New Delhi: In the moments before his son was born, Muhammad Asghar Khan recalled, “the room filled with a miraculous light, reaching up to the sky, and the smell of perfume filled the whole house”. “The midwife came out, bearing this bundle of happiness and laughter. ‘Allah’, my wifea and I prayed, ‘we commit this child to jihad in your path. Do not let us love him so much, that we shirk this duty’. In time, as he grew tall, we handed him over to the fields of jihad”.
Earlier this year, Muhammad Asghar Khan’s first-born son — operating under the code-name Hanzala — was shot dead by Indian troops near the Line of Control. He was, Khan wrote in the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s house-journal al-Qalam this week, the second member of the family to give his life for the jihad.
For the past three months, photographs obtained by Firstpost have revealed, that Jaish-e-Mohammed has been secretly building work on a 15-acre complex on the outskirts of the city of Bahawalpur—five times the size of its existing headquarters. The complex, the Jaish hopes, will train thousands of young children like Hanzala, harvested from the south Punjab countryside.
Prime Minister-designate Imran Khan’s rise is key to the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s prospects. For months, the Jaish-e-Mohammed campaigned against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, describing him as a traitor to Pakistan and Islam. In areas like Bahawalpur, the organisation threw its weight behind Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf.
Facing sanctions from the multi-national Financial Action Task Force for failing to act against terror financing — sanctions that would cripple its access to the international banking system Pakistan has committed to a 26-point action plan that would choke groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed. The plan has to be implemented by September, 2019, or Khan could find every international transaction linked to Pakistan subjected to special scrutiny, scaring off potential investors.
In spite of the looming threat of sanctions, though, it’s clear little action is being taken. This week’s al-Qalam, for example, calls for pilgrims headed for Haj to pay cash donations of up to Pakistan Rs 12,000 to the group, instead of making personal ritual animal sacrifices, as custom demands.
The Jaish is listed as one of 33 legally-banned organisations by Pakistan’s National Counter-Terrorism Authority,which states on its website that the ban came on 14 January, 2002. However, the organisation makes no secret of its existence, with al-Qalam describing Abdul Rauf Asghar, one of Masood Azhar’s brothers, as ‘General of the Jaish-e-Mohammed’.
Local government records show that much of the land for the new Bahwalpur complex was purchased by Azhar; market prices in the area range between Rs 8 million and Rs 9 million per acre.
In time, the Jaish-e-Mohammed hopes, the new complex will emerge as the crucible in which a new jihadist cohort will be forged. In one recent article, Azhar called on young people in Punjab to stop being seduced by social media and online internet, and instead devote their time to physical sports.