The theater of war

By Editor Aug1,2023

The defense of Muslim lands is recognized by Muslim academics
as the first obligation of the Islamic faith. But the way that the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 sparked the imagination
of Muslims for Jihad in the true sense of the word had not been
witnessed for least 500 years. Muslim academics across the globe
unanimously recognized the need for Jihad and declared it the
responsibility of every Muslim to fight against the Soviets. And, as
a result, thousands of young Muslim youths from all over the world
poured into Afghanistan to fight alongside their Afghan brethren.
Their determination to participate in the Jihad in Afghanistan
was greater even than the earlier Muslim battles to reclaim
the holy land of Palestine, although Afghanistan was neither a
sacred place for Muslims, nor the heartland of Islam, and by no
means a rich country. In fact, Afghanistan was one of the poorest
Muslim countries in the world and had played little, if any, role in
international or Muslim world politics.
In 2001, when the United States announced it would attack
Afghanistan, the resolve of Muslim youths to resist this occupation
of a Muslim land was fortified. Jihad then became a household call.
The Muslim youths who poured in did not require any religious
decree or formal command to fight against the United States. They
understood Afghanistan was to be the future bastion of Islamic and
Jihadi activity, above and beyond the deserts and urban centers of
Iraq, the mountains of Yemen, and chaotic Somalia.
US support for Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union in the
1980s was an act of vengeance for the US defeat in Vietnam. But
this needed the mobilization of all possible Soviet enemies, including
the international Islamic movements, to support the Afghan Jihad.
If the United States had managed to lay the foundation of a Jihadi
headquarters to drain the resources of the mighty Soviet empire,
this might have allowed it entry into the Central Asian region. The

United States could then have turned that territory into a flashpoint
which could bring about the disintegration of the rival Soviet bloc
and its ideology, all the way up to the Berlin Wall. With that in
mind the United States offered support for the Jihadi operation in
Afghanistan, which sought to bleed the Soviets dry and force their
retreat at least from this area. However the United States simply did
not have the wherewithal to complete this strategy.
What really rallied the thousands of Muslim fighters worldwide
was the resources that poured in as a consequence. This enabled
them to strategize the Afghan Jihad against the Soviets, but from the
perspective of their own thinking, which remains even to this day the
Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) 1,400-year-old saying.
It is memorized by every Muslim:
We [I and my family] are members of a household that Allah
[SWT] has chosen for a the life in the Hereafter over the life of
this world; and the members of my household [Ahlul-Bayt] shall
suffer a great affliction and they shall be forcefully expelled from
their homes after my death. Then there will come people from
the East carrying black flags and they will ask for some goods
[essential survival items] to be given to them. But they shall be
refused such service. As such, they will wage war and emerge
victorious, and will be offered that which they desired in the first
place. But they will refuse to accept it till a man from my family
[Ahlul-Bayt] appears to fill the Earth with justice, as it has been
filled with corruption. So whoever reaches that [time] should
come to them, even crawling on ice/snow, since among them is
the vice-regent of Allah [Khalifatullah] al-Mahdi.
(Sunan Ibn Majah, v2, Tradition #4082, The History of Tabari
al-Sawa’iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar, Ch. 11, section 1, pp.
This saying of the Prophet Muhammad heralded the emergence
of a Muslim army from the region of ancient Khurasan, which in
the Middle East is referred to as the East, and comprises parts of
modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Central Asia. (The black
flag is the flag of the Muslim army and the white flag represents the
Muslim state. The black flag also represents war.) This saying of the
Prophet Muhammad is read along with the following saying which
actually draws the boundaries of the theater of war:
Na’im bin. Hammad in al-Fitan reports that Abu Hurayrah, said
that the Messenger of Allah said “A group of you will conquer
India, Allah will open for them [India] until they come with its
kings chained – Allah having forgiven their sins. When they return
back [from India], they will find Ibn Maryam [Jesus] in Syria.”
(from Kanzul-Ummal, a collection of the Prophet
Muhammad’s sayings)
A religious decree for defense of Muslim lands has been issued several

times over by religious scholars with reference to occupied Muslim-
majority territories. These include Indian Kashmir, the Araakan

