Arif Jamal: Why Jamaat-ud-Dawa Is a Bigger Threat Than ISIS

An interview with South Asia expert Arif Jamal.

Arif Jamal: Why Jamaat-ud-Dawa Is a Bigger Threat Than ISIS

A leading South Asia expert, Arif Jamal began his professional career in Pakistan in the late 1980s as a journalist and has since worked with several Pakistani and international publications, including the New York Times, Radio France International, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. As a journalist, he has reported from nearly 20 countries. He is a frequent commentator on South Asia in the international media.

Today, Jamal is an independent U.S.-based journalist and author, most recently of Call For Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba 1985-2014. The book, the result of 20 years of research in South Asia and based on primary sources, traces the origin and international network of the biggest jihadist organization in the world. His first book, Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, profiles and analyzes the history of jihad in Kashmir and the role of the Pakistan Army in shaping it since 1988. The book is also a study of the Pakistan Army and its secret service, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Jamal has written more than 350 investigative and interpretive articles in English, focusing on such subjects as Islamist politics in Pakistan, jihad in Kashmir, Pakistan Army, madrassas and Afghanistan.

Jamal recently spoke with The Diplomat’s Muhammad Akbar Notezai about the threats posed by terrorist and jihadist groups based in Pakistan, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which he believes is a bigger threat than the Islamic State (ISIS).

You have extensively covered jihadist organizations and global terrorism in the last more than 20 years. Why do you think the subject needs such close attention?

I have extensively covered jihadist organizations in Pakistan because I always felt that Pakistan is the epicenter of global jihad and the world will not have peace unless they wean Pakistan away from using jihad as an instrument of defense policy. Today’s global jihad can be traced back to the early days of Pakistan’s life, when Pakistan decided to use jihad as a matter of policy. In my first book, Shadow War, I traced the roots of global jihad to Pakistan’s decision to send in tribal mujahideens to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

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The JuD (Jamaat-ud-Dawa) was a Punjab-dominated organization in the beginning. How has it become one of the biggest in the country in recent years?

The Pakistani founding members of JuD (formerly known as the Markaz dawat wal Irshad or MDI) were mostly from Punjab and for a long time it remained a Punjabi-dominated organization. However, in late 1990s, Pakistani military helped JuD expand its infrastructure in Balochistan and Sindh to fight Baloch and Sindhi nationalists. In the last 15 or so years it has succeeded in becoming the leading jihadist organization even in Sindh and Balochistan. It achieved this success with the help of its charity known as the FIF (Filah-i-Insaniat Foundation). The FIF offers dawa [proselytizing] and medical help simultaneously to the poorest people in these provinces. In most cases, they do not have the option of accepting one thing and rejecting the other.

Why do you consider JuD a bigger threat than al-Qaeda and ISIS?

Al Qaeda was and is a terrorist organization at war with the world. Its strategy is to destroy the infidel global system and replace it with an Islamic system. However, it did not have a plan to occupy territory and manpower to run a modern state. Al Qaeda does not have the manpower to run a modern state either. The same is true of ISIS. Both Al Qaeda and ISIS did capture territory and ran a modern state with the help of borrowed manpower. This is why they can and will be defeated.

JuD was conceived and created as an organization that can run a modern state. That is why JuD placed equal stress on recruiting its members from all professions and gives training to its members in all fields of statecraft. Unlike al-Qaeda and ISIS, JuD members come from or have penetrated all government departments, from the Pakistani military down to municipal councils. Unlike al-Qaeda and ISIS, JuD is capable of reinventing itself and surviving.

Many Indian and Western experts still believe that the ambitions of JuD are restricted to India only. Do you agree with that?

This is a big mistake they have committed. This is one reason why the West has been ignoring the threat JuD poses to global peace. All Islamic and jihadist organizations have global ambitions but operate according to the means available. JuD is already operating in about 50 countries under different names.

Who are the Punjabi Taliban?

Punjabi Taliban is a very vague term and should be best avoided. It came into use to mean the Punjab-based Deobandi terrorist groups who were allied to Afghan Taliban, such as SSP and LeJ. Later, many analysts started using it to describe all terrorist groups operating out of Pakistani Punjab. Some include JuD in it while others do not. Although many terrorist organizations have headquarters in Punjab, they are all organized across Pakistan. There is no exclusively Punjabi terrorist group.

In Pakistan, according to some media reports, the suspects who were arrested in Punjab in raids and had pledged allegiance to ISIS originally belonged to JuD. In this context, can ISIS and JuD cooperate with each other in the country in the near future?

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I believe JuD and Islamic ISIS are natural allies. Both are Salafists and share the worldview. In Afghanistan they already cooperate with each other. In fact, ISIS took roots in the Afghan provinces (Nuristan, Kunar, and Nangarhar) that were JuD strongholds in Afghanistan. ISIS is the natural choice for JuD members who find JuD not radical enough. Hence, it should not surprise anybody if JuD members join ISIS.

How do you view the Punjab government’s soft touch with militant groups, particularly with JuD?

Unfortunately, the rising number of Islamists and jihadists has forced both big political parties, i.e. PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) and PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz), to have working relations with them and invite them to join the governments. The big political parties need to have good relations with Islamist and jihadist organizations just to maintain law and order and peace even when they are not in the coalition governments. But most importantly, political parties appease Islamist and jihadist organizations only because they do not want to antagonize the Pakistani military, which supports and patronizes all jihadist organizations so that they fight jihad in India and Afghanistan. However, good relations with Islamist parties come at a very heavy cost.