In the run-up to the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, two trends within Islamism in South Asia are likely to have far-reaching implications for regional politics and security. First, jihadist movements in Pakistan and its neighborhood are increasingly emboldened; their leaderships and core organizations remain largely intact, and their expectations for greater power are rising amid the emerging security vacuum. Second, jihadist movements and the Islamists sympathetic to their goals are increasingly seeking to use political means, including negotiations and elections, to capture power and impose Sharia rule.
Islamism may be described as an ideological orientation which seeks to reshape society and politics through the imposition of a radical understanding of Islam. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Islamists in South Asia have increasingly sought to use not just armed struggle but political means to advance their cause. In Afghanistan, the Taliban appear inclined to accept elections and referendum as a means to capture power and rewrite the country’s constitution. In Pakistan, the success of Egyptian Islamists inspired Dr. Tahirul Qadri, the religious scholar, to end his self-imposed exile in Canada and threaten to unseat the Pakistani government through staging a Tahrir Square-like mass uprising in Islamabad in January 2013. The Islamists’ current turn toward politics does not mean that they have embraced democratic principles or the rule of law. What it does indicate, however, is the Islamist movements' increasing cohesiveness, mobilization capacity, and desire to achieve power.
This paper examines the essential ideological unity of jihadist groups in Pakistan and its neighborhood. These movements include the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the Haqqani Network, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Moreover, it examines how the forthcoming U.S. troop withdrawal has emboldened jihadist commanders, who hope to expand their Islamist struggle to a wider region, including to Kashmir, India and Bangladesh, and possibly also to the Middle East and the United States.
Jihadism’s Essential Unity
Afghan Taliban fighters work under the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar. The Pakistani Taliban militants are united under the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), led by Hakimullah Mehsud. Almost all reports in the Western media describe these organizations as separate and ideologically different; and, there has been widespread expectation in Western capitals that some of them could be persuaded to work against others. In 2010 or 2011, the White House secretly contacted the Haqqani Network to convince them to hold peace talks. In October 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also warned of military action against the Haqqani Network in a bid to force it to negotiate. When attempts for peace talks did not materialize, the U.S. sought to create a wedge between the Haqqani Network and the Mullah Omar-led IEA. The fact that Western media reports began describing the Haqqani Network as aligned with al-Qaeda and "operationally independent" of the Taliban led by Mullah Omar indicates how US policy changed.
Although these groups are active in operational domains, they work for the same ideological objectives. Furthermore, they also share their resources and capabilities in planning and conducting operations. As individual movements, they work to impose Sharia rule in their respective domains, but with the expectation that their Sharia state will ultimately form part of a larger caliphate. As such, they consider themselves to be different parts of the same struggle. Generally, jihadist groups in the Middle East also consider Mullah Omar as Emir-ul-Momineen, or the leader of the faithful, leading the supposed global Islamic caliphate. Even the slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had offered bayah (oath of allegiance) to Mullah Omar. The TTP’s letterhead shows Mullah Omar as the Emir-ul-Momineen and Baitullah Mehsud as its founder.
In a January 2013 video, the TTP Emir Hakimullah Mehsud clarified the distinction between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. He responded, “As regards the Afghani Taliban, Emir-ul-Momineen is our Emir too, is Emir of the Afghan Taliban, and is Emir of al-Qaeda too.... He is Emir of all Muslims. And all praise be to Allah, we have accepted him as Emir with a true heart. There is no question of relations regarding this.” He explained the Taliban's relationship with al-Qaeda: “We are waging jihad under the command of only one Emir. Similarly, al-Qaeda men are our brothers. And we are ready to offer any type of sacrifice with them. They are our muhajireen [immigrants] brothers and we are their ansar [supporters].… When respected Emir Sheikh Osama bin Laden was martyred in Pakistan, our first emotion was that we will take his revenge, and we took it and we will continue to do so in future.”
