Property records nail Pakistani lie on Jaish-e-Mohammed HQ in Bahawalpur, finds Firstpost investigation

Property records nail Pakistani lie on Jaish-e-Mohammed HQ in Bahawalpur, finds Firstpost investigation

Property records of a sprawling seminary said to be the headquarters of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a claim denied by Pakistan in recent days, does indeed belong to the internationally proscribed terrorist group, an investigation by Firstpost has found. The records also establish that the property was purchased in spite of the organisation being subjected to both Pakistani and international sanctions.

Following the Indian Air Force strike on a jihadi training facility in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province on 27 February, the Bahawalpur headquarters is the focus of Indian and international efforts to push Pakistan to shut down JeM.

Indian intelligence assessments suggest the strike may have killed up to 20 terrorists, including three former Pakistan Army trainers. Intelligence sources told Firstpost there were only five confirmed kills, based on burials recorded by intelligence assets in the region.

Speaking at a JeM rally in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on 28 February, JeM founder Masood Azhar’s brother, Abdul Rauf Rasheed Alvi, better known as Rauf, confirmed that India had attacked “our headquarters”, and vowed revenge. He did not, however, mention casualties. In 2009, just months after the Mumbai attacks of 26 November, 2008, Rauf arrived at a small government office in Bahawalpur to register the purchase of nine acres and one kanal of farmland off the Bahawalpur-Karachi highway.

For a stated value of 1.5 million Pakistani rupees (~Rs 7.6 lakh), a local, Ahmad Nayeem, sold the property to Rauf and his partner, Rashid Ahmed, on 23 March of that year, documents obtained by Firstpostshow. The property has now grown into a sprawling JeM facility on the outskirts of the city, which the organisation’s propaganda material says has space for 12,000 students, sports facilities and prayer areas.

Following the suicide-bomb attack on the Central Reserve Police Force in Pulwama, Pakistan had announced that it was taking over administration of the Jama-e-Masjid Subhanallah in Bahawalpur, along with the Sabir seminary — both parts of the complex.

But, just a day later, Bahawalpur deputy commissioner Shahzaib Saeed told a group of visiting journalists it was just a “routine seminary having no links with the Jaish-e-Mohammed… Some 600 students are studying here and none of them is associated with any banned organisation or involved in any terror activity”.

Pakistan’s information and broadcasting minister Fawad Chaudhry joined him in denial. “This is a seminary and India is doing propaganda that it is the JeM headquarters,” the minister said.

From the documents, though, it is clear the Pakistan government was being economical with facts. Rauf, the owner of the property, was sanctioned by the United States treasury department in 2010 for his role in “deadly attacks against innocent civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India”.

Perhaps more important, Rauf was identified by the JeM’s in-house journal al-Qalam as “General of the Jaish-e-Mohammed” in its 9 February, 2017 issue. The magazine said Rauf had addressed a mosque gathering in the Gumtala village, telling it that “Islam is a world power and cannot be destroyed”. He went on, “Jihad is the most important obligation of our faith”.

In an effort to put space between its military social operations, the organisation had in 2010 given jihad veteran Maulana Ghulam Murtaza the charge of reviving the al-Rahmat trust, once run by Allah Baksh, Azhar’s father. That year, a JeM-affiliated publication said the trust was paying pensions to the families of at least 850 jihadists killed or imprisoned in India as well as in other countries

In 2016, footage showed young men in Karachi collecting funds from congregants for the al-Rahmat trust, saying it was for “the brave young men of the JeM who are fighting for the victory of the name of god and Islam”. Pakistan’s National Counter-Terrorism Authority states on its website that the organisation was proscribed on 14 January, 2002, which leaves open the question of how Rauf was able to collect the funds needed to purchase the land on which the Bahawalpur seminary flourished.

Perched on the Mansehra-Balakote road, above the village of Jaba, a bright-red arrow on top of a blue signboard points towards the mountains: “Madrasa Taleem ul-Quran (seminary for education in the Quran),” it reads.

The small lettering at the bottom tells passers-by the institution runs under the sarparasti, or guardianship, of Maulana Masood Azhar. His brother-in-law, Muhammad Yusuf Azhar, is identified as the executive in-charge. Phone numbers are provided as well.

Bahawalpur-based sources told Firspost at least two JeM volunteers from the headquarters, who left to train at Balakote early in February, could not be contacted by their families after the air strike.

In Bahawalpur and other major Pakistani cities, JeM operations are underway, untouched by the unfolding India-Pakistan crisis. In Karachi, there were “magnificent gatherings at two locations, where hundreds of volunteers assembled to learn about the realities of jihad,” says al-Qalam.

The JeM’s district-in-charge, Rana Shahid, led similar gatherings in Bahawalpur, in the name of the emir-ul-mujahideen (prince of the holy warriors) Masood Azhar.