KARACHI – Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), the Pakistani organization on which the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) imposed sanctions two weeks ago, on suspicion of being involved in terror activity, insists that it is a charity and that it will challenge the ban at the International Court of Justice.
India requested that the Security Council proscribe JuD saying it harbored "terrorists," and alleged that the organization was a front for the militant Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group, believed to be involved in the Mumbai terror attacks on Nov. 26-29.
JuD leader Hafiz Saeed, prior to his being placed under house arrest by Pakistani authorities, denied any involvement in the Mumbai attacks that left close to 200 people dead. "We will challenge the decision at the International Court of Justice. We do not beg, we demand justice."
In a telephone interview to IPS, the JuD spokesman, Abdullah Muntazir, said the organization was also "preparing an appeal in the Lahore High Court against the detention" of Saeed.
Besides the sanctions, the UN had also declared four leaders of the JuD, including Saeed and suspected Mumbai attack mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi as terrorists. Member states were asked to freeze the organization’s assets.
The UN sanctions package against the JuD came as New Delhi put pressure on Islamabad to crack down on armed militant groups allegedly operating out of Pakistani soil.
Last May, the United States, followed by Britain and France, had twice sought to have Saeed placed on a watch list of individuals and organizations connected to terrorism, but the moves were blocked by China. A similar attempt in April 2006 was also blocked by Beijing.
Bowing to international pressure and to prevent possible action by the Security Council Sanctions Committee to label it a terrorist state, the Pakistan government, last week, sealed JuD offices and put Saeed under house-arrest.
Islamabad complains that New Delhi has ignored requests to share information and evidence on the Mumbai terror attacks.
"If India does not share information about the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan will pursue a procedure to delist the banned organization [JuD] at an appropriate time," said Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi who has reportedly said the welfare work of JuD will not be closed down.
However, the US reacted by stepping up pressure with secretary of state Condoleezza Rice asking Islamabad to "adhere" completely to the Security Council’s ban on the outfit.
Since 2005, the UN Sanctions Committee has considered the LeT to be a terrorist organization affiliated to al-Qaeda.
Muntazir said: "I would like to make it clear that JuD has no relations with al-Qaeda or the Taliban and that the UNSC sanctions committee violated its mandate by proscribing JuD."
Pakistan banned the LeT in 2002 but experts say it continues to operate under different names.
The ban was an "eyewash" according to Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri, a Pakistani journalist working for the Dubai-based Khaleej Times, who blames the intelligence agencies for keeping alive the jihadi culture.
"There is no reason to doubt a nexus existed between the LeT and the JuD. This was the handiwork of intelligence agencies, that, one way or the other, want to keep the nuisance of violent jihad in our midst and in the body politic of the country," said Mehkri.
There seems to be some truth in India’s charges that the Pakistan government’s action in cracking down on the terrorist group has been half-hearted, say some experts.
Muntazir said: "The government is in a fix and does not want to annoy anyone and thus keeps backtracking. It makes political statements to appease the masses but its actions are different."
Seasoned journalist Zahid Hussain said the government will ultimately have to take the difficult decision of "coming down hard on militants, if not to appease the international community then in its own national interest."
For the past 20 years, said Hussain, both the military and the elected governments patronized militants. "It was a tool used by the state to run its foreign policy" with regard to Kashmir and Afghanistan.
As tensions mount between Pakistan and India over the Mumbai attack, many analysts in Pakistan echo Hussain’s sentiments saying that if Pakistan’s political leaders can unite against militancy, in the same way they have against India over the last one month, the country would not be in the present mess.
In his book Frontline Pakistan, Hussain wrote that thousands of extremists, at that time known as "freedom fighters," were involved in the violence in Kashmir with the knowledge and support of army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
"There is a soft corner for these people," said Hussain as there are many in the military who feel "they fought for us."
Post 9/11, the US put pressure on former military dictator Pervez Musharraf to disband all militant organizations Outfits like the Jaish Mohammad, Harkatul Mujahideen, Laskhar-e-Jhangvi went underground, metamorphosed and reemerged as smaller factions.
According to Mehkri, the sole purpose of these militant outfits is to "keep the dominance of the military-intelligence agencies over civil society and parliament’s decision-making. You see, they act whenever mandated by invisible hands."
Mehkri saw significance in the fact that the Mumbai attack came within 48 hours of President Asif Ali Zardari talking publicly about peace with India and offering a "no first strike," a "nuke-free South Asia" and a "no-war" pact with India. "All these pacts would have put army in the back-gear and this is antithesis to the military psyche which thrives on India phobia."
However, Hussain said: "The LeT was always very different. It never took on a confrontational stance against the government and never challenged the latter’s writ and authority."
When it was banned, Lashkar’s supreme leader Hafiz Saeed apparently broke all ties with the LeT and became JuD’s head. LeT’s public face was that of the JuD (formed way back in 1989) which developed influence by carrying out charitable activities, especially in the aftermath of the October 2005 Kashmir earthquake.
Denying that JuD was a front for the LeT, Muntazir said: "We were never one, this is a misperception. We were two separate entities but considered one in the media and by the public. We were cooperating with the LeT because it was not unlawful in Pakistan. When it became unlawful we stopped cooperating."
After the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, in December 2001, Musharraf banned the JuD. The charity then challenged this ban in the Lahore High Court, which, after finding no links between the JuD and the Let, acquitted the charity.
The recent crackdown makes Muntazir anxious. "When there is no leader to steer it, the organization may break up and miscreants can make use of the situation."
Muntazir is worried that the JuD will be "will be unable to continue with their charitable activities if the ban continues." According to Muntazir, the JuD runs 156 dispensaries, eight hospitals and 12 blood banks. They have also set up scores of free medical and surgical camps in areas where there are no health facilities available.
In addition, JuD runs 160 free schools and 50 madrassas (seminaries) for over 35,000 students, providing 3,500 families a monthly stipend starting from a minimum of Rs 3,500 to Rs 8,000 (44 – 100 US dollars).
"Our major and minor funding comes from the people of Pakistan. Our work force, even our volunteers, have disappeared fearing arrests and we cannot contact anyone with the communication system completely disrupted," Muntazir said.