The IEA has published statements reiterating that the Haqqani Network is part of the Taliban. In 2011, Sirajuddin Haqqani released an audio interview to counter propaganda that his group was not functioning under Mullah Omar, stating, “The respected Emir-ul-Momineen Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid is our supreme leader. We follow his directives. We are representing a particular area under the umbrella of the Islamic Emirate and act accordingly. We follow directives of the shura in planning and financial matters. In such a situation, there is no question of running a separate organization, group, or entity.” In mid-2012, Haqqani reiterated, “The stance of the Islamic Emirate never changes, and, we follow the Emir-ul-Momineen in the framework of Islam, without seeking status or material gain. This is enough to assure the world that our organizational affairs are completely controlled and run by the Islamic Emirate.” He also told the Taliban magazine Shariat, “I am known by the name of Khalifa among mujahideen. I am the governor of Khost province in accordance with the thought, suggestion and order of Emir-ul-Momineen.”
The 2009 bombing of the CIA base in Khost province is evidence of the unity of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Abu Dajana, a triple agent who had been working for al-Qaeda as well as for the Jordanian and U.S. intelligence agencies, carried out the attack. Dajana coordinated the bombing with TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud and the Haqqani Network. Afterwards, a video appeared on the Internet in which Abu Dajana sits alongside Mehsud to record a statement before the attack. A January 7, 2010 statement from al-Qaeda also noted that the CIA’s Khost base was attacked “to avenge the death of Baitullah Mehsud” in a U.S. drone attack. A November 2012 Taliban video noted that Hakimullah Mehsud and Omar Al-Britani, a British militant also known as Abbas, were involved in planning the Khost attack. In November 2012, a U.S. State Department statement on the Haqqani Network’s chief of suicide operations Qari Zakir noted that he was involved in the Khost attack. These pieces of evidence strongly suggest that the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda were involved in the Khost attack.
The Punjab Hub
There are three formidable organizations in Pakistan that have worked both separately and together to advance the jihadist objectives: Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT a.k.a. Jamaatud Dawa or JuD), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), which also functions as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). The LeT and JeM are focused on India, especially on liberating Kashmir, while the SSP/LeJ/ASWJ conglomerate aims to eliminate Shiism by systematically killing Shiites. All these groups enjoy some form of support from the Pakistani military intelligence.
Though these organizations have a presence in all areas of Pakistan, their respective leaderships are all based in Punjab province. Punjab has emerged as a major jihadist hub where at least 170 madrassas were involved in militant activities in 2010. In southern Punjab, Pakistani intelligence reported the presence of 29 al-Qaeda-linked terror groups in 2010. Like al-Qaeda and the Taliban, these groups believe that Shiites are infidels. Furthermore they share al-Qaeda's and the Taliban's objectives against America, Israel, and India.
Some other formidable groups banned by Pakistan include Harkatul Mujahideen, Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and two which have been active in the Khyber region, Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansarul Islam. Over the past 12 years, Pakistan has banned 48 organizations for their role in militancy and sectarianism, while in 2007 it also put the Barelvi organization Sunni Tehreek on watch. Roughly speaking, about four dozen jihadist organizations are active across Pakistan, with varying capabilities in teaching and training Pakistani youth in jihadist objectives, in planning terrorism and providing a supply chain for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The three main organizations likely to have a long-term presence in Pakistani society—Jaish-e-Muhammad, Sipah-e-Sahaba, and Lashkar-e-Taiba—are examined below.
Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) is led by Maulana Masood Azhar, a militant released by India in exchange for the passengers of a plane hijacked to Kandahar in 1999. From its headquarters in the town of Bahawalpur, JeM leads a Pakistan-wide network of organizational units managed by militant clerics. When addressing students in 2010, JeM cleric Maulana Mufti Abdur Rauf Asghar criticized secular trends in Pakistani society which teach students how to use computers and mobile phones while forgetting to teach how to use the “arrows and swords” of Islam.
In a lecture available on YouTube, Azhar explains a saying of Prophet Muhammad on Ghazwa-e-Hind, the Battle of India. (Pakistani groups widely cite the prophet’s saying on Ghazwa-e-Hind.) Azhar claims that mujahideen will one day rise from India and arrive in present-day Israel to fight alongside Jesus against the non-Muslims. He explains,
The Lord the Benefactor has chosen the Muslims of Kashmir for a very big fortune/blessing. I haven’t come to tell you a lie. I cite a hadith of the Prophet [Muhammad]. The Prophet of Allah had promised to his companions that ‘a group of my Ummah will wage jihad in Hindustan [i.e. India]’.... The prophet said, ‘for the two groups of my Ummah, Allah has decreed salvation from Hell: one that will arrive alongside Jesus and will wage jihad alongside Jesus, and one [i.e. the second group] that will wage jihad in Hindustan.’
