- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

The Pakistani military is privately warning the country's largest religious party to distance itself from al Qaeda by the end of March or face a crackdown, a senior security official said yesterday.
Since the beginning of the year, Pakistani intelligence agents have arrested at least four al Qaeda suspects at the homes of leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan's main religious party.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is believed to have planned the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, was seized on Saturday at the residence of Jamaat official Ahmed Abdul Qadoos.
Qadoos was arrested in the raid, and an anti-terrorism court this week ordered him held for questioning.
Other officials in Islamabad confirmed by telephone that the ultimatum to Jamaat had been conveyed through what they called "the usual channels" a reference to the widely known private contacts maintained with religious extremists by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.
The leader of Jamaat, however, warned the government yesterday to stop cooperating with the United States in tracking down al Qaeda fugitives.
"You lose your sovereignty and independence when you behave as a servant of America and start rounding up people and handing them over to the United States," said the party's top leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, in an interview with Reuters news agency.
Mr. Ahmed said his party had no connections with al Qaeda and accused the government of "cooking up" such links.
"What is al Qaeda? I don't know any al Qaeda," he said. "I am neither acquainted with its leadership, nor do I know its organization or its objectives."
Jamaat is a key member of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance of six Islamic groups that made big gains in October elections after a rise in anti-American sentiment provoked by the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan.
The military is not alone in urging the Jamaat to stay away from al Qaeda. And other messages are being sent in private.
"It is no coincidence that all four suspects were arrested from the homes of Jamaat leaders," Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat told police officers at the National Police Academy in Islamabad on Tuesday. "Jamaat has a lot of explaining to do."
Addressing the same audience, Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali urged "the press and the nation" to ask Jamaat "what these people were doing" in the homes of Jamaat leaders.
"We will not be lenient with those who are associated with terrorists," he added.
Political analysts say that such senior officials in the new civilian government which needs the support of religious parties in parliament to stay in power would not have issued such blunt criticisms of the country's largest Islamic party had they not been deeply concerned about ties between the Jamaat and al Qaeda.
They say that Mr. Jamali, who is coming to Washington this month on his first official visit to the United States, wants Jamaat to make clear its position before his scheduled meeting with President Bush on March 28.
They also say statements about a major political party, which has been a force in Pakistani politics for more than 50 years and is known for its expertise in arranging street protests, must have also been cleared by the military patrons of the civilian government.
As much a social movement as a political party, Jamaat is widely regarded as the most organized and powerful force in Pakistani society after the military itself and is believed to have more than 700,000 dedicated followers across the country.
Founded in 1943 in British India, the Jamaat played a key role in the war against the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
It supported warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was declared a terrorist last month by the U.S. State Department though during the Soviet-Afghan war, he was a major recipient of U.S. weapons and money.
The Soviet war also allowed the Jamaat to train hundreds of militants in Afghanistan, where they developed close ties with other Islamic groups, including al Qaeda, while fighting the Soviets.
Jamaat has close links with international Islamic movements and books written by the party's founder, Maulana Maududi, are considered obligatory reading by Islamists across the globe.
Analysts say it won't be easy to disband the Jamaat.
"If disbanded, the Jamaat will simply go underground and may even become more effective," said Rashid Khalid, who teaches politics at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University. And "slapping a ban would further increase violent tendencies in Jamaat and other Islamic groups," he said.

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