province of Myanmar, the Muslim regions of the Philippines and
Thailand, and, most of all Palestine, the second most sacred site
for Muslims. When this religious decree was extended to include
Afghanistan as well, a flurry of Muslim youths went to this
country. Pakistan then became the transit point for thousands of
youths, who went into Pakistani colleges and universities where
they spent eight months on education and four months waging
Jihad in Afghanistan. Muslim liberation movements in locations
all over the world, such as Kashmir and Palestine, which had been
considered relics of the past, found new hope in the Afghan Jihad.
Their members and supporters left their home regions and made
Afghanistan their focus. In Afghanistan they were oriented for
years in militant camps, and when they went back to their regions,
they restarted their insurgencies with new zeal, perspective, and
ideological spin. Two of the best examples of this are Palestinian
Hamas and the Kashmiri Hezbul Mujahadeen in the mid and late
1980s respectively.
This movement towards Afghanistan rotated around the Prophet
Muhammad’s saying which referred to the basic theater of war of
the “End of Time” battles as Khurasan. From there it was to move
on to the neighboring region of India, from where all the Muslim
forces would be mobilized towards the Balad-al-Sham (Syria,
Lebanon, and Palestine) to fight the final battle for liberation of
Palestine, and then revive the Caliphate.
While the international Jihadi brigade was regrouping in
Afghanistan and Pakistan, ISI was staffed by Islamists who were
the direct handlers of the Afghan Jihad and no different in their
thinking from the international Jihadis. When they launched the
forward strategy in the Central Asian regions of the Soviet Union
to orchestrate the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan, the
centrifugal force was again this saying of the Prophet Muhammad,
with the strategy underscored that Afghanistan was to be the main

battlefield and Pakistan’s tribal areas the strategic backyard of the
Muslim resistance. From there the theater of war was to branch out
into Central Asia, India, and Bangladesh. The ISI molded the whole
theater of war and oriented volunteer groups accordingly.
The organization known as Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami came into
existence with the help of the Pakistani military apparatus. Harkat-ul
Jihad-i-Islami was the first Pakistani Jihadi organization, and was
formed in 1984. It hailed from the Deobandi school of thought. It
used to recruit youths for the Jihad against the Soviets. The premier
Islamic party of the country, Jamaat-e-Islami, was already very
active in the recruitment of Pakistani volunteers and sending them
for the Jihad. Actually, the raising of human resources was not an
issue for the Jihad against the Soviets, as there was already a very
powerful indigenous Afghan resistance movement which did not
really require any external fighters to assist it.

The real motivation behind the formation of Harkat-ul Jihad-
i-Islami was to draw out the boundaries of the theaters of war

– beyond Afghanistan – in the Central Asian Republics and in
India. It was pure coincidence that after 9/11, first the Pakistan’s
military establishment’s “strategic depth” pattern in Afghanistan
and then the whole Jihadi network which the Pakistani intelligence
apparatus had set up through the Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami slipped
from the ISI’s hands and fell into the lap of Al-Qaeda. From then
on Al-Qaeda used both the Afghan theater and the Jihadi network
to define the boundaries of the theaters of war according to its own
perspective and strategic direction.
The network of Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami had emerged from
Deobandi Islamic seminaries. Its commanders were educated in
different Deobandi schools, which were also their main recruitment
grounds. The Deobandi school of thought has always been the
most influential political, religious, and Sufi school of South and
the Central Asia. Although the Darul Uloom Deoband (an Islamic
school) was founded in 1879 by Maulana Qasim Nanoonthvi in
the district of Saharanpur Uttar Pradesh (India), it was actually a
deep-rooted religious, Sufi, and political legacy of Central Asian
Naqhsbandi Sufi order adopted by various South Asian Muslim
reformists. These included Mujadid Alf Sani (1564–1624), Shah
Waliullah 1703–1762), and Shah Waliullah’s grandson, Shah Ismail
(1779–1831). Sheikh Ahmed Sarhendi, better known as Mujadid
Alf Sani – which means a reformist for next ten centuries – inspired
strict monotheist Islamic values against the Mughal emperor Akbar’s
secular order of Din-e-Ilahi, to force the Mughal dynasty to revert
back to the Islamic system. The hardline Sunni orthodox Mughal
ruler, Aurangzeb Alamgir, is said to be the byproduct of Sarhendi’s
Similarly, with the rise of the Hindu Marhattas and the decline of
the Mughal Empire, Shah Waliullah appeared on the horizon. Shah
Waliullah, a Naqshbandi Sufi like Sarhendi, continued the legacy of
Sheikh Ahmad and through his writings, pointed out the faultlines
in the social, political, educational, economic, and spiritual orders
which had caused of the decline of Muslim rule in India. Shah
Waliullah’s influence ran through the whole region from Central
Asia to South Asia, and that is why when he wrote a very detailed
letter to Ahmad Shah Abdali (a warlord from Kandahar) asking him
to give up his life of ease and fight against the Marhatta dynasty,
Abdali invaded India and ransacked the Marhatta dynasty.
Shah Waliullah’s teachings were carried forward by his son
Shah Abdul Aziz and grandson, Shah Ismail, the ideologue of the
pioneering Jihadi movement in South Asia in the beginning of the
nineteenth century. This influence of the Shah Wali Ullahi family
thus laid the foundation of the Darul Uloom Deoband.
The Darul Uloom Deoband was a trustee of Shah Waliullah
and his family’s legacy and promoted madrassas (schools of
Islamic learning) across the whole of South Asia. It also promoted
the different Sufi orders of Qadri, Chushti, Suharwardi, and
Naqshabandi. The majority of Sufi Khaneka in the extended South
and Central Asian region are affiliated with the Deoband School
of thought. Last but not the least, this school of thought was the
flag bearer of all the Jihadi movements from the nineteenth century
onwards, such as the Syed Ahmed Brelvi, the Faraizi movement,

