New Delhi: Even as the multinational Financial Action Task Force (FATF) begins a meeting to consider removing Pakistan from a watchlist of countries that have failed to combat terrorism financing, the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) is expanding its sprawling Jama-e-Masjid Subhanallah and Sabir madrasa complex in Bahawalpur.
The organisation, two sources familiar with the group told ThePrint, has begun expanding the rear boundary wall across an estimated four acres of newly-acquired land in Bahawalpur, a city in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
The land, the sources said, was sold earlier this year to Abdul Rauf Ashgar, the brother of JeM chief Masood Azhar Alvi. The sale was made by the family of Zahid Channar, the local nambardar, or hereditary village chief. The family has also sold land in the area to other private entities, including an apartment complex.
Musalman Bacchey, a children’s magazine published by the Jaish-e-Muhammad this month, and obtained by ThePrint, demonstrates how the estimated 600-plus students at the seminary are exhorted to support jihadism.
“When billions of dollars were being spent to wipe our jihad from the world, and thousands of TV, internet, and radio channels were spewing venom against jihad,” one article reads, “then Bahawalpur’s Jama Masjid Usman wa-ali was resonating with [an] invitation to jihad”.
Earlier this year, in the latest of a series of steps intended to secure removal from the FATF grey list, Islamabad had written to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, asking it to locate and arrest Masood Azhar. Pakistan also arrested several members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba on terrorism-related charges, including 26/11 perpetrator Sajid Mir. FATF monitors had then travelled to Pakistan, to verify the impact of these actions.
However, “in spite of whatever actions Pakistan has taken, the Jaish clearly remains able to raise significant funding,” said a senior Indian security official.
In May, United Nations Security Council monitors had reported that the Jaish “maintains eight training camps in Nangarhar, three of which are directly under Taliban control”.
Jaish land acquisitions
The nine-acre property on which the seminary and mosque were set up, local records show, was sold for 15 lakh Pakistani rupees to Abdul Rauf Ashgar, Masood Azhar’s brother, in March 2008. The complex now has classrooms, sports facilities, and prayer areas.
The boundary wall surrounding the complex remains standing, a local resident told ThePrint, but there’s now an opening into the newly-acquired land.
Following the 2019 suicide-bomb attack in Pulwama, Pakistan had announced that it was taking over the administration of the complex. Later, however, Bahawalpur deputy commissioner Shahzaib Saeed told visiting journalists it was just a “routine seminary having no links with the Jaish-e-Mohammed”. According to Pakistan’s counter-terrorism authority, the Jaish has been proscribed since 2002.
The land records, though, make it clear that the complex was owned by Rauf, designated a terrorist by the United States in 2010 for his role in “deadly attacks against innocent civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.” The Jaish house journal al-Qalam, in its 9 February 2017 issue, had identified Rauf as “general of the Jaish-e-Mohammed”.
Footage obtained by ThePrint revealed earlier this year that the Jaish-e-Mohammed continues to hold public events to commemorate the killing of its jihadists in Kashmir, with armed cadre firing weapons in the air and shouting pro-jihad slogans.
Little detail has emerged on the education offered at the Jaish seminary in Bahawalpur — one of more than a dozen the organisation runs across Pakistan. The content of the terrorist group’s children’s magazine, Musalman Bacchey, however, is replete with pro-jihadist references. The magazine describes, for example, a speech contest on jihad, which it says drew participants from Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab, and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Ironically, the magazine — published by an organisation that pioneered vehicle-borne bombings in Kashmir — contains a special feature on vintage cars, including the Norman Timbs Special, the Stout Scarab, and the Bugatti Type 5 Aerolithe.
The magazine also contains content critical of the pro-West policies of Pakistan’s government.
“Every day, the first news is the increase in inflation,” it says. “Far from being able to eat meat, the people don’t even have the ability to eat pulses and vegetables.” But, it says, the “rulers and politicians of the country in their eagerness to restore the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, give equipment to those who shed the blood of Muslims”.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)