Articles by Amir Mir

Hizbul Tehrir’s Daish link under the scanner

ISLAMABAD: Army chief General Raheel Sharif has sought the British government’s help against the UK-based outlawed Hizbul Tehrir (HT) following intelligence reports of the radical group’s growing links with the Islamic State (IS) or Daish, led by Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi. Most of the HT’s leaders are operating in Pakistan while living in exile in the United Kingdom.

During his January 14, 2015 meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, General Raheel Sharif raised the UK-based HT’s non-stop activities in Pakistan, which are creating security problems. Military Spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa has been quoted by the national media as saying that the issue of Hizbul Tehrir was forcefully raised by the COAS during his meetings with the British PM, Defence Secretary Michael Fallen, National Security Adviser Sir Kim Darroch, Home Office Secretary Mark Sedwill and Director General of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism Charles Farr. According to him, the army chief specifically talked about the Hizbul Tehrir and the Baloch dissidents who had taken up asylum in the UK. According to the DG ISPR, who is in London with the army chief, the British authorities were reminded that the actions of these banned groups are not only affecting Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts but also the security cooperation between the two countries.

According to well-informed sources in the security establishment, in the aftermath of the December 16 Peshawar massacre of innocent schoolchildren, the country’s military and civilian elite had decided to launch a decisive crackdown against the militant groups like Hizbul Tehrir which have known links with international terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda or Daish and are targeting the state of Pakistan, especially the security forces. The sources said the intelligence agencies have recently acquired information about the Hizbul Tehrir’s growing connection with Abu Bakar Baghdadi-led Daish which has announced last week the organisational set-up of its regional chapter, led by a Pakistan national, Hafiz Saeed Khan, who comes from the Mamozai area of the Orakzai Agency and used to be a part of the TTP.

In fact, the Hizbul Tehrir has the same goals and objectives as al-Qaeda and Daish — the enforcement of Islamic rule in accordance with Shariah in Muslim-majority countries and the restoration of an Islamic caliphate. In a major development which indicated HT’s Daish connection, the Lahore Police arrested [on December 6, 2014] 13 activists of the Hizbul Tehrir from different areas of the provincial metropolis for wall chalking and distributing pamphlets in different areas of the city in support of Daish. The police also raided the clandestinely set up Lahore office of Daish in the Gulberg area and recovered huge quantity of pamphlets and other such material wherein the Pakistani civilians and servicemen were asked to rise against the rulers to pave the way for establishing an Islamic caliphate in Pakistan.

Similarly, the Hizb is also active in the federal capital Islamabad where pamphlets [among the citizens asking them to support the outfit for the establishment of caliphate in the country] are distributed, especially in educational institutions, mostly on Fridays.

Being a proscribed organisation, the HT does not have any offices in Pakistan and its organisational affairs are mainly looked after by its office bearers from their homes. However, the problem for the Pakistani agencies is that the actual leadership of the group in Pakistan remains undisclosed, even to members, due to security fears.

The Pakistan chapter of the HT was established in December 2000 when a group of British youth of Pakistani descent (headed by Imtiaz Malik and guided by British-Pakistanis Dr Abdul Wajid in Lahore and Dr Abdul Basit Shaikh in Karachi among others) decided to use Pakistan as the base camp for their movement to re-establish an Islamic caliphate.

While Imtiaz is considered to be the underground leader of the HT in Pakistan, his deputy, Naveed Butt, a graduate of the University of Illinois in the US, remains the most vocal group leader in Pakistan who is assisted by two well-educated youngsters, Imran Yousafzai and Shahzad Sheikh, both British nationals of the Pakistani origin.

The first national-level conference of HT was organised in Lahore in November 2003, two-and-a-half years after it was formally launched in Pakistan. The conference was attended by over 2,000 members. Hardly three days later, the Musharraf regime banned the group. The HT’s challenge to the ban in the Lahore High Court (LHC) was dismissed. Another petition filed in 2006 is still pending before the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court.