and the Reshmi Romal movement (the twentieth-century silk hand-
kerchief movement), leading into the twenty-first-century Taliban

The Darul Uloom Deoband launched the movement of religious
education through a trained faculty, and promotes a network of
Islamic seminaries from the Northern Caucasus and Central Asia
to Bengal and Myanmar. The political map of the whole region
changed in the twentieth century as the Caucasus and Central Asian
areas were occupied by the former Soviet Union, while some areas
were captured by communist China, both of which banned religious
education. However, the migrant Central Asian Muslims in northern
Afghanistan, including Badakshah, Balkh, Mazar Shareef, and
Takhar, retained their old religious linkages.
The Darul Uloom Deoband school of thought was the major
academic influence under which scattered Central Asian religious
and Sufi orders were united. It also trained Muslim academics in
India and sent Muslim scholars back to Afghanistan, where they
built large and small madrassas to revive old religious values,
Sufism, and politics.
After the partition of British India, several leading religious

scholars of the Darul Uloom Deoband came to Pakistan and estab-
lished Islamic seminaries there, such as the Jamiatul-Uloomul Islamia

in Binori Town, the Darul Uloom in Karachi, and the Jamia Ashrafia
in Lahore. The International Islamic University founded in the late
1970s in Islamabad was also influenced by the Deobandi school of
thought. These religious schools became centers of learning for the
whole region, and Muslims of Uzbek, Tajik, and Turkoman origin
who had fled the Soviet Union because of its religious restrictions,
as well as Muslims from the Chinese province of Xingjian, and
from Myanmar and Bangladesh, migrated to the Islamic republic of
Some of them sent their children to the Islamic seminaries of
the Deobandi schools where they were provided with free board
and lodging, food, clothing, and education. Pakistan’s intelligence
apparatus tapped this network to extend its reach from Central Asia
to Bangladesh through the formation of the Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami
of Pakistan. They then tapped these schools as the major source
of recruiting Central Asians to pitch them into proxy wars against
the Soviet Union in the Central Asian Republics and the Caucasus.
The Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami simultaneously recruited Pakistanis,
Kashmiris, and Bengalis (Bangladeshis) trained in Afghanistan
for “bleed India” operations after the Soviets had been defeated.
However, they soon became too big to be controlled by Pakistan’s
intelligence apparatus. Meanwhile, a network of Muslim students
from Central Asia was being trained for guerrilla operations around
the world. These students were first sent to training camps of
organizations which had Tajik and Uzbek roots, then transferred
to Afghanistan for further training in the camps of Hizb-i-Islami
Afghanistan led by Gulbaddin Hikmatyar, and Jamaat-e-Islami led
by Afghanistan’s Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmad Shah
Masoud. These two major mujahideen organizations had a sizeable
number of commanders in northern Afghanistan, where a number
of students from Pakistani seminaries were also being prepared by
them to mount an insurgency against the Soviets in Central Asia.
Both the Hizb and the Jamaat were ideologically close to Egypt’s
Muslim Brotherhood. They had not only read the revolutionary
teachings of Syed Qutb and Hasan Al-Banna but were also under
the influence of ultra-radical Arab fighters, as most of these Arabs
had fought against the Soviets under the banner of the two Afghan
organizations. Muslim Central Asian fighters were earlier orientated
to Deobandi Sufi religious values. Their subsequent inclusion in

Jamaat-e-Islami and Hizb-e-Islami’s training camps, and their inter-
action with Arab militant camps, familiarized them with Muslim

Brotherhood literature. Those connections actually laid down
Al-Qaeda’s roots in Central Asia.
The ISI’s initial target was to tap into the underground Naqshbandi
Sufi movements in then Soviet Muslim territories, and these students

infiltrated Central Asia through Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, Jamaat-
e-Islami Afghanistan, and Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami, with the dual

tasks of cultivating the Sufi orders, as well as ordinary Muslims who
had continued practicing Islam despite the repressive Soviet political
Trained in the Afghan Jihadi camps, the Central Asian youths
connected with the underground Sufis and prompted them to revolt
against the Soviet system for the restoration of Muslim values.
Thousands of Holy Qurans were smuggled into the Central Asian
Republics, together with the literature of the Muslim Brotherhood.
These efforts bore fruit in Central Asia’s political arena when the
foundations of the Islamic Renaissance Party were laid in Tajikistan
in 1990, and then later in Uzbekistan and other parts of Central
The establishment of the Islamic Renaissance Party was a proxy

operation against the Soviet Union, backed by the CIA and perpetu-
ated on the ground by the Saudi and Pakistani intelligence agencies

with the help of Afghan mujahideen and the Pakistani Jihadi orga-
nizations. But with the seeds of radical Islam planted, matters began

to spin out of the control of these agencies.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and this further emboldened
the Islamic Jihadi movements in Central Asia. The Uzbeks, Tajiks,
Turks, and Chechens who had participated in the Afghan Jihad went
home after the liberation of their territories in September 1991.
There was then a US campaign to promote democracy in the Central
Asia Republics, but the Jihadis rejected the idea of democracy and
established underground Islamic cells aiming to promote Islamic

revolution throughout Central Asia. These Islamic cells were ideo-
logically motivated by Muslim Brotherhood teachings and initially

supported the ideology of Hizbut Tahrir, a non-militant Islamic
revolutionary group which stood for the establishment of a caliphate
but through a demonstration of street power rather than armed
militancy. But they later turned to Akramia, a breakaway faction
of Hizbut Tahrir, which believed in militancy. A sizeable number
of Islamic Renaissance Party members also joined the underground
Islamic militant movements.
During the Tajikistan civil war in the early 1990s, underground
cells played a significant role. At the height of hostilities in 1992
most of the people owning allegiance to the Islamic Renaissance
Party and other underground Islamic cells fled to Afghanistan.
Jamaat-e-Islami Afghanistan’s commander Ahmad Shah Masoud
brought these Islamic groups into his fold and organized them under
the banner of the United Tajik Opposition, which had regrouped in
northern Afghanistan. The husband of the chief of Hizb-e-Islami
Afghanistan, Gulbaddin Hikmatyar’s niece, Humanyun Jarir, played
a major role in sending these volunteers from northern Afghanistan
into the Central Asian Republics to fuel the unrest.
Meanwhile, Central Asian Islamic militants needed financial
backing, which nobody offered except the Arab camps in Afghanistan.
The ideological connection was the persuasion that Osama bin
Laden used, and this was strengthened by the financial support
he provided to the Uzbek, Chechen, Chinese (eastern Turkestani),
and Tajikistani fighters. As a result, all these factions moved from

northern Afghanistan to Kabul and Kandahar under the Pashtun-
dominated Taliban government in Afghanistan.

After the US invasion of Afghanistan, this Central Asian diaspora
moved to the Pakistani tribal areas, mostly to North and South
Waziristan. Interestingly, except during the initial fight after the US
invasion of Afghanistan, Chechen, Uzbek, and Chinese fighters were
mostly not used in the Afghan battle. Al-Qaeda deliberately held
them in reserve. The ultimate purpose was to eventually send them
back to the Farghana Valley (the boundaries of which touch almost
all of the Muslim republics of Central Asia, as well as Chechnya and
the Chinese province of Xingjian), and from there expand the war
to encompass the whole region.

By the early 1980s Jamaat-e-Islami’s Al-Badr camp came under
the command of Bakht Zameen Khan, who organized a network
of thousands of Pakistani volunteers to fight against Soviet forces
in Afghanistan. Their main training camps were established in the
Afghan province of Paktia near the Pakistani regions of Parachanar,
Khost, and Nangarhar. Initially the ISI used Al-Badr’s camps to train

Kashmiri separatists, and the largest indigenous Kashmiri organi-
zation, Hezbul Mujahadeen, was raised in Al-Badr’s Afghanistan

However, ISI’s strategists felt that for the Ghazwa-e-Hind (the
promised “Battle for India”) there was need for a structure which
stood on more solid foundations. Al-Badr camps were run by
the Jamaat-e-Islami, whose men came from a middle-class urban
background. They had been educated in secular schools. They
were committed to the cause of Jihad, but their commitments were
unlikely to be lifelong (no more than five years at best) because of
their background, which was part of their being.
ISI’s Ghazwa-e-Hind project required networking not only in
Kashmir but in the whole of India – and in India’s neighboring
countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. There was a need for
people who came from simple rural backgrounds with no leanings
towards a middle-class “upward mobility” structure. The Harkat-ul
Mujahadeen, whose network was governed by the Deobandi school
of thought – from Central Asia to Bangladesh – was therefore
thought more suitable for the Ghazwa-e-Hind operations.
Pakistani ISI almost simultaneously opened theaters of war in
Central Asian regions and in Indian-held Kashmir in the late 1980s,

when various newly organized Kashmiri Islamic militant organiza-
tions including Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami and Hezbul Mujahadeen

confronted Indian security forces in Indian Kashmir.
Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami applied the same strategy in India as it
had earlier applied in Central Asia. India was a far easier place to lay
down networks. Initially the Qadri Sufi order was used as a cover
for ISI activities. One of the top Sufi clerics in Pakistan, Mubarak
Ali Shah Gilani, cooperated with the ISI on that front, and soon
an underground network was laid in India with the help of Sufis,
especially in Hyderabad Deccan.

While Kashmiri militants escalated hostilities the Indian under-
ground network was asked to keep a very low profile. The network

was to enhance its activities on the recruitment front only. Soon the
Ghazwa-e-Hind project had reached Uttar Pradesh, where its target
was youths being educated in secular schools. By the late 1990s,
Aligarh University became a hotbed of underground Islamic militant
intrigues, but there was not as yet any plan for the launch of real
Jihadi activities in India.
Meanwhile, Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami had firmly established itself
in Bangladesh through networks of Deobandi Islamic seminaries.
The purpose, however, was not to disturb the social and political
structure of the country, but to facilitate the future Ghazwa-e-Hind
project for a steady supply line of Muslim fighters from Bangladesh
once Jihadi activities had begun in India. The timeframe was closely
linked with the hype on the Kashmiri separatist movement.
After the death in a plane crash of General Zia-ul-Haq and the
formation of a new government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party,
the era of Islamist generals such as General Hamid Gul in Pakistani
military headquarters came towards an end, and strategies such as
Ghazwa-e-Hind transformed into “bleed India” projects became

more of a purely functional proxy operation rather than a deep-
rooted Jihadi perception.

Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami was still the favored network, but in the
late 1990s the Pakistani establishment suddenly stopped pushing
Ghazwa-e-Hind. Instead it dreamed of the creation of a greater
Pakistan stretching from Afghanistan (from a strategic depth
angle) to Bangladesh. The Central Asian module of the military
establishment was shelved in the late 1990s.
This was the time when the Jihadi elements started looking in
another direction, although still cooperating with the Pakistani
military establishment. A hardline Deobandi Taliban rule in
Afghanistan was the great morale booster for Jihadis reared by
Pakistan’s military establishment. But the Jihadis were also closely
monitoring newly emerging equations. The events of 9/11 changed
the world, as well as the Jihadi mindset.
The harvest is ready but …

Pakistan’s ISI’s forward strategy in the 1980s against the Soviet
Union (and against India) was ready to deliver desired national goals
on the regional strategic front when 9/11 happened in 2001. But,
by that time so many events had taken place that it was Al-Qaeda
which benefited from the harvest.
Earlier, thousands of Farghana Valley fighters of ethnic Uzbek,
Tajik, and Turkish origin, along with fighters from the Chinese
province of Xingjian and the Republic of Chechnya, gathered in
an Afghanistan under Taliban rule. The diaspora from Central
Asia and North Caucasus badly needed money, arms, and training
to fuel insurgencies in their home regions. The Taliban provided
them with sanctuaries, but it did not have enough money to
keep its own movement afloat, leave alone fund insurgencies
As a result, dozens of Chechens, Uzbeks, and the Chinese left
Afghanistan and settled in Turkey. Turkey provided them with
housing and money, and encouraged their struggle, although under
the strict vigilance of the state’s intelligence apparatus. That situation
was unacceptable to commanders such as Juma Namangani and
Tahir Yaldochiv of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hassan
Mahsum of the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Party (China), who had
progressively lost control over their men living in Turkey. But
they did not have alternative sources of funding. Al-Qaeda took
advantage of this and developed close contact with these groups. It
provided them with money and training. Although there is no proof
of the organizational attachments of these groups with Al-Qaeda,
there is no denying Al Qaeda’s ideological and financial influence
over them in the late 1990s.
That was the time when the Pakistani Jihadi organizations reared
by ISI became a serious threat to India. According to one estimate,
between 1980 and 2000 approximately 600,000 Pakistanis and
Kashmiris had been trained in different Afghan militant camps, and
at the time of 9/11, at least 100,000 Jihadis were active in Indian
Kashmir (they used to be launched from Pakistan on a rotational
basis). These insurgents not only troubled the 400,000–800,000

Indian security services (including Indian Army, police, and para-
military forces) but emboldened the Pakistan Army to orchestrate

military adventures like the Kargil Operation in 1999. Militants also
dared to hijack an Indian aircraft, took it to Kandahar, and then
exchanged the passengers with their prisoners who were languishing
in Indian jails.
The Jihadis also carried out an attack on the Red Fort in Delhi
in December 2000 and even planned an attack on the Indian
parliament in December 2001. Simultaneously, the Harkat-ul
Jihad-i-Islami was gaining a firm foothold in Bangladesh at
the instigation of the ISI to pave the way for the rout of the
pro-India elements there. Harkat carried out an assassination
attempt on Sheikh Hasina Wajid and many of her supporters in

  1. This brought India under so much pressure that an alliance
    that supported a coalition with Pakistan won the Bangladeshi
    elections in 2001.
    By the year 2001, strategically speaking, Pakistan had become
    the most influential country from Central Asia to Bangladesh. It
    was about to translate that for a better bargain with India as well
    as Iran and the United States when 9/11 occurred. The entire world
    changed, and so did Pakistan’s strategic objectives.

Al-Qaeda splits the spoils of war

Pakistan’s Afghan policy made a U-turn after 9/11, and the country
provided logistic support and airfields to the United States to
facilitate its air and ground assaults on Afghanistan by the end
of 2001. The Taliban were routed in Afghanistan and, under
immense US pressure, the Pakistan-based Jihadi outfits which had
trained in Afghan camps and stood opposed to the US invasion of
Afghanistan were banned. However, Pakistan’s President General
Pervez Musharraf held meetings with senior Jihadi leaders and
assured them that a US presence in Afghanistan would last no more
than five years, so they needed to be patient and bear with Pakistan’s
about-turn of freezing Jihadi activities. The barely veiled deal was
that as soon as the United States withdrew from Afghanistan,
Pakistan would revert to its Jihadi policies again. But those who
planned the 9/11 incident were acutely conscious of the events that
would follow the devastating attacks on the US mainland. They were
well aware that the distance between Pakistan’s military apparatus
and the Jihadi dispensations was bound to widen to the point where
Pakistan did not have much choice but to support the US war.
The thousands of Jihadis assembled in Afghanistan were equally
aware that they faced persecution, jail, and oppression, and so
they made their way to the Pakistani tribal areas to join up with
Al-Qaeda. With that the entire Jihadi assets of the ISI (raised over
two decades) fell into the lap of Al-Qaeda. And with this, Al-Qaeda
was able to expand the boundaries of the theater of war from
Central Asia to Afghanistan and across to Bangladesh.
Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami: from ISI to Al-Qaeda

In 2005, the formidable operational commander of Harkat-ul Jihad-
i-Islami, Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, became convinced after his

second release from ISI detention that US pressure had permanently
disabled the Pakistan Army’s capacity to revert to its pre-9/11
role as the supreme strategic force in the region. He therefore
decided to abandon his struggle in Kashmir, and moved to fight in
Kashmiri was familiar with Afghanistan as he had first trained
and fought there back in the 1980s, before he went to Kashmir. He
took his family along with him this time and migrated to North
Waziristan. His initial aim was to fight alongside the Afghan Taliban
against the NATO forces. However, as he spent an increasing
amount of time with the international Jihadi network, his views
changed. He no longer saw things through the narrower prism
of Kashmir’s liberation. His struggle against India for Kashmir’s
freedom remained a driving force, but it widened to encompass a
global Islamic war view.
Razmak, a small town in North Waziristan, became Kashmiri’s
new home, and he set up his training center there. Kashmiri was
a charismatic commander who had accomplished wonders against
the Indian forces throughout India. He had a great rapport with
the Jihadi community. As a result, his presence in North Waziristan

brought forward hundreds of militants from the Kashmiri battle-
field to Afghanistan. These fighters abandoned their struggle in

Kashmir and moved to North Waziristan ready to be launched into
Afghanistan against the NATO forces.
By mid-2006, Kashmiri’s camp had impressed everybody. He had
retired officers from Pakistan’s military services, former commanders
of elite Jihadi organizations such as Laskhar-e-Taiba, and his own
313 Brigade of blooded fighters trained by the ISI’s India cells.
Al-Qaeda’s leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid and ideologues like Abu

Waleed Ansari and Sheikh Essa drew close to Kashmiri and influ-
enced his thinking, ideology, and strategy. These Al-Qaeda leaders

had earlier interacted with many Jihadi commanders including
Fazlur Rahman Khalil (of Harkat-ul Mujahadeen), Masood Azhar
(of Jaish-e-Mohammad), and Abdullah Shah Mazhar, and feared
that the Pakistani Jihadi commanders could not emerge from the
steel frame constructed for them by the ISI. Their assessment was
that the Pakistani Jihadi commanders could never think beyond the
strategic boundaries drawn in their minds by the ISI. They knew
too that the local tribal commanders were prey to a thought process
constrained by tribal and Pashtun traditions. They were incapable of
thinking beyond Afghan or Pashtun boundaries.
Kashmiri, however, was different. He had a mind which was
intuitively inventive. He had maintained discipline in coordinating
with the Pakistan Army against the Indian forces in Kashmir, and
strictly adhered to Pakistani strategies in that context. However,
he had developed his own operational procedures while providing
valuable assistance for the Pakistan Army to strategize its future
strategic options.
Kashmiri was an original thinker. He was not prone to knee
jerk-reactions and his decisions were a result of considered thought.

