The HUJI and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) came into existence during the jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet troops. They subsequently merged to form the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA). After the kidnapping of a group of American and other Western tourists in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) by the HUA under the name Al Faran in 1995, the US State Department designated the HUA as a foreign terrorist organisation in October,1997.
Following this, the HUA split and the HUM and the HUJI started functioning once again as independent organisations under their pre-merger names. The HUM became a founding-member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People in February,1998. The HUJI joined it subsequently. The two are also members of the so-called 313 Brigade of the IIF, which has come into existence recently. The other members of the Brigade are the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the HUM (Al-Alami), the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JUM), the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the Jundullah (the Army of Allah), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and an unidentified group from the Xinjiang province of China.
The HUJI has an active branch in Bangladesh, which is identified by the US State Department as HUJI (B). Previously, jihadi recruits from South-East Asia used to go to Pakistan and Afghanistan for training in the training camps located there. Since last year, there have been reports that the HUJI (B) has been entrusted by the IIF with the responsibility for the training of the jihadi recruits from S.E.Asia in training camps in Bangladesh territory. The HUJI of Pakistan also helped the surviving dregs from about 200 jihadis from S.E.Asia, who were helping the Taliban in its fight against the Northern Alliance pre 9/11, to escape to Bangladesh by ship after the US started its military operations in Afghanistan in October,2001.
The HUJI had played an active role in the training of jihadi terrorist elements of the Caucasus region of Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in clandestine camps set up in their respective territory. Its volunteers have also gone to Iraq to participate in the jihad against the US troops there.
Of all the jihadi terrorist organisations of Pakistan, the HUJI and the Hizbut Tehrir have considerable following in the lower and middle ranks of the Armed Forces. In 1995, Gen.Abdul Waheed Kakkar, the then Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), had discovered a plot hatched by a small group of Army officers led by Maj-Gen.Zaheer-ul-Islam Abbasi, who was the head of the station of the Inter-Services Intelligence in the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi in the late 1980s, to stage an uprising, have Gen.Abdul Waheed and Mrs.Benazir Bhutto, the then Prime Minister, assassinated, seize power and proclaim the formation of an Islamic Caliphate in Pakistan.
The HUJI was also found to have been involved in the plot. The implicated officers were all members of the HUJI. The officers and Qari Saifullah Akhtar were arrested. Strangely, while the officers were court-martialled and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, the Qari was released from detention and not proceeded against.
After seizing power on October 12,1999, Musharraf had Abbasi, a close friend of his, released. Since then, Abbasi had been quite active in various Islamist causes.
Next to the late Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai of the Binori Madrasa and Maulana Fazlur Rahman of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI), Qari Saifullah Akhtar was considered the closest to Mullah Muhammed Omar, the Amir of the Taliban. According to sections of the Pakistani media, he was equally close to bin Laden.
When the US started its military action in Afghanistan in October, 2001, the jihadi terrorists of the HUM and the HUJI suffered the largest number of fatal casualties. The surviving dregs including the Qari and Fazlur Rahman Khalil of the HUM, one of the signatories of bin Laden's first fatwa against the USA and Israel, escaped into Pakistan. The Qari escaped from there to Saudi Arabia. After some time, he shifted to Dubai. The Pakistani media has reported that the Pakistani authorities have also arrested Fazlur Rahman Khalil at Islamabad.
It is learnt that the Pakistani authorities came to know of his presence in Dubai during the interrogation of some members of the Jundullah, who have been taken into custody following the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the Corps Commander of Karachi in June,2004. Acting on the information received from the Pakistani authorities, the Dubai authorities located him and picked him up.
Surprisingly, Musharraf never banned the HUJI and never acted against its office-bearers and cadres. After the two attempts to kill him in December last, the Pakistani authorities suspected that the conspiracy to kill Musharraf had been hatched by the Jaish-e-Muhammed (JUM) with the complicity of some junior officers of the Army and the Air Force. The investigations reportedly did not prove the involvement of the JEM. Instead, it reportedly pointed the needle of suspicion at the HUJI and the Qari.
Maulana Abdul Jabbar, chief of the banned militant organisation Khudam-ul-Furqan, a splinter group of the JEM, who was arrested during the investigation, is reported to have been released last week and placed under house arrest.Intriguingly, even while moving for the arrest of the Qari, the Pakistani authorities are reported to have released Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, chief of the HUJI branch in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, whom they had taken into custody sometime ago.
The arrest of the Qari is quite significant. If the Pakistani authorities interrogate him properly, he could throw much light on the post-9/11 activities of Al Qaeda and the Amir of the Taliban. It is quite likely that he will know about the present location of the Taliban Amir. Since the Qari had been living in Dubai, it is likely that Mullah Omar may also be living there.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter.