When Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar announced the formation of his new outfit Khudam-ul-Islam last week, he was basically trying to conceal his diminishing clout over his cadre. The fact is, militant and intelligence circles say, the Jaish has split over whether or not to attack US interests in Pakistan.
Pitted against Masood is his erstwhile right-hand man, Maulana Abdul Jabbar alias Maulana Umer Farooq, who's wanted by Pakistani authorities in connection with deadly attacks on a Taxila hospital and a missionary school in Murree. Unlike Masood, Jabbar refuses to kowtow to the military establishment's order of not attacking US interests in Pakistan.
It's Jabbar who now controls the dominant faction of Jaish, renamed last year as Jamaat-ul-Furqaan. The need for a new name arose because the US state department had placed the Jaish on its terrorist watchlist and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had promised in his speech on January 12, 2002, to ban extremist organisations. (For all practical purposes, though, Jamaat-ul-Furqaan is still popularly known as Jaish.) The decision to float Khudam is Azhar's ruse to portray he has not lost control over the Jaish—and has instead chosen to establish a new outfit.
Apart from these two factions, militant and intelligence circles say the Jaish has broken into many splinter groups which have chosen to defy the military establishment's diktat of not attacking US interests. These smaller groups have gone underground, fanning tremendous anxiety among intelligence circles. It's feared that these Jaish dissidents, largely anonymous and beyond control, have spread countrywide and are desperate to avenge the Taliban's fall and the arrest of Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.
The split in Jaish, however, is also a story of bitter wranglings over the organisation's finances. Jaish insiders accuse Masood and his cohorts of misusing the organisation's resources to enrich themselves. When Jaish-e-Mohammad was founded, al-Rasheed Trust (also blacklisted by the state department) donated Rs 20 million ($360,000) as seed money. Later, thousands joined the outfit and helped raise funds, at times to the tune of Rs 10 lakh in a single day. A substantial percentage of this money was spent on establishing training camps and paying those families whose members had been killed in J&K.
Yet, simultaneously, the lifestyle of many Jaish leaders had become incredibly lavish. For instance, Masood, who hails from a lower-class family that resided in a slummy area of Bahawalpur, Punjab, moved to the city's posh Model Colony. He and his cohorts began driving around in Land Cruisers and Land Rovers along with their retinues of gunmen. The Jabbar faction alleges that Masood also appointed his relatives and friends to supervise the Jaish's mushrooming assets—seminaries, publications, offices and bungalows. His blatant favouritism and lavish lifestyle irked those who had spent grim years in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Murmurs of dissent first surfaced at the time Masood decided to remain silent over Musharraf's U-turn on Afghanistan post-September 11. Several prominent Jaish members favoured retaliatory attacks against US interests to pressure Musharraf against supporting Bush. Masood refused to relent. Many Jaish members quietly went over to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban; some even brought back Arab fighters to Pakistan and provided them shelter. Though these members didn't leave the Jaish, insiders say differences in approach inaugurated a period of 'cold war' in the organisation.
Not willing to wait any longer for Masood's approval, the dissident group launched a spate of attacks on what it called US interests. The more violent of these were on a Christian school in Murree and a missionary hospital in Taxila.Early 2003, the police arrested Saifur Rehman Saifi who was responsible for Jaish's upper Punjab operations. During interrogation Saifi revealed that he had been asked by Jabbar to launch attacks, including suicide missions, on US interests.
This disclosure prompted Masood to begin the purge. By June, Jabbar had been expelled, as also the outfit's Karachi chief, Abdullah Shah Mazhar. In July, Azhar wrote to the Punjab governor informing him that he had expelled 12 Jaish leaders, that he was no longer responsible for their action and that they were sectarian terrorists who should be arrested instead of being allowed to regroup.
Masood's letter was essentially an acceptance of the split in the organisation. For, Abdullah Shah Mazhar had already got himself nominated as the nazim-e-aala (chief organiser) and secretary-general of the splinter group. In fact, a month before Masood wrote to the Punjab governor, clashes over control of mosques had already begun. For instance, Masood was disallowed from delivering a Friday sermon at the Binori town mosque in Karachi. Another scuffle between the two factions was reported at a mosque in Korangi, Karachi. In this round the Masood faction triumphed.
The internecine squabbles erupted into a gunfight between the contending factions on June 22. Then Masood had wanted to deliver a sermon at Masjid-e-Batha in Sakhi Hassan, Karachi. His arrival sparked a veritable battle between the two factions, each keen to gain control over the mosque and the adjoining seminary. Ultimately, the police intervened but not before several militants were injured.
Abdullah Mazhar Shah has been quoted in a newspaper reports as saying, "Seven out of 10 members of the Jaish supreme council, which Maulana Azhar claims favoured him, have dissociated from him. I am one of them...Azhar has nothing to do with the party now. Our main difference with Azhar was that he deviated from the cause of jehad—the party was created for waging jehad to liberate Kashmir. Unlike Azhar and his masters in the Pakistani intelligence agencies, we are not ready to compromise on that."
However, Masood's younger brother, Maulana Abdur Rauf, who's also his assistant and lives in Islamabad, says Jabbar and Mazhar have no concern for jehad and merely want to grab the organisation's assets. He told Outlook: "We've taken up the issue of grabbing of mosques owned by the Jaish at the higher level and we'll get their possession sooner or later." The tussle over turf, many fear, could prove bloodier than the June incidents.
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