In Tuesday’s airstrike in Pakistan, India targeted a camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the terrorist group responsible for the attack that killed 40 CRPF men in Pulwama. The attack and the target underline the return to relevance of the outfit.
In recent years, Jaish chief has Masood Azhar sent two of his nephews to Kashmir: Talha Rashid was killed in October 2017 and Usman Haider in 2018. On Tuesday, the government said the Jaish camp struck by the airstrike was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar alias Ustad Ghouri, Azhar’s brother-in-law. Yousuf was one of seven Pakistani nationals who had organised the hijacking of flight IC-814 to Kandahar in 1999. In exchange for the hostages, Masood Azhar (arrested in 1994) and two others were released from jail.
Rise, fall, revival
Jaish is the newest terror group operating out of Pakistan; it was launched in 2000 with men from the Harkat-ul-Ansar which had already carried out major terror strikes in Kashmir. The first was the 1995 abduction of six western tourists through its front Al Faran, carried out with the aim of securing the release of Azhar and Harkat commander Sajad Afghani.
Jaish’s first major strike, in 2000, was also the first suicide bombing in Kashmir and altered the trajectory of militancy. A young local recruit blew up a car at the entrance of the Army’s 15 Corps in Srinagar. Later that year, Jaish sent another suicide bomber (a UK national) to the entrance of Army’s 15 Corps with a explosives-laden car. In October 2001, Jaish attacked the J&K Assembly, so vicious that Pakistan was forced to condemn it. India managed to get Jaish listed as an international terrorist outfit by the UN that month.
On December 13, 2001, Jaish carried out the Parliament attack that pushed India and Pakistan into an eyeball-to-eyeball military situation. On December 26, 2001, Washington declared Jaish a foreign terrorist organisation.
Also read | Why Balakot is a watershed
Then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, under international pressure, launched a crackdown. Pakistan banned Jaish in 2002, but Azhar renamed Jaish as Khudam-ul Islam and then as Al Rehmat Trust as a cover for terror activities.
Jaish split in 2002. This is when Azhar’s family members became vital to its functioning. Pakistan sided with the US in Afghanistan and Azhar’s group hatched plots to kill Musharraf, who survived two attempts in December 2003. This provoked a crackdown, with several Jaish men arrested and hanged by the Pakistani military. Azhar was put under house arrest.
The killing of the entire Jaish top brass in Lolab in 2004, after Indian intelligence sleuths lured them into a trap, routed the outfit in Kashmir. The group didn’t emerge for the next 10 years.
Its revival began with a strike on a military camp in Kupwara in 2014, and the launch of ‘Shaheed Afzal Guru fidayeen’ squads. Major attacks include those in Pathankot and Uri in 2016.
Masood Azhar was born in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, on July 10, 1968, one of 12 children of schoolteacher Bakhsh Shabir; the family ran a dairy and poultry farm. In his book The Virtues of Jehad, Azhar writes that his father had Deobandi leanings. “One of my father’s friends, Mufti Sayeed, was working as a teacher at the Jamia Islamia at the Binori Mosque in Karachi. He prevailed upon my father to admit me to Jamia,” he wrote.
Azhar joined Binori madrasa and was later given a teaching job. Pass-outs from Binori madrasa played a vital role in formation of Taliban in Pakistan besides Harkat-ul Ansar, later named Harkat-ul Mujahideen, the predecessor of Jaish. Leaders of Harkat had great influence on the madrasa. “A leader of Harkat-ul-Ansar, commander Akhtar, had come to invite the principal of the madrasa to visit Afghanistan. The principal, Mufti Ahmadur Rahman, suggested that Azhar should participate in the training course of jihad,” Azhar writes.
Azhar is said to have failed to complete his 40-day military training at a Harkat camp in Afghanistan. He still joined the war against the Russians and was injured. Harkat appointed him head of the department of motivation, and he started editing Harkat publications.
Azhar’s first terrorist act was against the Pakistan Army when he questioned the role of a contingent (which was on a UN mission) against a jihadi group in Somalia. Azhar also met Sajjad Afghani who would become Harkat’s Kashmir chief, later killed in India.
When Harkat decided to operate in Kashmir in 1994, a new group was created by merging Harkat-ul-Mujahideen with splinter group Harkat-e-Jihad-e-Islami. Soon Azhar became Harkat’s general secretary, and its best orator. Harkat introduced foreign cadres, especially Afghan war veterans, into Kashmir.
In his mission of recruitment and fundraising, Azhar visited Zambia, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and the UK. His meeting with Mufti Ismail of a Southall mosque was followed by visits to Mongolia and Albania. He also visited Nairobi and Kenya.
In 1994, Azhar flew into New Delhi from Dhaka as a Gujarat-born Portuguese national, Wali Adam Issa. He left for Deoband with two Harkat men from Kashmir. In Srinagar, he met Harkat commanders Sajad Afghani and Amjad Bilal. Azhar and Afghani went to Anantnag, where they were arrested on February 10.