In recent years, the JeM has organized lectures on the “jihadist verses” of the Quran. In 2010, operating under its charitable arm Al-Rehmat Trust, JeM organized these lessons in towns across Pakistan where clerics, including Maulana Masood Azhar, justified jihad and qital (battle). Over 13,000 people and 2,060 students took lessons in jihad. These lectures were held in Karachi, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Mirpur, Sukkur, Haveli Lakha Okara, Peshawar, Wah Cantonment, Rawalpindi, Swabi, Nawabshah, Quetta, Mansehra, Bannu, Tando Allahyar, Kohat, Sargodha and Khyber Agency. The location of these towns show that JeM’s outreach has sought to encompass the length and breadth of Pakistan. According to a report, “common people participated in these meetings regularly and [were instructed in] lessons that taught translation and interpretation of more than 558 verses on jihad.” The lectures on “jihadist verses” are annual events.
The JeM organized such lectures in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, it held 21 sessions. At one event, the militant cleric Maulana Talha Al-Saif eulogized Taliban leader Mullah Omar, stating, “Tell me—is it possible to separate the concept of jihad and qital and Islamic dignity when we see the life of Emir-ul-Momineen Mullah Muhammad Omar? Is it possible that the name of Maulana Muhammad Masood Azhar is called somewhere, and the very concept of jihad does not come to our minds?” In 2012, JeM organized a 40-day course. A report about an event in Bahawalpur noted, “It is perhaps the incident of the Thursday night [in March or April 2012], when there was a transaction of billions of dollars in the entire world to wipe out jihad. Millions of soldiers with lethal weapons were at the borders to wipe out the Muslim Ummah. Thousands of TVs, nets, and radio channels were speaking against jihad. At that time, the Masjid Usman-o-Ali [mosque] in Bahawalpur was resounding with persuasion to jihad. There was a speech contest on the topic ‘History of Jihad.’ There were thirty-six speakers representing Sindh, Punjab, Baluchistan, NWFP [now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa], and unoccupied [Pakistani] Kashmir.”
Of all Pakistan’s jihadist groups, JeM is most active in preaching jihad among students of school-going age. It regularly publishes such content on its websites—alqalamonline.com, fathuljawwad.com, rangonoor.com, musalmanbachay.com—as well as in its print magazine Haftroza Al-Qalam and other booklets. It is also using mobile phones to deliver MP3 messages on jihad to youth. After a decade of relative peace in Kashmir, it was reported in 2011 that JeM has revived its terror plots in India.
Over the past few decades, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) has been known for its murderous campaign against Shiite Muslims across Pakistan. Its members have been working alongside the Taliban and al-Qaeda. After the Pakistani government banned the SSP and its military arm Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), it began operating as Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan, which was subsequently also banned. Currently it operates as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), and is headed by Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi. The militant leaders of SSP/ASWJ have enjoyed some form of financial and political support from the provincial government of Punjab under Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
In 2011, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah admitted that the government gave financial aid to the family of LeJ commander Malik Ishaq, who is involved in scores of murders. He allegedly masterminded the 2009 attack on a Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. In 2010, Punjab’s liberal governor Salman Taseer was so skeptical about the government’s protection of ASWJ leaders that he asked the chief minister to make it clear whether he was in favor of or against terrorist organizations. Taseer also pointed out that Law Minister Sanaullah shared a car with the militant leader. In an editorial, the Dawn newspaper slammed the Sharif government for its “ideological affinity” with militants. Under the Sharif government, the SSP/ASWJ fighters burned Christian localities in Gojra and Lahore and killed Christians and Ahmadi and Shiite Muslims in scores after implicating them on fake blasphemy charges.
