding, broader data show the Jaish-e-Muhammad is behind both the Lashkar and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in the Kashmir jihad.

Written by Praveen Swami | Updated: November 10, 2017 9:35 am
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IN the hours after he learned that a nephew had been shot dead in a remote Kashmir village, Masood Azhar Alvi began writing a strange elegy to violent death: “The martyr’s sins are forgiven when the first drop of his blood falls”, he wrote, “and he is spared the agony of the grave, the terrors of the day of judgment; he is married to seventy two virgins; his family granted God’s mercy. His head wears a crown of honour, any one of the gems studding it more valuable than all this world”.

This week’s killing of teenage jihadist Talha Rashid in an encounter at the village of Aglar Kandi, near Pulwama, has been seen as evidence that Azhar’s Jaish-e-Muhammad is emerging, again, as a significant actor on Kashmir’s jihadist stage. The data show it isn’t — its competitors, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, remain the principal forces waging the Kashmir jihad.

But Talha Rashid’s death helps understand the real significance of the Jaish. For years now, it has functioned as the hard core of the Kashmir jihad, focussing on dramatic operations like the attacks on Parliament House and the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in 2001, the Indian diplomatic mission in Mazar-e-Sharif, and the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot last year.

Each of its major operations has had strategic consequences for India-Pakistan relations, in ways that those of other terrorist groups haven’t. Now, with Kashmir’s jihadists battered by the highest numbers of fatalities they have suffered since 2010, its role is more important than ever.

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The story of the young jihadist killed in Aglar Kandi features this week in the Jaish’s weekly magazine, al-Qalam, in an article published alongside Azhar’s thoughts on martyrdom. Talha Saif, Azhar’s kin and close aide, records that Rashid approached him last year, saying his parents had granted him permission to join the jihad in Kashmir. They had, however, imposed one condition: that Rashid first quality as an alim, or religious scholar, before he left — a sign, possibly, that the young man had little interest in his faith before then.

“I won’t study this year, and instead spend it getting myself fit through training,” the young jihadist begged Talha Saif. “Then, I’ll come back at the end of the year, study a bit, and pass the exam.”

Also Read | Masood Azhar’s nephew killed in Pulwama; US-made M4 rifle found at hideout was online propaganda weapon

Early this year, intelligence sources say, Talha Rashid was despatched across the Line of Control as part of a group of around two dozen Jaish — a squad chosen to stage periodic fidayeen operations, to shore up the morale of local jihadists. The men, mainly in their mid-20s, and sometimes veterans with past records in Kashmir, have carried out some of the most high-profile actions this year — among them, an attack in Pulwama that claimed the lives of eight police personnel, and a strike near Srinagar airport.

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“I could argue with Rashid,” Talha Saif wrote, “but not with his honest tears. He only wanted martyrdom”.

Talha Rashid’s trajectory contrasts, in some respects, with that of his chief. The child of a cleric — one of five sons and six daughters — Masood Azhar dropped out of school after class 8, and joined the Jamia Islamia seminary in Karachi. He studied uninterrupted until 1989, graduating as an alim. Later, Azhar was sent to train at the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen’s camp in Yawar, Afghanistan, but he could not complete the 40-day course as he was overweight.

In the years that followed, Azhar travelled the world, raising funds from Somalia to the United Kingdom, before his arrest in India in 1994. Freed from prison in return for the lives of passengers on the hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC-814 at the end of 1999, he went on to found the Jaish — now housed in a sprawling, 10 acre campus in Bahawalpur.

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Hard data on the Jaish’s presence in Kashmir do not exist — but figures that are available suggest that expanding its base there isn’t one of the organisation’s priorities. Between January 1 and October 31 this year, 182 terrorists have been killed in Jammu & Kashmir, including 102 foreign terrorists. Sixty nine of the foreign terrorists could not be identified because no identifying particulars were recovered. Twenty one, however, were conclusively identified as members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and 12 of the Jaish. Last year, no killed terrorist was identified definitely as Jaish; the Lashkar, by contrast, lost 13 men. In 2015, both groups lost six each.

In South Kashmir, the heartland of the Jaish campaign, only 11 of the terrorists killed so far this year belonged to Jaish — even though for the group itself, this has been its worst year in terms of casualties in over a decade. Last year, Jammu & Kashmir Police figures show, the corresponding numbers were five out of 35; in 2015, eight out of 34; and in 2014, two out of 23. No Jaish militant was among the 10 each killed in 2013 and 2012; in 2011, they were three out of 18.

For the most part, the group operates through the Hizb, using the mainly ethnic Kashmiri group’s networks to facilitate the logistics needed to stage fidayeen strikes. Hizb field commanders like Riyaz Naikoo, Saddam Padder and Altaf Kachru have all collaborated with the Jaish, although the group maintains a distance from their cadre.

Khalid Tantray, a Tral resident sentenced to life imprisonment in 2003 and released from prison on parole in 2015, is believed by Kashmir-based intelligence officials to be among the few ethnic Kashmiris entrenched in the Jaish.

From the point of view of Pakistan’s intelligence services, the Jaish is a crucial tool. Ever since 26/11, the Lashkar — and its ties to Pakistani intelligence — have been under intense international scrutiny. As it now nudges the Lashkar leadership into becoming a pro-army Islamist political force, the value of the Jaish as an instrument of covert warfare has increased for the intelligence establishment.

