Recent public contacts by top Pakistani army and security officials with jihadi organisations and leaders have triggered fears the security establishment in Rawalpindi could be rolling back a move to distance itself from such entities, people familiar with the development said on Saturday.
On December 27, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, the chief Pakistani military spokesman, received a hero’s welcome when he visited the notorious Jamia Rashidia madrassa in the southern port city of Karachi, which has ties with the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and was once linked to the 2002 abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
Ghafoor, an avid user of social media, didn’t make any public posting on the visit but photos posted on Twitter showed him being mobbed and embraced by students of the seminary that was founded by late Mufti Mohammad Rashid, also the founder of Al Rashid Trust that has been designated a terrorist entity by the UN and the US.
The military spokesman had accompanied Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa on a trip to Karachi this week.
Pearl’s body was found in May 2002 in a grave on property owned by Al Rashid Trust, about 500 yards from Jamia Rashidia, which was once believed to also have links to al-Qaeda.
Earlier this month, officers of the Pakistan Rangers met Aurangzeb Farooqi, chief of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a front for the notorious Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) that has killed hundreds of members of Pakistan’s Shia minority. The officer cadre of the Pakistan Rangers is drawn from the army.
The SSP re-emerged as ASWJ after it was banned by former president Pervez Musharraf in 2002. The ASWJ, in turn, was banned by the Pakistan government in 2012. Both groups are on the updated list of proscribed organisations of the National Counter Terrorism Authority.
The Pakistani news website, Naya Daur, reported on the meeting between the Pakistan Rangers officers and Farooqi on December 23, saying they had met the ASWJ chief to ‘offer condolences on the death of his father’.
In recent months, the senior ASWJ leader has been spotted meeting with senior army officers at a base in North Waziristan. Photos doing the rounds on social media show Ludhianvi being presented a memento by a senior officer.
Ludhianvi is also joint secretary of Defa-e-Pakistan Council, an umbrella grouping of jihadi and extremist organisations that was put together by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed.
Other photos doing the rounds on social media show officers of the Frontier Corps meeting Ramzan Mengal, a leader of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), designated a terror organisation by the US and the UN. The LeJ was formed by former members of the SSP.
In recent years, the Pakistani military had begun distancing itself from jihadi groups and leaders mainly because of pressure from the West and India, said people familiar with the development.
Due to pressure from Western powers and organisations such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Pakistan even banned the Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, both fronts for the LeT, in March this year – something it hadn’t done even after the 2008 Mumbai attacks that were carried out by the LeT.
An Indian security official tracking the latest developments, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: ‘This is a worrying development and although these are early signs, it looks like the Pakistani military’s jihad project is being revived.
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