More recently, SSP militants have engaged in pulling passengers from buses, checking their identity cards to verify their Shiism, and then shooting them dead. SSP has also targeted and beheaded prominent Shiite Pakistanis and bombed Shiite congregations. In August 2012, at least 20 Shiite Muslims were pulled out of a bus at Babusar Top, 100 kilometers from Islamabad, and killed. Earlier that year, on February 28, 18 Shiite Muslims were pulled out of a bus and shot dead on the Karakoram Highway in Mansehra district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, while on April 3 another nine Shiites were dragged out of a bus by a mob and killed in Chilas, near Gilgit. On February 16, 2013, a bomb ripped through a Shiite Hazara neighborhood of Quetta, killing over 80 people. The attack was claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Fears are now emerging that the Islamist killers of minorities in Pakistan are aspiring to commit genocide.
In March 2013, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik stated that the LeJ is involved in attacks “throughout the country” and is using Punjab as a hideout. A review of the social media accounts of the SSP/LeJ indicates that though the SSP is banned, it holds regular events and elections in Pakistani towns to elect leaders. A review of the movement’s publications via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and other websites reveals that it is inculcating among Sunni youth hateful doctrinal interpretations such as, “The Shiite is a nasl [race/offspring] of Jews”; “The Sipah-e-Sahaba calls the Shiite a bigger infidel than the Jew”; “Shiites are the killers of Sunnis”; “Sunnis, have respect; end friendship with Shiites.” In 2013, the SSP/LeJ combine appears more powerful in its countrywide presence than the TTP. In March 2013, it took a giant step by publishing an English-language magazine, endorsing al-Qaeda’s jihad and revealing its intent to take its fight globally.
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is a fearsome jihadist organization founded by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. The movement’s members are located in Afghanistan, India, Iraq and the United States. Following a Pakistani government ban, LeT renamed itself as Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) to work as a charity. The LeT and JuD were banned by the UN Security Council after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. After the ban, the group emerged as the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF). However, the cadres and leaders of these organizations use the JuD flag. The FIF, too, was designated as a terrorist organization in 2010 by the United States. Hafiz Saeed, along with several other militant commanders, is wanted by India.
Following the UN Security Council ban, the Pakistani government came under international pressure and shut down the group’s websites and publications. However, the group began using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The JuD launched a website in mid-2012, releasing a video in which Hafiz Saeed observed, “Media is a two-sided sword. Instead of it having an impact on us, we want to use it in an effective way. Allah willing, [we] want to convey our message of Dawah [Invitation to Islam] and jihad to the people through it....”
The LeT/JuD/FIF conglomerate has organizational units across Pakistan. In recent years, it has used every opportunity to preach jihad, including at flood relief camps. In August 2010, Rajiv Shah, the chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development, visited one such relief camp and sparked a controversy. At another relief camp in 2011, Saeed stated, “The Pakistani press has aligned itself with foreign intelligence agencies and is promoting anti-jihad sentiments among the youth of this country… Jihad is the only chance for Pakistan’s survival.”
Hafiz Saeed is an ideologue of jihad, and carries a U.S. reward of $10 million for anyone who could provide information leading to his prosecution. In speeches and articles, he has warned India, “One Mumbai [terror attack of 2008 is] not enough”; “Jihad is the only option left, as India will never let go of Kashmir”; “Islam is a religion of peace and security, jihad in the path of Allah is an important part of it.” In 2011, Jamaatud Dawa leaders addressing a rally in Lahore demanded that the Pakistani government establish a “ministry of jihad” and offered that the “budget for the ministry of jihad will be provided by Jamaatud Dawa,” which “will provide one million trained fighters.” Of all the groups, LeT/JuD enjoys the most comprehensive support of the Pakistani military.
The Next Decade
Despite 12 years of the U.S.-led war against terrorism, the jihadist organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan remain intact, with their organizational and leadership capabilities flourishing. Ahead of the U.S. withdrawal in 2014, these groups sense a new opportunity, viewing the exit as America’s defeat. The strengthening of jihadist organizations creates not only a dangerous long-term situation for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also expands the jihadist threat for Kashmir, India and Bangladesh.
