Leaders of Pakistan’s radical jihadi organisations have been touring Pakistan. “We will stop only at Srinagar,” boasted one of the commanders. Another made a rather more ambitious announcement of annexing not only Kashmir but the whole of India.
But when the ‘capitulation’ finally came, most of the jihadi groups chose to relent. Only Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Pakistan’s most influential religious party which also godfathers the Hizbul Mujahidin, called a million people to march in Lahore on 25 July. The event was to mark the beginning of a movement to throw out Nawaz Sharif who had committed “an unpardonable sin”. However, the charged crowd that gathered outside the colonial building of Punjab Assembly in Lahore was a fraction of the target. More importantly, other than Hizbul Mujahidin, none of the other groups attended.
Organised along sectarian lines, other organisations appear deeply suspicious of the JI and its political ambitions. The Harkatul Mujahidin, formerly known as Harkatul Ansar, is so close to the Taliban that inside Afghanistan their militants are called the “Pakistani Taliban” and take an active part in that country’s fratricidal warfare. Due to a Taliban offensive against the Northern Alliance within Afghanistan, it was perhaps not very feasible for the Harkatul to indulge itself in a clash with the Islamabad government. The organisation is already in the bad books of the government due to its links with the Sunni sectarian militant groups Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-e- Jhangvi.
Rather than initiating hostilities, Harkat’s strategy at this point is to wait for the government to strike first. It fears that the government may move to restrain its activities on the behest of the US, which has declared it a terrorist organisation. Harkat’s leaders made a not-so-indirect threat by declaring that they would call the Taliban to their aid when and if they felt the need for it.
The country’s largest jihadi organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba, has concentrated its energies on making the best of the unprecedented glorification provided by the Kargil crisis. Lashkar, which has its headquarters in Muridke near Lahore, intensified its movement during the Kargil crisis, holding well-attended rallies and guerrilla shows all over the country. When the prime minister of Pakistan signed on the dotted line in Washington, it joined the opposition chorus, but at the same time it refused to become part of any concerted move against the government.
Lashkar appears to have decided to go soft on the government because it is confident that the latter will not try to restrain its activities in Indian Kashmir and also because it has no short-term political agenda. The group seems satisfied with the incredible strength it has mustered over the past five years and realises that any clash with the government at this time can only jeopardise its position. But once a clash takes place, it will be far deadlier than the JI’s perennial protests, for Lashkar is crucially different from the JI in one area: it does not believe in the democratic system, which it considers completely un-Islamic.