Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Video - Egyptian Music Ruby (Yal Rmosh)

20,000 Foreign Fighters Flock To Syria, Iraq

Foreign fighters are streaming into Syria and Iraq in unprecedented numbers to join the Islamic State or other extremist groups, including at least 3,400 from Western nations among 20,000 from around the world, U.S. intelligence officials say in an updated estimate of a top terrorism concern.
Intelligence agencies now believe that as many as 150 Americans have tried and some have succeeded in reaching in the Syrian war zone, officials told the House Homeland Security Committee in testimony prepared for delivery on Wednesday. Some of those Americans were arrested en route, some died in the area and a small number are still fighting with extremists.
The testimony and other data were obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
Nick Rasmussen, chief of the National Counterterrorism Center, said the rate of foreign fighter travel to Syria is without precedent, far exceeding the rate of foreigners who went to wage jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia at any other point in the past 20 years.
U.S. officials fear that some of the foreign fighters will return undetected to their homes in Europe or the U.S. to mount terrorist attacks. At least one of the men responsible for the attack on a satirical magazine in Paris had spent time with Islamic extremists in Yemen.
Meanwhile, the White House circulated a proposal Tuesday that would have Congress authorize the U.S. military to fight Islamic State terrorists over the next three years. A formal request for legislation is expected on Wednesday.
Also at the White House, President Barack Obama praised Kayla Jean Mueller, the young American whose death was confirmed Tuesday. Mueller died while in Islamic State hands, though the group blamed a Jordanian airstrike, and Obama said, "No matter how long it takes, the United States will find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kayla's captivity and death."
As for foreign fighters, officials acknowledge it has been hard to track the Americans and Europeans who have made it to Syria, where the Islamic State group is the dominant force trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad. The U.S. Embassy in Syria is closed, and the CIA has no permanent presence on the ground.
"Once in Syria, it is very difficult to discern what happens there," according to Wednesday's prepared testimony of Michael Steinbach, the FBI's assistant director for counterterrorism. "This lack of clarity remains troubling."
The estimate of 20,000 fighters, from 90 countries, is up from 19,000, Rasmussen will tell the House committee, according to prepared testimony. The number of Americans or U.S. residents who have gone or tried to go is up to 150 from 50 a year ago and 100 in the fall.
Rep. Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who chairs the committee, said in his prepared remarks that the Syrian war had created "the largest convergence of Islamist terrorists in world history." Sustained bombing by a U.S.-led coalition has not stopped the inflow, he noted.
McCaul's committee staff compiled from public sources a list of 18 U.S. citizens or residents who joined or attempted to join the Islamic State group, and 18 others who tried to or succeeded in joining other violent Islamic groups. The list includes three Chicago teens and three Denver teens who were radicalized and recruited online and were arrested after attempting to travel to Syria to join Islamic State fighters. It also includes Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, a Californian who died in August while fighting with the Islamic State group near Aleppo.
U.S. intelligence officials do not make public their estimate of how many Americans currently are fighting in Syria and Iraq. In September, FBI director James Comey said it was "about a dozen."
Francis X. Taylor, who heads the Homeland Security Department's intelligence office, said in his prepared testimony for the hearing that "we are unaware of any specific, credible, imminent threat to the homeland."
However, he said, the department is concerned that Americans who join violent extremist groups in Syria "could gain combat skills, violent extremist connections and possibly become persuaded to conduct organized or 'lone-wolf' style attacks that target U.S. and Western interests. We also have become increasingly aware of the possibility that Syria could emerge as a base of operations for al-Qaida's international agenda, which could include attacks against the homeland."
Taylor said the U.S. is trying to instruct other governments on how best to track foreign fighters, including "how they can compare airline manifests and reservation data against terrorist watch lists and other intelligence about terrorist travel." He said the U.S. outpaces other countries in that effort.
The intelligence officials also discussed the possibility of homegrown attacks inspired by the Islamic State or al-Qaida but not directly connected to the groups. Rasmussen of the counterterrorism center appeared to downplay that threat, saying it "will remain at its current level resulting in fewer than 10 uncoordinated and unsophisticated plots annually from a pool of up to a few hundred individuals, most of whom are known to the (intelligence agencies) and law enforcement."
McCaul said he fears the Obama administration is blind to the looming dangers of homegrown radicalism of the kind that led to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
"We have no lead agency in charge of countering domestic radicalization and no line item for it in the budgets of key departments and agencies," he said. "I am also concerned that the few programs we do have in place are far too small to confront a challenge that has grown so quickly."

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Obama Calls Putin Regarding Ukraine Situation

The White House says President Barack Obama spoke by phone Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging the Russian leader to back a peace deal for Ukraine set for review Wednesday at a four-nation crisis summit in Belarus.
Obama's call, described in a White House statement, came as Ukraine reported that rocket strikes in the eastern city of Kramatorsk killed at least 12 people and wounded more than 80 others.  

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Obama readying request to use force against Islamic State

The White House will ask Congress by Wednesday for new authority to use force against Islamic State fighters, congressional aides said on Monday, paving the way for lawmakers' first vote on the scope of a campaign that is already six months old. 
The United States is leading an international coalition against Islamic State, and PresidentBarack Obama launched an air campaign in August against the militant fighters, who have killed thousands of people while seizing swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.
The administration's failure so far to seek a formal Authorization to Use Military Force for the campaign has caused some members of Congress to express concern that it overstepped the president's constitutional authority.
Others have said that lawmakers should weigh in on an issue as important as the use of military force.
The administration has said the campaign is legal, based on authorization passed under President George W. Bush in 2002 for the Iraq War and in 2001 for fighting al Qaeda and associated groups.
Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House of Representatives' Democrats, told reporters last week the White House would seek an authorization that would last three years. She said there had not yet been decisions about the geographic scope of an authorization or what limits would be placed on combat troops - "boots on the ground."
That issue is expected to be a major sticking point in debate. Many Democrats want to bar sending in U.S. combat forces, but several Republicans have insisted it would be inappropriate to limit military commanders.
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said hearings on the administration's request would start quickly.
The Obama administration had been in close consultations with lawmakers before making its formal request, which could make the approval process move more quickly, he said.
"There have been serious consultations, and there will be more serious consultations," he told reporters at the Senate.
Obama is also expected to seek a repeal of the Iraq war authorization, but not the 2001 authorization, which passed days after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Congressional aides told Reuters on Monday that was still the expectation for Obama's request, given discussions between the administration, lawmakers and congressional staffers. They requested anonymity because they were speaking about private consultations.
The White House has declined to comment on the timing or details of the request.

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Afghanistan - President Ghani Suspends Karzai's Request for Indian Arms

Government sources have confirmed that President Ashraf Ghani has suspended a request made by former president Hamid Karzai in his final months in office that India supply Afghanistan's military with heavy weaponry.
When the request was made, Karzai was on his way out, relations with India were continuing to grow, and the Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) had said the national security forces were in dire need of more heavy weaponry. President Karzai provided a list of weapons to the Indian government, which was initially rejected, but later New Delhi agreed to assess the request.
Regarding Ghani's choice to rescind the ask, Mohammad Mohaqeq, the Second Deputy of Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, said that the government would likely get the weapons from another source. "If president the has rejected this, there is the possibility that he has thought of another place to confidently get these arms from," he said.
Mohaqeq went on to suggest that President Ghani would likely follow in Karzai's footsteps when it comes to expanding relations with India broadly speaking. "I believe that the president would have a trip to India and he will not contradict all the works of the former president, we need the equipment and should get it from anywhere."
The Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) has responded by reinforcing that they are in desperate need for the heavy weaponry. "So far we haven't received weapons from India for the national army," MoD deputy spokesman Dawlat Waziri told TOLOnews. "All the equipment available to us is American, only our officers and soldiers have travelled to India for training, but we need this equipment," he added.
Some analysts have said the rescinding of the arms deal request is part of a broader effort by the national unity government to improve Kabul's ties with Islamabad, which have been strained for years.
"Without considering the political balance while forging relations with regional countries and the world, particularly India, as an ally and strategic partner and one of the major donors to Afghanistan and funding source of big projects, this could lead Afghanistan to crisis and deadlock," military analyst Jawed Kohistani said.
Afghanistan and India have enjoyed increasing close relations in spheres such as the economy, trade and military cooperation. India is one of the top five donor countries to Afghanistan.

Blasts kill 6 policemen in Pakistan

At least six soldiers were killed on Tuesday in two separate roadside bomb blasts in Pakistan's restive northwestern tribal region. 

Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks. The first remote-controlled improvised explosive device blast occurred in Mansehra district, killing two policemen this morning. 

A few hours later, second blast hit a police vehicle and claimed the lives of four cops in Urmagai area of central Kurram Agency bordering Afghanistan, officials said, adding that security forces cordoned off the area and launched a search operation. 

Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, meanwhile in a statement, said that it has carried out both the attacks. 

Kurram is one of the most sensitive tribal areas as it borders three Afghan provinces. It is adjacent to North Waziristan region where security forces have launched an offensive againsgt the Taliban. 

Pakistan - Writing on the wall

The recent wave of imambargah bombings is consistent with Daesh’s modus operandi in Iraq during the days of the US invasion.
While the Pakistan army tackles  militants in North Waziristan and FATA, it seems that Pakistan’s troubles with terrorism are about to get a lot worse. After the Peshawar incident, banned terrorist outfits have been on the back foot in the wake of the counterterrorist response but if the recent attacks on imambargahs are any indication, we might have to face a very different kind of monster quite soon.

The Islamic State (IS)/Daesh, born from the power vacuum and sectarian undertones in Iraq, continues to garner the world’s attention through its ever barbaric antics and even though the Kurdish fighters have been able to control Daesh’s advance towards Kobani with the help of other allies, the organisation now controls vast territories in the Middle East and counts among its recruits members from various countries, including some European states as well. When the organisation’s chief, the self-proclaimed Caliph Abubakr al-Baghdadi, rose to fame last year, rightful concerns were raised about the possible implications of such an organisation towards Pakistan’s security landscape. At that point, Daesh was too busy in Syria and Iraq, and did not seem to have any plans to advance eastwards, so the concerns were brushed aside. More recently, no less than the country’s advisor on foreign affairs and national security, Sartaj Aziz, has publicly avowed that IS is not a ‘major’ threat for Pakistan. However, the situation has changed dramatically since last year and neglecting the IS threat any further will harm us in the long run.

First of all, warped understandings of Pakistan’s security situation have already cost us too much in terms of the hydra-headed militancy in Pakistan. We were too late to realise the threat posed by terrorist networks and we seem to have learnt nothing from our failure. IS now controls vast territories in the Middle East and it has already made its presence felt in Pakistan as well. Starting from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a series of wall-chalkings were followed by pamphlets that made their way towards other parts of the country later on.

And, just last month, Daesh announced its organisational structure for the ‘Khorasan’ province, comprising of Pakistani and Afghan territories. Furthermore, Abubakr al-Baghdadi has received implicit and explicit allegiances from banned outfits in Pakistan such as Jundullah. Lastly, a former leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hafiz Saeed Khan was given the responsibility of overseeing all Deash operations in the region, whereas a former Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, was made his deputy.

In the wake of all this, our state of denial about Daesh’s presence is worrisome since it hampers our ability to foresee the extent of the problem and devise suitable measures. Contrary to the official stance taken, there are multiple reasons why Daesh is going to be a major issue for Pakistan in the coming days.

Firstly, Pakistan will prove to be fertile breeding ground for Deash’s ideology because of its violent sectarian history. While the adherents of the Salafi brand of Islam remain far and few in the Islamic Republic, we as a nation are nonetheless growing extremely intolerant towards minorities, religious or otherwise. This particular aspect of our national psyche, combined with our history of violent sectarianism, is going to play well into the hands of IS and allow them inroads into Pakistani society. There are multiple ways the Sunni-Shia divide can be exploited by IS and, as a matter of fact, the recent wave of imambargah bombings is consistent with Daesh’s modus operandi in Iraq during the days of the US invasion.

Secondly, the local militancy movement is going to be looking for a much stronger umbrella organisation after being forced to lay low due to the counterinsurgency operation by the Pakistan army. Not only can Deash offer ideological harmony, it also has access to state-of-the-art weaponry and training, which the militants here will be attracted towards. Furthermore, finding sources of funding is not going to be an issue for all those that come under Daesh’s command since the organisation’s pockets run deeper than any other similar group.

That being said, Daesh’s inroads towards Pakistan and Afghanistan are not going to be a walk in the park. The army’s ongoing operation has proved to be a bane for the terrorist organisations, and it will effectively curb any new players from making forays into the region. However, apart from that, the existent Taliban and al Qaeda affiliates will not be too happy to jump onto the IS bandwagon from the very start. In fact, Deash might have to engage in fierce turf wars to claim any sort of command over South Asian territories, which in turn could prove to be a crucial blow to its avowed mandate; internecine conflict, after all, has been the cause of many an empire’s decline. However, such caveats should not be taken as ironclad guarantees that will protect us in the days to come. Truth be told, post Peshawar Pakistan is already looking a lot like its pre Peshawar self and, in such a situation, we can continue to ignore the writing on the wall only at our own peril.

Pakistan - Plea against acting governor : LHC issues fresh notice to federal government

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court on Monday issued a fresh notice to the federal government for submitting its reply till February 13 on a petition challenging the appointment of Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Iqbal as acting governor.

The judge had earlier sought a reply from the federal government but it was not submitted.

An advocate, Munir Ahmad, filed this petition. Counsel for the petitioner Muhammad Azhar Siddique submitted that after resignation of governor Ch Sarwar, the speaker Punjab Assembly was appointed the caretaker governor, which was against the constitution. He said that either the working governor will resume his office if the circumstances provided in the constitution arise or a new governor be appointed, but a middle-way governor or caretaker governor may not be appointed. He submitted that after the resignation of the ex-governor, appointment of a caretaker governor was not only in conflict with the provision of the constitution but also against the basic nomenclature, scheme and structure of the constitution.

He also said that the appointment of caretaker governor was not only an act of illegal nature but violation of mandatory provisions of the constitution as well.

He said that the Article 199(1)(b)(ii) lays down the powers to LHC to require the person who holds a public office to show under what authority of law he claims to hold that office. He requested that acting governor should be removed from his office and direction may be given to the respondents concerned for appointment of the governor who fulfils the criteria and requirements as laid down in the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973.

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The China-Pakistan Alliance: The Key to Afghan Stability?

On February 9, China’s assistant foreign minister, Liu Jianchao, joined his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts in Kabul for the first round of a new trilateral strategic dialogue. The dialogue, attended by Liu, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai provided a tantalizing glimpse of what trilateral cooperation between these neighbors could mean for Afghan stability.
As Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying noted in her press conference today, Afghanistan’s security situation was “a major topic” at the trilateral dialogue. All three countries “reaffirmed their commitment to [the] peace and stability of Afghanistan and the region” and China and Pakistan emphasized their support for a peace process “led and owned by the Afghans.”
Though the emphasis was on security, most of the deliverables from the meeting were actually in the economic realm, where China is most comfortable. China committed to helping build a hydro-electric dam on the Kunar River and to constructing new road and railroad connections between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Kunar dam, to be constructed within Afghanistan but close to the Pakistan border, is expected to provide electricity for both countries.
Indeed, the whole theme of the meeting seems to have been greater Afghan-Pakistani cooperation, facilitated by China. Afghanistan’s representatives at the talks specifically asked China to “play a constructive role in promoting bilateral interactions between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” according to Hua. China has a close relationship with Pakistan, often described as an “all-weather friendship.” Kabul hopes that China can use its unique ties with Islamabad to pressure Pakistan into playing a constructive role in Afghan security. Afghanistan in particular wants Pakistan to nudge the Afghan Taliban into negotiations over a true unity government – rather than supporting the group’s more militant ambitions.
Beijing itself hosted representatives from the Taliban last year, in what was widely read as an indication China is willing to play the role of mediator in negotiations. But Afghan officials believe that Pakistan will have to be at the table as well and they hope China can help convince its ally to join the negotiations in good faith. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will be in Islamabad later this week; Kabul will be watching closely.
U.S. officials interviewed by the Wall Street Journal believe that China is ready to become more politically involved in promoting Afghan security – both through mediation and through more concrete measures such as stepping up the training of Afghan troops. However, the recent trilateral dialogue mostly limited itself to economic commitments. Promoting economic projects that will link Afghanistan and Pakistan has undeniable political ramifications, but still relies on the tools (investment and aid) China has grown accustomed to using around the world.
Outside of economic deals, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan committed to broadening their cooperation on counter-terrorism, but there are no specifics on how the countries will do so. All three countries have suffered from deadly terrorist attacks in the past year and remain concerned about the growing influence of jihadist militants groups (including not only the Talban but Islamic State, which has been ramping up its activities in the region as well).

Pakistan - Govt imposing taxes on behest of IMF, overlooking Parliament

A unanimous opposition in the National Assembly on Tuesday boycotted proceedings against the imposition of additional taxes without the approval of Parliament.

Leader of Opposition in NA Syed Khursheed Shah said that the government was imposing these taxes on the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and that till the government does not withdraw the additional General Sales Taxes (GST) on POL products, they would not go back into Parliament.

He said that in the past, Atiqa Odho, Ajinomoto, and Suo Moto were famous names and that if the issue of taxes wasn’t solved they would go to court.

He went on to say that the government should not punish the citizens as well as the Parliament due to its own inefficiency and that it is the people and the Parliament that have saved the government so they deserve respect.

Khursheed Shah further said that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is making decisions in such a way that it seems the common man is their enemy. He also said that there was no point of metro or bullet trains since the people would still be hungry and that the party members of PML-N should themselves also protest.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) MNA Rashid Godil said that the common man wants to dissociate itself from such a democracy.

Pakistan - Political circus - Baldia factory fire

The Baldia factory fire in which 258 labourers lost their lives in 2012 is a case that has taken on another shocking dimension. A report released by the Rangers Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to the Sindh High Court has alleged that the factory was set on fire on purpose by MQM workers because the owner of the factory refused to pay bhatta (extortion) money to the party. These are the kind of charges that can cause immense damage to Altaf Hussain’s party; the intentional murder of 258 people by a mainstream political party is not something that can easily be swallowed, even by the most hardened of nations. The MQM has, expectedly, denied these claims going as far as to say that the accused ‘worker’ who has been named in the report is not actually an MQM worker and that he should be hanged in public if found to be behind the atrocity. So, not only is the MQM distancing itself from these flammable accusations, it is also disowning the main culprit.

To make matters worse, the MQM chief is now also in the eye of the PTI storm. Altaf Hussain apparently issued some very derogatory remarks recently against female PTI party workers, inciting the wrath of Imran Khan. Khan, in a press conference yesterday, lashed out at Altaf Hussain, calling him a “psychopath” and a “coward” and urging the MQM to distance itself from the party chief. He referred to the JIT report and urged the government to bring Altaf back to the country to be tried for the Baldia factory incident. There is no doubt about the fact that, in the wake of the damning report, a war of words has been unleashed between the PTI and the MQM with slurs and dirt being flung from one press conference to another.

What needs to be done is the exact opposite. The release of the JIT report calls for proper proceedings not the playing out of politics over the charred remains of the Baldia factory victims, poor men and women who were trying to eke out a living in the harshest conditions possible. They worked day and night in that factory to earn a pittance only to be burned alive in what could possibly be a politically/criminally motivated crime. What the MQM should do (or be made to do) is take its grievance to court. It has every right to defend itself but it does not seem appropriate to make the media one’s courtroom. If the MQM believes it is being unnecessarily associated with the tragedy of Baldia, it needs to prove the charge is not true in a court of law. It is the job of the state to bring some sort of closure to the families of the 258 deceased. The MQM is not wholly innocent when it comes to allegations of extortion. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence against it, pointing to a long and rather indisputable track record of protection money racketeering.

We owe it to the poor workers of Baldia to fully and completely investigate these claims. We cannot allow the accusations of the JIT report to be played out on our television screens with no proper recourse to a court of law. This is what usually happens in Pakistan: much hot air initially that is only deflated when news becomes too old to care for. But we must care for those 258 people — a staggering number — who perished in the flames in Baldia. Political rivalry and point scoring should not be the last remaining memories of those victims. The MQM needs to prove its innocence and the PTI needs to let that happen in the proper, judicial manner. 

China Confirms Pakistan Nuclear Projects

A Chinese official publicly confirmed Monday that Beijing is involved in at least six nuclear power projects in Pakistan and is likely to export more to the country, media reports said.
In a press conference in Beijing, Wang Xiaotao, the vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, said China “has assisted in building six nuclear reactors in Pakistan with a total installed capacity of 3.4 million kilowatts.”
Wang, who was unveiling plans for new guidelines for Chinese exports in the nuclear sector, also said that Beijing was keen to provide further exports to countries, which would presumably include Pakistan given previous reports and trends.
The Sino-Pakistan nuclear link has been well-known even though some specifics are often shrouded in secrecy. This is reportedly the first time that a top official has publicly admitted to such a scale of China’s cooperation with Pakistan.
Revelations about the growing Sino-Pakistan nuclear axis comes amid continuing concerns expressed by some that ongoing cooperation is occurring without the sanction of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which helps supervise the export of global civilian nuclear technology. China is a member of the NSG and existing regulations prohibit members from exporting such technology nations like Pakistan which do not adopt full-scale safeguards.
China declared the first two reactors it already agreed to construct for Pakistan – the Chashma-1 and Chashma 2 – at the time it joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2004, with the expectation that no new deals would follow. But in 2010, the China National Nuclear Cooperation announced it would export technology for two new reactors, Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 because it argued – rather controversially – that these projects were already grandfathered in under previous agreements rather than being fresh proposals.
News of other deals has since followed, including a November 2013 announcement that China would help build two reactors in Karachi and a January 2014 report about talks on three other reactors, which The Diplomatreported on here. Pakistani officials say this is part of broader plans to produce around 8,800 megawatts of electricity from nuclear power by 2030 and overcome crippling power shortages that plague the nation.
Pakistan has also previously sought to secure an exception within the NSG which would allow it to conduct nuclear commerce freely with suppliers. India had received one with U.S. support in 2008 and New Delhi is now seeking membership in the NSG. Both India and Pakistan are not members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

'Banned' JuD thrives in Pakistan

It is listed as a terror outfit by the UN and its chief has a $10 million US government bounty against him, but Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) operates freely across country, testing Islamabad’s new resolve to tackle militancy.
The leadership of Pakistan vowed to end its tolerance of so-called “good” militants after a Taliban massacre at a school in Peshawar in December that killed 153 people, the worst terror attack in the country’s history.
The government’s list of 60 or so banned organisations features the country’s Taliban and secessionist rebels from Balochistan province, but the state has long shied away from action against groups fighting abroad in India or Afghanistan.
International powers including the US and India consider JuD to be no more than a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the militant group blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead.
But JuD denies any link to violence, and within Pakistan the organisation enjoys a high degree of popularity for the work of its charitable arm, particularly after natural disasters.
Following a UN Security Council resolution, the leadership of Pakistan said it had frozen the group’s assets after the Mumbai attacks – an undertaking it has repeated in recent weeks.
But at JuD’s headquarters, a sprawling high-security complex nestled among rice fields in the town of Muridke, north of Lahore, little seems to have changed.
Doctor Akhtar Hussain, a wizened old man with a long grey beard and a broad smile, heads the al Aziz Hospital in the heart of the complex which also houses schools where boys and girls study both JuD and official government textbooks.
Like the Palestinian group Hamas and Hezbollah of Lebanon, JuD has set up a network of health and education facilities across Pakistan, including five hospitals, 200 dispensaries, ambulance services and 250 schools.
When AFP visited al Aziz hospital, elderly women were lining up in a white corridor for eye tests.
“Laser eye surgery is free,” said Hussain. Further ahead, two dentists worked their way through their daily quota of 40 patients each.
The cost of treatment for a root canal is Rs50.
“It is a fraction of the price. In a private hospital I would pay at least 1,000 rupees,” said patient Rana Khaliqur Rehman.
After an earthquake or floods, JuD’s relief wing, the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), is often among the first aid groups on the ground.
JuD leader Hafiz Saeed – on whom the US has placed a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture – is often seen in the front line handing out food.
Despite the bounty, he also leads a high-profile public life and regularly delivers fiery anti-India speeches. He led thousands of supporters in a rally in Lahore last Thursday to mark Kashmir Day, under the eye of a heavy police contingent outside the city’s high court.
“The politicians don’t understand our problems, but the Jamaat does and helps us,” said Saddam Sohail, a 25-year-old builder who is hostile towards neighbouring India, like most JuD followers.
“When the US says JuD are terrorists, it makes my blood boil,” added Ghulam Sarwar, a 55-year-old farmer.
Founded in the 1980s to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan, LeT reinvented itself in the 1990s for “jihad” in Kashmir, the Himalayan territory that India and Pakistan control in part but claim in full and have fought two wars over.
Today, once again, the LeT is sending fighters to Afghanistan’s eastern Nuristan province, according to Afghan officials cited in a UN report.
LeT recruits most of its members from Punjab, where the level of education is higher than the national average, according to a study on the lives of deceased fighters published by the West Point military academy.
For Arif Jamal, author of a recent study on JuD, the popularity of the outfit rests on its stance on Kashmir and its charitable work, two elements that distinguish it from the rest of the main militant groups of Pakistan.
Its charitable wing is like a “shield” which protects JuD, Jamal told AFP.
“They have fundraised more through charity than other means and they recruited more people through charity than other means,” he said.
JuD’s position on the Kashmir conflict – regarded even by many moderate citizens as a just fight against Indian oppression – means they are not considered as a terrorist group, Jamal said.
Even politicians privately opposed to the organisation will never publicly speak out against it.
“Unless JuD spins out of their control, I don’t think they will ever target it, and that I don’t see happening in the near future,” Jamal said.