Recently, two leading jihadist commanders have re-emerged after a decade of hiding, possibly at the behest of the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In March 2013, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, chief of Al-Umar Mujahideen and one of the three militants released by India in the 1999 Kandahar hijacking case, emerged from a decade of hiding. In an interview, Zargar indicated U.S. troop withdrawal was a source of inspiration, stating that, “India must remember that the U.S. has been defeated in Afghanistan. It’s a success for Al-Umar Mujahideen, too. In four months’ time, India will see what we are capable of.... We have been going wherever Muslims face oppression, and we will continue to go there. We are fighting in the name of Allah. After Kashmir, we will fight in Chechnya and Palestine.” He also noted, “We still run [terror] training centers on both sides of the LoC [Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan]. Nothing has changed on the ground.”
On March 23, 2010, Abdul Wahid Kashmiri, who took over as the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief from Hafiz Saeed after it was banned in 2002, emerged from nearly a decade of hiding, addressing a rally with jihadist commander Syed Salahuddin at Kotli in Pakistani Kashmir. These militant commanders cannot be operating above ground without the ISI’s support. At the rally, Wahid Kashmiri warned of a global fight: “It is the right of mujahideen to fight the invaders and oppressors across the world. The mujahideen who are fighting the occupation forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Kashmir are fully justified in doing so under religious obligations... The secret of success and freedom from the oppressor lies in jihad and not at the negotiating tables.”
In all likelihood, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar will focus his energy on Kashmir and India, with support from like-minded organizations such as the LeT, the JeM and the ISI. Abdul Wahid Kashmiri and Syed Salahuddin, the Supreme Commander of Kashmir-focused Hizbul Mujahideen, are likely to work together with Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar. Sheikh Jamilur Rehman, the Emir of Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen, warned in November 2012, “The day the U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan, India must leave Kashmir in humiliation.” Syed Salahuddin advocates jihad against America, stating explicitly, “In the prevailing situation, jihad has become mandatory for every Muslim. Political and religious parties of Pakistan should jointly launch jihad against the U.S.” All these jihadist organizations have survived because the Pakistani military chooses to fight against some militants, like some TTP commanders and al-Qaeda’s Arab fighters, while allowing others like the LeT/JuD, JeM and the SSP/LeJ to operate freely.
While the SSP has retained its focus on killing Shiites, in March 2013, it revealed its intention to wage global jihad by launching an English-language magazine, Al-Rashideen, for an international audience. In an editorial, it indicated that the magazine is also intended for youth in the West whose first language is English, noting, “We present you this first issue of Al-Rashideen. We hope this to be a platform where relevant issues facing the Ummah are studied/analyzed upon by students of colleges and universities, and Muslim youngsters whose first or second language is English.” In endorsing al-Qaeda’s global jihad, it stated, “[The] only good news... is the rise of the mujahideen movements and their resilience and courage to move on despite heavy odds. And what is driving them? One reason is the spirit of jihad and shahadat [martyrdom] which is expressly present [and permitted] in the Koran and Sunnah [deeds and sayings of Prophet Muhammad].” In 2013, the group’s leader, Maulana Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, was contesting parliamentary elections for two seats in Jhang, an SSP stronghold.
The three movements—LeT/JuD, the SSP/LeJ and JeM—have acquired a permanent presence in Pakistani society through their countrywide networks and organizational units. It is difficult to imagine how the Pakistani state will have the capacity or the will to curb these three groups anytime soon. Indeed, there are now fears that these groups could join hands and eventually come to influence the Pakistani state the way Hizbollah and Hamas have done so respectively in Lebanon and Gaza. Speaking about the long-term role of Lashkar-e-Taiba, U.S. National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper told a March 12, 2013 hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence that the LeT “will continue to be the most multifaceted and problematic of the Pakistani militant groups. The group has the long-term potential to evolve into a permanent and even HAMAS/Hizballah-like presence in Pakistan.”
Speaking about the U.S. troop withdrawal and the Arab Spring, Hafiz Saeed spoke about post-2014: “As the U.S. flees Iraq and Afghanistan, we will get Kashmir…If people took to the streets as they did in Egypt, the governments in India and Pakistan too would have to go.” At a rally in Lahore, he also warned of a global jihad against America, stating, “Atomic Pakistan will shine on the map of the world, Allah willing, and those who try to wipe Pakistan out will be wiped out.”
