Jaish-e-Mohammed is one big family enterprise

Francesca Marino
The Ministry of External Affairs also called Azhar's designation as a UN proscribed terrorist a step in the right direction to demonstrate the international community's resolve to combat terrorism and its enablers.

He is dead. No, alive but grievously ill. He is keeping the ministers and the military generals in Pakistan informed about his health and whereabouts.

In the last two months, everything possible has been said and written about Masood Azhar and his Jaish-e-Mohammed. This is a story Mario Puzo would have loved to write, if only he had known Pakistan and its terror organisations.

In fact, if one looks closely Jaish-e-Mohammed is structured and operates like the Mafia did in the United States and south of Italy in the 1950s. It is based on blood ties: the blood running through the veins of the members of the family and the blood they shed to enhance their power. Because, at the end of the day, everything is about keeping the power in the family.

In this story, the 50-year-old Azhar could be Don Vito Corleone, the founder, the Father and the Godfather.

A part of Azhar's story is known. Born in Bahawalpur, he was third of 11 children of a Deobandi cleric who ensured his son received good religious education. He graduated from the Jamia Uloom Islamic madrassa, notorious for ties to the extremist Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA) that backed the proxy war against India in Kashmir.

Azhar was arrested in Anatnag in 1994 during a visit to Jammu and Kashmir. The Harkat-ul-Ansar made several unsuccessful attempts to secure his release. And, here is when the family begins to make an appearance.

Azhar was released on December 1999, with other two terrorists, in exchange for hostages of a hijacked Indian Airlines flight. Azhar's elder brother Ibrahim Azhar was among the hijackers. His brother-in-law Yusuf Azhar and younger brother Abdul Rauf Asghar planned the hijacking. Soon after his release, Azhar, with the support of ISI, launched Jaish, vowing to destroy India and liberate Kashmir. A year later, Jaish announced itself to the world by attacking Indian Parliament and has since expanded its activities much of which are in public domain.

The lesser known fact is that Jaish is a family-run terror enterprise. In perfect mafia style, its legal businesses provide a cover for illegal dealings. Jaish owns huge real estate in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir €" madrassas, training centres and properties from where its charity organisation, the al-Rahmat trust, runs its offices.

Azhar's brothers and brothers-in-law control the group's functioning and finances.

Asghar is the de facto amir, or commander-in-chief, of Jaish, possibly due to Masood's ill health.

The two older brothers €" Ibrahim Azhar and Modh Tahir Anwar €" are the supervisor of Afghan operations and the commander of the Jasih's armed cadres.

Younger brother Talha Saif is responsible for the student wing while another brother, Mohd Ammar, supervises the al-Qalam, Jaish's in-house journal.

At least four of Masood's six brothers-in€"law are with the Jaish. Mohd Anas, Mansoor Ahmed and Abdul Rasheed are involved in various capacities with Markaz Usman-O-Ali in Bahawalpur. Yusuf Azhar was in charge of the now famous Markaz Syed Ahmad Shaheed in Balakot.

In recent years, the second generation has joined the terror enterprise. Azhar's two sons, Abdullah and Waliullah, are involved in operations in Afghanistan and jihadi training. At least three of his nephews have been killed in Kashmir.

The family has taken its network abroad through marriages. Talha is married to a British national and so is Azhar's sister Safeya Bibi. Her husband Anas handles the stores at the Bahawalpur markaz. Some family members, including brothers of Masood's wife, Shazia, and some of his paternal uncles are settled in Saudi Arabia.

The al-Rehmat trust is the principal source of income and continues to operate despite being sanctioned by several countries. It has a worldwide funding network. Money comes from Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and other European countries. Recently, France froze the bank assets of the organisation.

Even though it misses a Michael Corleone, the Jaish family has done what a mafia family would do: networking and penetrating the state and the deep state.

Azhar, like Vito Corleone, made Pakistan an offer it could not refuse: jihad in Kashmir. And now Pakistan state is bound to return the favour, even if it means bankrupting the country. Which is what happens when you strike a deal with the devil.

(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written Apocalypse Pakistan with B Natale)

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