By Aamir Latif and Zahid Rafiq
KARACHI, Pakistan /SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir (AA) – Locked in escalating tensions following last week’s air combat with longtime rival India, Pakistan is further tightening the noose around several banned militant groups accused of being involved in cross-border terrorist attacks.
In the latest development, security forces launched a nationwide crackdown Tuesday on several banned groups under a National Action Plan, a counterterrorism strategy aimed at rooting out militancy from the country.
Dozens of these groups’ members have been taken into custody, including a brother and son of Maulana Masood Azhar, chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a militant group New Delhi accuses of being involved in last month’s attack on an Indian security convoy in Pulwama in Indian-administered Kashmir that killed over 40 troops.
Islamabad also froze the assets of dozens of banned groups and individuals across the country under a United Nations Security Council order Monday.
Last month, the government took control of a religious seminary in northeastern Bahawalpur city which was reportedly serving as JeM’s headquarters.
The group has been listed as a terrorist organization and banned in Pakistan since 2002.
Early last month, Islamabad also banned the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), a charity organization established by Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD), which India has accused of being behind the 2009 Mumbai terrorist attack that killed over 150 people.
In June last year, Pakistan was placed on a gray list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global money-laundering watchdog, for “strategic deficiencies” in its anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks”.
– India also targets militants
India has also banned dozens of militant outfits, including Muslim, Hindu and Sikh groups.
The two arch-rivals share a rare similar view on several outfits like JeM, JuD, Al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS, which are banned in both countries. However, the two sides treat various groups differently.
For example, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen is dubbed a “terrorist outfit” by New Delhi, whereas Islamabad considers it a group fighting for independence from Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan valley of Kashmir.
Hizb’s Supreme Commander, Syed Salahuddin, is based in Pakistani-administered or Azad (liberated) Kashmir.
BANNED OUTFITS IN PAKISTAN
According to the Home Ministry’s list of banned organizations, there are a total 67 banned outfits, which apart from militant groups, also include various charities allegedly involved in financing the terrorist groups.
The major banned outfits are:
1) Jamat-ud-Dawa’h: The group is led by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, a former lecturer of the University of Engineering and Technology Lahore, one of the most wanted people in India. The group is the new version of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), which has been involved in numerous attacks on the Indian army in Jammu and Kashmir. Most of its members belong to the Ahl-e-Hadit school of thought. The group took part in the 2018 general elections under the banner of the Milli Muslim League party but could not secure any seats.
2) Jaish-e-Mohammad: Founded by Maulana Masood Azhar in the late 1990s, JeM is also accused of operating against Indian forces in the disputed Himalayan valley. The group belongs to the Dubendi school of thought.
3) Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP): Founded in 2007 by Baitullah Mehsud, the TTP is a conglomerate of different militant groups operating against Pakistani security forces. The group is currently led by Mullah Fazlullah, who is reportedly based in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army, in a full-scale onslaught, has almost dismantled the group from its stronghold in the North Waziristan tribal region.
4) Balochistan Liberation Army: A secular Baloch militant group which has long been fighting for the autonomy of southwestern Balochistan province, which according to the group had forcibly been incorporated into Pakistan in 1947. They group claimed responsibility for an attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi early this year, apart from being involved in attacks on Chinese workers in the province. Pakistan accuses India of patronizing the group, a charge New Delhi denies.
Other banned outfits include Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Tehrik-e-Jafaria Pakistan, Baloch Republican Army, Al-Qaeda, Daesh, Hizb-ul-Tahrir, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Balochistan Liberation Front, Shia Talaba Action Committee, Jundallah, Al-Rahmah Welfare Organization, Al-Akhtar Trust, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Jamat-ul-Ansar.
INDIA’S BANNED GROUPS
Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI)
The Students Islamic Movement of India was formed in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on April 25, 1977 by Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi, who was a professor of journalism and public relations at Western Illinois University in the United States. The group was banned in 2001 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) for alleged “anti-national” activities. In 2008, a special tribunal briefly lifted the ban, but it was later reimposed. In January this year, the Indian government banned the group for five years under the Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act and said it was indulging in activities “prejudicial to the security of the country”.
Hizbul Mujahideen (HM)
Hizbul Mujahideen is the largest indigenous rebel group in Jammu and Kashmir which came into existence in 1989 and was formed by Muhammad Ahsan Dar, a former militant commander. The outfit, which is more inclined towards Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan, also maintains it would accept any decision of the people when they are given the option to choose the right to self-determination. HM has in the past carried out hundreds of attacks on Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. It is currently headed by a Kashmiri, Syed Mohammed Yusuf Shah, popularly known as Syed Salahuddin, who is currently based in Muzaffarabad in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
Babbar Khalsa International
The Babbar Khalsa group is considered the oldest and most prominent Sikh organization, which is calling for the formation of an independent Sikh state called Khalistan. Talwinder Singh Parmar and Sukhdev Singh Babbar were the founding members of this organization. The outfit has been responsible for several attacks in India. In 2018, the U.S. named Babbar Khalsa among the “separatist movements that pose a risk to American interests overseas”.
Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA)
The Garo National Liberation Army was formed in 2009 by a senior police officer, Pakchara R. Sangma, to fight for a sovereign "Garoland' in western areas of Meghalaya state. The group has been involved in cases of murder and kidnapping in all three Garo Hills districts of Meghalaya and has been declared a terror organization by the Indian government. In February 2018, Sohan D Shira, who headed the GNLA, was shot dead by security forces, which came as a huge blow to the outfit.
According to India's National Investigation Agency, the other banned terrorist organizations include Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, al-Qaida/al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Communist Party of India (Maoist), Indian Mujahideen, National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) [NSCN(K)], Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Islamic State/Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Daish/Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP)/ISIS Wilayat Khorasan and Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham-Khorasan (ISIS-K).