His interaction with Al-Qaeda in Razmak had fired his imagina-
tion, and Al-Qaeda found that he and they were exactly on same
wavelength. There is no other example of a non-Arab coming as
close to Al-Qaeda as he had done. Within months his ideas so
impressed Al-Qaeda that it had no hesitation in pulling him into
its inner circle. By 2007 he had become a full-fledged member of
Al-Qaeda’s Shura.

Towards the end of 2007 Kashmiri came up with a compre-
hensive battle plan which surprised even Al-Qaeda. It envisioned

the promised “End of Times” theater of war in the East, which
Al-Qaeda’s best military brains had visualized, but saw no way
of implementing. Kashmiri presented his thesis on this. There was
bound to be a strategic alliance between NATO, the Pakistan Army,
and the Indian forces for the defeat of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in
South Asia. Kashmiri came up with a military plan to counter their
joint efforts.
India was the central element in this plan, and Kashmiri aimed to
revitalize the Jihadi network in that country and orient it to harmonize
with Al-Qaeda’s strategy and ideology. The ISI-built network still held
firm in India, but as a result of the multiple pressures over Pakistan
owing allegiance to the US invasion of Afghanistan, the network had
been marginalized. Kashmiri looked to direct this Jihadi network
to matters such as the destruction of India’s nuclear arsenal. He
calculated that this would create so much friction between the two
countries that India would turn against Pakistan. Kashmiri targeted
three plausible results from this strategy:

  • The dissolution of the strategic alliance between India, NATO,
    and Pakistan against the militants.
  • Trapping Pakistan and India in a conflict which would immedi-
    ately force Pakistan to relocate its forces from the western borders

(in the tribal areas) to the eastern borders (near India) and thus
give free rein to militants to fight against NATO troops.

  • In the case of a war, India would put a naval blockade on Pakistan

which would create problems for the land-locked Afghanistan-
bound NATO supply line from the Arabian Sea.

Kashmiri wanted to create a permanent theater of war in India, as

Pakistan had done in the 1990s in Kashmir. His aim was to desta-
bilize India with a planned pattern of terror plots. He then spent

several months revitalizing the old ISI networks in India, employing
a twofold approach to accomplish this mission.
Kashmiri had connections with the old Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami
assets in India and Bangladesh. The connections were already
there, but Al-Qaeda’s aid was needed to strengthen and broaden
them. Previously Harkat-ul Jihad’s network had operated mostly
in southern India. Kashmiri used his connections in the Pakistani
Jihadi networks and made contact with its underground cells. The
most useful contact in this regard was with SIMI (the Students
Islamic Movement of India). Previously SIMI had been a student
arm of Jamaat-e-Islami, India, but it had since severed its ties with
the parent organization. SIMI had subsequently hailed Osama bin
Laden a true mujahid. Kashmiri was aware of this turn of events so
he quickly tapped into his connections to expand his outreach in
Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

The Mumbai attack on November 26, 2008 came from a meticu-
lous Kashmiri plan which entrusted the task to team members

comprising retired Pakistani army officers who cunningly manipu-
lated an ISI forward section and the Laskhar-e-Taiba. The plan was

perfect for a confrontation between India and Pakistan. But sanity
prevailed in Washington, and the timely intervention of the United
States prevented open hostilities between the two countries.
After the Mumbai carnage failed to start a war, an almost
identical but much bigger plot to simultaneously attack the National

Defense College in Delhi and some of the Indian nuclear installa-
tions was unveiled. But war was again prevented with the arrests of

David Headley in Chicago and Kashmiri’s Indian cells in Pakistan.
The Ghazwa-e-Hind for which Kashmiri had prepared the
ground all over India lay pending, and since a war drum is often
beaten before a war, for the first time Kashmiri emailed a letter to

me, which was tantamount to a declaration of war. The email docu-
mented the talks between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministries

in the shape of dossiers.
Kashmiri wrote:
We warned the international community to play their role
in getting the Kashmiris their right of self-determination and

preventing India from committing brutalities in Kashmir, espe-
cially in Bandipur, raping women, and behaving inhumanly with

