x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Lashkar-linked groups merge charity with politics

Analysts say anti-India terrorists are moving towards a partnership.

ISLAMABAD // Two groups linked to Pakistan's most notorious terror organization, Lashkar-i-Taiba, have been particularly busy in recent months, raising their public profile.

The Tanzeem Falah-i-Insaniyat (TFI) - literally, the humanitarian relief organisation - was prominent in relief work during the flooding in August. It has apparently taken over as the primary charitable arm of the Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group, which staged the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.

A second splinter group, the Tehrik Azadi-i-Kashmir (TAK) - movement for the freedom of Kashmir - held a rally at an Islamabad market in September. TAK has emerged as a new and, apparently, peaceful political movement.

The event was the first anti-India rally staged by militants in Islamabad in several years. It took place near the headquarters of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. United States officials say a faction of the ISI supports Pakistan's Islamist militants.

The keynote speaker was Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki, a TAK leader and former head of political affairs for Jama'at ud Dawah (JuD), a charity arm of Lashkar-i-Taiba. The United Nations declared the JuD a terrorist organisation after the Mumbai attacks.

The rally announcement demonstrates the ties between TAK and the militants. Pakistani news media received invitations via mobile text message signed by Mohammed Yahya Mujahid, described as the co-ordinator of the TAK. He is the spokesman for the founder of the Lashkar-i-Taiba, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed.

In his speech, Mr Makki warned India that failure to settle its territorial dispute over Kashmir with Pakistan would leave militants "no other option but to take the course of jihad".

Mr Makki was one of two JuD figures singled out by the US treasury department for sanctions last week. US citizens have been barred from carrying out any financial transactions with him because of concerns that any money donated to his group could be used to finance terrorism.

Representatives of major political parties attended the rally.

Analysts say it appears that factions of Pakistan's anti-Inda terrorist community are moving towards a merger under JuD leadership.

They requested anonymity on grounds of personal security. They cited written threats, made since July, to Pakistani journalists who have reported on the resumption of public activity by JuD activists, and the historic ties between the militants and the Pakistani military.

At the public level, the TFI, during October established a network of roadside stalls in Lahore, ostensibly to collect donations and supplies for flood victims, residents said.

The residents said the stalls have large advertising boards that use the black and white colours and stripes of the JuD flag, but stopped short of using its name.

Similarly, the branding has been used on a number of billboards that have sprung across Lahore recently, inviting public participation in collective animal sacrifices on Eid al Adha.

Mr Saeed, the former JuD head, delivered a rare speech in Gujranwala on November 1, residents said. He was among four JuD leaders banned from political activity by the UN in December 2008.

He was arrested by Pakistani authorities after the imposition of the ban, but acquitted on charges of participation in the Mumbai attacks plot by the Lahore High Court in July 2009.

He was freed from house arrest in November 2009.