In a January 2013 video, TTP Emir Hakimullah Mehsud spoke about the Taliban’s post-2014 objectives: “I would like to say that in 2014 when the American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, after that, Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid, who is our Emir, who is our Emir today and [will take over Afghanistan and] will be our Emir in future too…. Whatever will be the policy of Emir-ul-Momineen Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid, we will pursue that policy. Even today, we support his policies, and even after that [i.e., after 2014] his policy will be our policy….” In a sign of global jihadist ambitions, Mehsud also described the TTP as an international organization in the same video. In January 2013, Mehsud and his deputy Maulana Waliur Rehman appeared on another jihadist video and vowed to fight for enforcing a Sharia-based system in India and in Kashmir. The TTP and al-Qaeda have also warned of a jihadist response to the killings of Muslim minorities in Myanmar and in Assam, India. For example, in 2012, Ustad Ahmad Farooq, the chief of al-Qaeda's Media and Preaching Department for Pakistan, warned New Delhi that:
after [the killings of Muslims in] Kashmir, Gujarat, and Ahmadabad [also in Gujarat], if you wish you may add to the long list of your evil deeds Assam as well, but don't forget that taking revenge for every single oppressed Muslim living under your subjugation is a trust on our shoulders. These arrogant actions of yours only provide impetus for us to hasten our advance towards Delhi.
I would like to request the scholars and people of Bangladesh to step forward and help the oppressed Muslims living in their neighborhood and increase pressure on their heedless government to open its borders for Burmese Muslims and stop its oppressive actions that only make life more difficult for the oppressed Muslims of Burma and Assam.
More recently, a Pakistani official confirmed the Taliban's growing international reach, noting that the TTP has successfully recruited fighters from as far as Fiji. In 2012, after the shootings in Toulouse, France by Mohamed Merah, there were also reports of white jihadists receiving training in Miranshah, Mir Ali and the Datta Khel areas of North Waziristan.
The TTP has a demonstrated ability to orchestrate attacks in the United States: it was the organization which had recruited and financed the activities of Faisal Shahzad, who perpetrated the failed bombing on May 1, 2010 in New York’s Times Square. Evidently, the attack was planned to coincide with a video statement of TTP Emir Hakimullah Mehsud in a bid to rebut Western media reports at the time that he had been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan. In his January 2013 video, Hakimullah Mehsud pledged to send fighters to the Arab Spring countries, stating, “we are ready for every type of assistance so that the democratic and secular system [in Arab nations] comes to an end; the kufri [infidel] system ends, and an Islamic system is established.” Locally, the TTP and non-Taliban militant group Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) united in April 2013, appointing LeI chief Mangal Bagh as their joint head for Khyber Agency. In 2012, Tehreek-e-Taliban Punjab—a mixture of Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, JeM and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen—vowed to re-launch the Kashmir jihad. The TTP also works alongside the anti-People’s Republic of China East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
While the TTP is positioning for a global fight, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) is focused on capturing power in Afghanistan in 2014. In 2011, an identified Pakistani security official, speaking about the strength of the IEA’s Haqqani Network, stated, “There are no signs of it getting weaker. In fact, its strength is growing.” The group has “between 15,000 and 25,000” fighters and sympathizers. The Western assessments in 2010 indicated that the Afghan Taliban constitute about 20,000-30,000 fighters, with 10 percent loss of fighters in U.S. military operations. In April 2012, Indian media reported that the Haqqani Network has 4,000 hardcore fighters. After IEA, the second largest militant group in Afghanistan is Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has sought to capture power both through negotiations and fighting while working alongside the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Ahead of the U.S. exit, the IEA has begun describing Afghanistan as an Islamic Emirate. Key militant organizations have held talks to agree on a power-sharing deal in 2014. According to the Urdu daily Roznama Ummat, Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani and Kashmir Khan, representing Hekmatyar, attended a conference somewhere in Afghanistan in mid-2011. Some points agreed upon included the following: permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan are unacceptable and jihadist organizations will boycott talks and increase resistance if the United States insists on maintaining bases; jihadist groups reject the U.S. offers of excluding Mullah Omar or Jalaluddin Haqqani from a future setup in Kabul; all Afghan militias will be abandoned; all NGOs and those preaching Christianity will be banned; all foreign security agencies will be banned; local people will be involved in the formation of government; and neighboring countries will be asked to stop interference in Afghanistan.