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Since 2010, the Jaish has worked hard to attract cadre like Talha Rashid — young men who, unlike the Lashkar’s rank-and-file, often have a rigorous religious education and hail from families with long jihadist traditions. Emerging from years of repression under General Pervez Musharraf — who sought to shut down the group after it challenged his efforts to make a deal with India on Kashmir — the organisation purged leaders who had flirted with al-Qaeda, and set about rebuilding its infrastructure.

Ghulam Murtaza, a veteran jihadist, was given charge of the al-Rahmat Trust, a charity once run by Allah Baksh, the father of Masood Azhar. The trust began soliciting funds in Pakistan and the Gulf monarchies to build mosques and seminaries. In 2010, a Jaish publication said the trust was paying pensions to the families of at least 850 imprisoned or killed jihadists.

Last year, The Indian Express revealed that Jaish cadre were openly raising funds in Karachi, even though the organisation has been banned since 2002. Its leaders have also been speaking at functions held to commemorate cadre killed in Kashmir, urging new recruits to volunteer to fight.

After the Pathankot Air Base attack last year, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to rein in the Jaish by placing Masood Azhar under what was called “protective detention”. The effort failed — the Jaish’s patrons in the Pakistan military have made sure no prosecution against the perpetrators has taken place.

Few believe that is going to change any time soon.

praveen.swami@indianexpress.com

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  1. Sangeeta Mehrotra
    Nov 13, 2017 at 12:21 am
    Jaish or Hizb - THEY ARE being eliminated. That's what matters.
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      CBA
      Nov 11, 2017 at 12:31 am
      The concept of barbaric Quran has divided the total human being into two classes like believers and non believers. Muslims are believers and rest are non-believers. As the whole world is Allah's world, so all the assets of the world won by the Muslims at any cost. So Muslims think that they are in a very right path to rape, snatch, loot, p er, force conversion, beheading of other religious people(men) and occupy assets of other religious people. So they employed themselves to do the best of their effort for last 1400 years and became successful to bring them at least 56 Muslim countries. They are carrying out their ideas latest in Kashmir and became successful by annihilating the Pandits from Kashmir. But the truth is that from any Indian States Muslims are not annihilated. This is the tragedy of civilized people of the world against the uncivilized people(Muslims) of the world. India will bear such type of tragedy how long I don't know. Hindus dare not to say India is for Hindus.
      (15)(0)
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      1. C
        CBA
        Nov 11, 2017 at 12:30 am
        There is no medicine for Jihadists to control them as long as they follow the barbaric Quran which contains at least 300 Jihadi verses. As they follow it so these are the root of all terrorism globally for the last 1400 years on the earth. In any decision politically taken it will not be effective as long as they are ousted or their ideology is not ousted. 1947 was a great chance to eliminate this Jihadists to eliminate but not availed by narrow minded and short sighted Gandhi and Nehru. So India is suffering and shall suffer for ever. Gandhi-Nehru forgot the history of converted Arabian and Converted Indian. So only solution for the peace of India as well as for valley is to eliminate this evil Jihadi forces. All Muslims must be Jihadi according to their Quran and the Jihadi must be rewarded by 72 Hurs and 20 cute boys(for homosex) in Jannatul Ferdous according to Quran. So for these Hurs and cute boys every Muslims(men) take part in Jihad against all other religious people.
        (7)(0)
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        1. C
          CBA
          Nov 11, 2017 at 12:29 am
          Indian Khangress are the pioneer for creating ISIS activists in India and they flew to Syria to destroy valuable assets and innocent people. Because this party since 1947 indulged the Muslim terrorist by their much more appea t politics. They got indulged and created terror hub in many parts of India. They created Zakir Naik who vomited many many lectures and preached hate among Muslims. Although Muslims are Jihadi/terrorist as they follow quran which has at least 300 Jihadi verses. But due to political indulgence of sickular Khangress to Zakir Nai, the best hate preached could add more fuel to the fire. They also indulged every section of the society to hate the Hinduism and glorify the Jihadi ideology of Islam specially the film industry of Bombay. They created many many fabricated stories against Hinduism and tried to glorify the Jihadi Islam in many ways. They also taught the false history to Indians in Schools. So, Muslims got encouraged to be more radical like ISIS, LET, SIMI
          (13)(0)
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          1. C
            CBA
            Nov 11, 2017 at 12:28 am
            Muslims are by nature terrorists/Jihadists as they follow Quranic verses/Satanic verses. Today they may be or pretend to be calm and quiet but when they get chance, I mean they become 51 percent, then they show their original nature. This is the only lesson from Muslims. They have been doing the brutality on the civilized people for last 1400 years. The Islamic History is the answer. Any kind of evil is legal in the name of Islam. From Atlantic ocean to Pacific Ocean, they practiced the massacre, brutality, rape, p ering assets of others, occupying of assets of others, slaughtering of other religious people(male) and force conversion of women anc children since 712 AD by the direct influence of Quran. So, this book is the only problem to the civilized people of the world because everything evil is legal by the law of this book. Peace is only possible in the world if they amend this Quran by dropping at least 300 Jihadi verses and all other irrelevant section or if they quit Islam.
            (12)(0)
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