Muslim prisoners.
We warn the international community not to send their people
to the 2010 Hockey World Cup, IPL [the Indian Premier League
– a cricket competition involving international players] and
Commonwealth Games [to be held in Delhi later that year].
Nor should their people visit India – if they do, they will be
responsible for the consequences.
We, the mujahideen of 313 Brigade, vow to continue attacks all
across India until the Indian Army leaves Kashmir and gives the
Kashmiris their right of self-determination.
We assure the Muslims of the subcontinent that we will never
forget the massacre of the Muslims in Gujarat and the demolition
of Babri Masjid [a Muslim mosque destroyed by Hindu militants
in 1992]. The entire Muslim community is one body and we will
take revenge for all injustices and tyranny.
We again warn the Indian government to compensate for all
its injustices otherwise they will see our next action. From 313

(quoted in Asia Times Online, February 13, 2010)
Kashmiri had no history of interacting with the media. The first
time he interacted was with me on October 9, 2009, to announce
in an interview that he was alive and had not been killed in a CIA
Predator drone strike as had been reported. The email he sent on
February 13, 2010 was perhaps his first statement to the media. It

was written when Kashmiri had actually finalized his Ghazwa-e-
Hind project.

The second part of Kashmiri’s battle plan was to instigate
rebellion in the Central Asian Republics, the alternative US supply
route for Afghanistan, through which 15 percent of NATO’s supplies
came to northern Afghanistan. This was an easier task. All Central
Asians are natural born fighters, more so even than Afghans and
Pakistani tribesmen. But they lack knowledge of modern warfare
techniques, one of the basics of which is the ability to read the mind
of the enemy. Kashmiri was the one who trained the Central Asians
and Chechens (as he had previously trained Afghan guerrillas) on
how to penetrate enemy lines by using their security uniforms and
by various other networking tools. In addition, the sophisticated
attacks in Moscow and Dagestan by the Chechen guerrillas in
March 2010 were spin-offs of Kashmiri’s training.
Kashmiri took up the necessary training programs for the
Chechen, Uzbek, Uighur, Tajik, and Turkish fighters, first orienting
them with mobilization patterns, response, and the strategic doctrines
of modern armies. The second part of their learning program dealt
with modern guerrilla warfare. The techniques were the same as
Kashmiri had employed in Kashmir, then in Afghanistan.
Kashmiri is an acknowledged expert in the art of reading the
enemy’s mind and guiding guerrillas through gaps left by the enemy,
but he always used trial terror tactics first (like serial cracker blasts)
to measure the response time and mobilization pattern of the
security forces. He then he made plans to fit that pattern. After
they had been fully trained, Kashmiri encouraged the return of the
Central Asian and the Chechen fighters to their homes via Turkey.
In Kashmiri’s battle plan the central theater of war remains
Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal region until the Indian and
Central Asian insurgencies set their respective territories ablaze.
Kashmiri believes that once insurgencies pick up pace in these
areas, the Hindu Kush passes will allow a natural channel to flow
to Central Asia. Infiltration through the Arabian Sea, and actions
across the Pakistan and Bangladeshi land borders would follow to
expand the war theater into India.
Al-Zawahiri was thrilled when he heard Kashmiri’s plan and its
details. Al-Qaeda had tried to work out the zones of war for the
“End of Times” battle, but failed to connect the pieces of the puzzle.
It was left to Kashmiri to strategize the ideological paradigm, and
Kashmiri had the resources in India to make that job much easier.
So Al-Qaeda installed Kashmiri as the head of its military committee
to first finalize the Ghazwa-e-Hind project, and next coordinate the
Central Asian insurgencies.
The Pune bomb blast in 2010 was carried out by Al-Qaeda’s 313
Brigade, led by Kashmiri. Al-Zawahiri was supposed to make an
announcement taking responsibility for the attack in a video speech,
but at the eleventh hour it was decided that since the Pune attack
was not noteworthy enough even to serve as the curtain raiser for
Al-Qaeda’s entry into the Indian war theater, Al-Qaeda should
remain silent. This permitted a hitherto unknown organization, the
Laskhar-e-Taiba Al-Alami, to claim responsibility for the attack
through an email. It was thereupon decided that all future attacks
would be claimed by Al-Qaeda to begin the mobilization of Jihadi
groups in India following the pattern of attacks in Indian Kashmir,
Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
This was the ISI plan drawn up 30 years ago with Harkat-ul
Jihad-iIslami, Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim Brotherhood connections,
Islamic seminaries, and Sufi networks of constructing a theater of
war from Central Asia to Bangladesh to defeat the Soviet Union in

Afghanistan, and simultaneously to acquire the right of self-deter-
mination for Kashmiris in India. Thirty years later, Al-Qaeda simply

refurbished the plan after sketching out its ideological boundaries, to
prepare the greater theaters of war of Khurasan and Ghazwa-e-Hind
for victory, before its armies, holding the black flag aloft, entered in
the Middle East for the final battle against the Western world.

By Editor

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