According to the law enforcement agencies, the Hizb uses modern technology, including SMS and emails, to spread its views and ideology along with reactions to different national events. Its activists use scores of cell phone numbers and email addresses. After using a mobile phone, they switch it off to avoid being traced. On a number of occasions, HT activists were arrested after being caught distributing written materials in the capital. Dozens of its activists arrested during the last five years were released on bail after which they went into hiding. According to the sources, the Hizb is under instructions from its UK-based leadership to focus on the educated Pakistani youth, professionals and the middle-class and convert them to the party’s radical cause of bringing “khilafah” revolution in the only nuclear Islamic state. The HT leadership has further asked its supporters in Pakistan to trim their beards or go clean-shaven so as not to appear suspicious.

The Hizb infiltration is believed to be on a massive scale which had already compelled the Pakistani agencies to closely monitor even the Khaki ranks, especially after the May 2011 arrest and subsequent court martial of Brigadier Ali Khan and his co-accomplices for their alleged links with Hizbul Tehrir. The arrested officers were interrogated by the Special Investigation Branch of the Military Intelligence (MI), some of whom conceded they were in touch with the HT, which had incited them to launch a rebellion against the military and political leadership for their pro-American policies. Brigadier Ali was convicted by a field general court martial (FGCM) on August 3, 2012, along with Major Sohail Akbar, Major Jawad Baseer, Major Inayat Aziz and Major Iftikhar for their alleged links with the HT.

A group of junior army officers linked to HT had previously tried to stage a military coup against the Musharraf regime in 2003 with the help of their moles in uniform. But the plan was foiled and the plotters were court-martialed, followed by a government ban on the activities of the HT in Pakistan. The Pakistani military authorities had also arrested Omar Khan, a British-born Pakistani who was identified as the person enlisting and indoctrinating the men in uniform on behalf of the HT.

Interestingly, despite striving to establish caliphate, the HT claims to be a political party with Islam as its ideology. It was actually established in Jerusalem in 1953 by Shaikh Taqiul Deen al-Nabahani (1909-1977), a cleric and a judge in the Shariah Court. The stated goal of the HT at that time was to establish an expansionist super-state called the Khilafah, initially consisting of Muslim-majority states and finally expanding to the rest of the world. After the May 2 killing of bin Laden in a US military raid in Abbottabad, coupled with the May 6, 2011 arrest of Brigadier Ali Khan, the Pakistani chapter of HT has come under increasing attention because of its alleged penetration of the higher reaches of the establishment.

Those investigating Brigadier Ali Khan and several other senior officers of the Pakistan Army for their HT links say despite claiming to be a non-violent political party, the HT had a violent jehadi agenda to overthrow the government and remove the khaki top brass. Investigators say the HT leadership had actually marked Pakistan as a base from which it wanted to spread the Islamic rule across the world. The Pakistani intelligence sleuths responsible for monitoring the HT activities say, before the emergence of Daish in Pakistan, the group had been working in tandem with al-Qaeda under the garb of pan-Islamism.

The HT’s tactics to achieve its objectives differ from place to place. For instance, the group had for some time followed the “keep your ideology in your heart” strategy in the United Kingdom, without vocally or tacitly supporting any of the violent acts being carried out by the militants. But in Pakistan, it not only accuses Pakistani and Western governments of involvement in acts of terrorism but also extends its sympathies and support to militant groups.

The HT approach to such issues in the UK will be totally different. There, after the July 2005 London suicide attacks that killed 55 people, it increasingly disguises its support for Jihad, anti-Semitic beliefs and intolerant ideologies. The London bombings were carried out by four British nationals of the Pakistani origin who were indoctrinated in the British capital by extremists belonging to al-Mohajiroun and HT. Still, despite being a banned organisation in Pakistan, the HT members can be seen at key mosques on Fridays in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, openly distributing volatile literature propagating the revival of the caliphate.


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