Over the next decade, the Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh-based branches of Hizb ut-Tahrir—which works to establish the Islamic caliphate—will pose a unique threat. In South Asia, the movement advocates for jihad in Kashmir, stating, “Kashmir can only be liberated through organized jihad.” Despite the ban on the movement, it has held public rallies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hizb ut-Tahrir is ideologically similar to the Taliban, the Punjab-based jihadist organizations and al-Qaeda, although there are clear differences among these groups on matters of tactics. It is difficult to assess the size of Hizb ut-Tahrir's membership; its small events and reliance on press statements indicate that its members number in the hundreds, not thousands. Nonetheless, Hizb ut-Tahrir specializes in recruiting military officers with the goal of launching a revolutionary coup and imposing Islamic rule. Its members have been arrested in Bangladesh for plotting military coups. Recently, top Pakistani military officers have been arrested for their links with Hizb ut-Tahrir. In recent years, al-Qaeda, too, has penetrated the Pakistani military, with some ex-officers working for al-Qaeda while some jihadist organizations in Pakistan are working as extensions of the Pakistani military.
The general strengthening of jihadism in South Asia ahead of the 2014 NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan combined with the prospect of Islamist groups using elections and referendums to capture power in Kabul are now working in favor of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Over the next decade, these trends and the Taliban’s potential success will also strengthen Pakistan-based Islamist movements. After 2014, the above-discussed jihadist organizations will be left with substantial organizational capabilities to conduct attacks and, more importantly, with the strength and prestige to influence populations across the region. Inspired by the Arab Spring, these movements have increasingly looked to political means to capture power and impose an Islamist order. Taken together, these trends will have far-reaching implications for the South Asian Islamist landscape. Mainstream religious organizations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan are known for their ideological sympathies for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In the past, however, the Jamaat-e-Islami has been opposed to the encroachment of such armed jihadist organizations because the latter’s reliance on violence has threatened to destroy Pakistan itself. For the nationalistic Jamaat-e-Islami, such an outcome would not be acceptable. However, if the aforementioned jihadist movements were to cease violence even as a tactic and commit to politics, nationalist groups like Jamaat-e-Islami will mostly welcome such a move, and especially if a coalition among them would generate greater political power for Islamists. In coming years, if the LeT, JeM, SSP and the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan were to join hands for an electoral bid, they could likely acquire the tacit support of the TTP, and Pakistan could well emerge as a jihadist state and transform the face of South Asia. Such a development would be in keeping with the popular Islamist narrative holding that Pakistan will become the “Madina-e-Saani”—or the “Second Madina,” after the first Islamic State founded by the Prophet Muhammad.
During 2007-2008, British diplomats made the first attempts for talks with the Taliban through the mediation of Saudi Arabia. After the Taliban captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl in 2009, a series of contacts between the Afghan Taliban and the United States began, with a political office being set up in Qatar. However, the Taliban saw the contacts as tactical moves that offered them diplomatic and political legitimacy. They described the talks first as contacts for the exchange of Bergdahl with Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, and later called them a diplomatic front in addition to the Taliban’s military front. At times, the United States appeared willing to hand over three Afghan provinces to the Haqqanis for a peace agreement.
Toward the end of 2012, it appeared that the Taliban would consider participating in elections under an interim government in Kabul in 2014 if such a government setup were to result from the talks involving the Taliban, the U.S., the Karzai government, and Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. At a December 20-21, 2012 conference in Chantilly, near Paris, the Taliban adopted some positions that appeared to have been influenced by the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Taliban representatives Mawlawi Shahabuddin Dilawar and Dr. Muhammad Naeem gave a presentation indicating that Mullah Omar does not intend to monopolize power, and, that Afghanistan's constitution should be Islam-compliant and should receive the approval of the people, possibly through a referendum. In March 2013, Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim, a confidant of Mullah Omar, said the Taliban may launch a political party, adding, “The Taliban leaders whose names have been removed from the U.N. black list will play an important role in the political process.” Sensing that a political vacuum could emerge in 2014, some anti-Karzai politicians are also maneuvering for talks with the Taliban. Pakistan, too, has freed over two-dozen Taliban prisoners believing that this will strengthen Islamabad's influence in Kabul.
