NEW DELHI, Apr. 25: Top jihad commander Maulana Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Muhammad has begun a new drive calling on landowners to gift their ushr, a religious tithe levied on the harvest, to help “martyrs, prisoners detained for Islam, the families of religious warriors, seminaries, offices and needy individuals”, an advertisement issued in Jaish’s latest house-magazine, al-Qalam, has announced.
Issued by the Jaish’s charitable wing, the al-Rehmat Trust, based at the organisation’s fortress-like Bahawalpur headquarters, the terrorist group’s ushr campaign comes just ahead of the harvest season and will compete with local mosques and traditional charities.
Pakistan’s Zakat and Ushr law, promulgated in 1980, set up layered bodies from the national to village-level to administer compulsory religious tithes. However, a 2013 audit report found no ushr had been calculated or collected from landlords and leaseholders since 1990.
Indian counter-terrorism officials have voiced concern over the Jaish’s operations targeting military and civilian facilities in Pathankot, Nagrota, Gurdaspur and Akhnoor, as well as the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif
Local leaders of the Jaish, reports in al-Qalam show, have fanned out across rural Punjab, addressing mosques to raise funds. In a sermon delivered at the Farooq-e-Azam mosque in Pattoki, not far from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s home town of Raiwind, a Jaish leader, identified by the name “Maulana Ammar,” urged an audience of hundreds to “support the ushr campaign with commitments of cash contributions”, the magazine reports. Ammar made his case for his organisation by asserting that “jihad was a mandate of the Shari’a”.
In spite of Azhar having been held under protective custody since Islamabad admitted the Jaish was involved in last year’s attack on the Pathankot airbase, the Jaish has been actively campaigning for several months now. The investigation against Azhar has, meanwhile, stalled, with Pakistani investigators declining to provide information to the National Investigation Agency.
Earlier this year, al-Qalam reported that Azhar’s brother and deputy, Abdul Rauf Asghar, had addressed a mosque gathering in the village of Gumtala, telling it that “Islam is a world power and cannot be destroyed.” The cleric who led the congregation said, “whoever tries to destroy it will be destroyed himself. He went on: “Jihad is the most important obligation of our faith.”
Last summer, footage obtained by this newspaper showed young men outside the Jamia Uloom-e-Islam seminary in Karachi collecting funds from congregants, saying it was for “the brave young men of the Jaish-e-Muhammad who are fighting for the victory of the name of god and Islam”.
Known as the “fountainhead of jihad”, the seminary is famous for having produced several top jihadist leaders, including Jaish chief Maulana Masood Azhar and Sami-ul-Haq, the Uttar Pradesh-born head of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS,
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 January 14, 2002. However, the organisation makes no secret of its existence, with the February 3-9 issue of al-Qalam describing Abdul Rauf Asghar, as “General of the Jaish-e-Muhammad”.
Legally, the status of the al-Rehmat Trust in Pakistan is less clear but the government of Pakistan’s Punjab reportedly told the Supreme Court last year that it had filed cases against the organisation, among others, for illegally collecting funds in an effort to contain terror financing.
The US Treasury Department states that the al-Rehmat Trust has “been involved in fundraising for JEM, including for militant training and indoctrination at its mosques and madrassas”. It also alleges the trust provides “financial support and other services to the Taliban, including financial support to wounded Taliban fighters from Afghanistan”.
In a 2014 document, the United Nations Security Council separately listed two other Jaish-linked charities, Al-Akhtar Trust International and Al-Khair Trust, as providing assistance to al-Qaeda.(TIE)