Taking a cue from the Afghan Taliban, the TTP was reportedly in contact with Pakistani officials throughout 2011, although these contacts produced little or were intended as tactical moves. Ahead of the May 2013 elections in Pakistan, however, the TTP and some Pakistani leaders were more inclined to negotiate. In December 2012, the TTP offered a conditional ceasefire provided Pakistan re-wrote its constitution to make it more Islamic and ceased its role in the war on terror. In all likelihood, the Islamist victories in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring influenced the Taliban’s new willingness to negotiate. At the same time, their primary objective is not entering into a democratic political process, but the imposition of Sharia rule. TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan noted that “a few clauses” do not make the Pakistani constitution Islamic. Afghan Taliban, too, adopted a similar stance. Syed Muhammad Akbar Agha, the chief of Jaish-ul-Muslimeen, a faction of the Afghan Taliban, said in February 2013 that the Taliban’s demand for enforcement of Sharia rule in Afghanistan is “non-negotiable.” In the jihadist reckoning, referendums and elections are merely a means to capture power to impose Islamist rule. This quintessentially Islamist understanding of elections and democracy as a means and tactic to capture power in order to impose Islamic rule was best articulated by Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, when he stated: "Democracy [is] a train from which you get off once you reach the station.
Over the next decade, jihadism’s prospects in South Asia will be shaped to a large extent by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that backs them. The ISI's role in creating and nurturing jihadism in South Asia was irrefutably made clear by Adnan Rasheed, a former Pakistan Air Force commando and now a top-ranking Taliban commander, in a May 2013 interview with the Taliban magazine Azan. Rasheed had been imprisoned following an assassination attempt on Pakistani military ruler General Pervez Musharraf; however, Taliban militants freed him in a daring jailbreak in April 2012. In the interview, Rasheed described how he came to the realization that the terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad was a sub-unit of ISI. As he stated: “[It] was revealed to me that neither [JeM chief] Masood Azhar nor [militant commander] Haji Abul Jabbar was officially appointed Emir for Pakistan [by Mullah Omar, as Adnan Rasheed was led to believe while in the PAF]; they were working under the ISI. So, I went to my Emir of Idara[t-ul-Pakistan, a jihadi unit in PAF], Dr. Y and told him that, 'Brother, we are wronged! There is no difference between us and Jaish-e-Muhammad. We are soldiers in uniform and they are soldiers without uniform. How strange it is that we follow them and they take instruction from our institutions – the ISI!"
Jihadism's appeal runs deep in the Pakistan military. The Afghan jihad of the 1980's , the Kashmir jihad of the 1990's, and the jihad of the post-9/11 era have all had an immeasurable impact on recruitment into the Pakistani military. In the wake of the anti-Soviet war, anti-Western Pakistani sentiment rose to its zenith. Many of the soldiers recruited during these past three decades were exposed to and deeply influenced by jihadist ideology. Their continued rise to senior positions in the military will likely strengthen the hands of already serving pro-jihadist officers wield considerable influence on the country's foreign policies.
The ISI has demonstrated that it is unwilling to repeal its support for jihadist organizations; in fact, in 2010 when U.S. drones began targeting the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan, the ISI shifted the network to a new base of operations. Almost all leading Pakistani newspapers have called for holding the ISI accountable for terrorist activities in the region. The ISI regards itself as the guardian of the Islamic State of Pakistan. As a result, in the next decade, it is unlikely that the ISI, will either stop supporting jihadism or obstructing the efforts of Pakistani officials from fostering good ties with India. The machinations of the ISI and pervasiveness of political Islamism that will inevitably follow will prove to be an enormous obstacle to prosperity and democracy in Pakistan.