Al Qaeda’s media arm, As Sahab, has released yet another message from Ayman al-Zawahiri. The elderly al Qaeda leader is a prolific commentator on world affairs, having released a series of videos and audios over the years. As Sahab transcribed his latest message, titled “Don’t Forget Kashmir,” in both Arabic and English.
Al Qaeda has been grooming an upstart group to wage jihad against Indian forces in Kashmir, and Zawahiri discusses the conflict at length.
Zawahiri doesn’t explicitly mention Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH), but the al Qaeda chief clearly has the organization in mind. Toward the end of As Sahab’s video, an image of AGH’s fallen leader, Zakir Musa, is displayed on screen as Zawahiri speaks. Al Qaeda eulogized Musa after he was killed last month.
More importantly, key parts of Zawahiri’s message echo a speech given by Musa’s successor just days ago. Indeed, it is likely that Al Qaeda and AGH are coordinating their messages.
AGH’s new leader, Abdul Hameed Lelhari (a.k.a. Haroon Abbas), called for the establishment of a new shura council, independent from Pakistani intelligence, to decide on military operations in Kashmir. Lelhari also accused a Pakistani “agency” of trying to rein in the jihad against the Indians by preventing big attacks. And he stressed that the jihad in Kashmir should aim to establish sharia, or Islamic law, to rule over the land.
Similarly, in his newly-released talk, Zawahiri says that the mujahideen must “liberate the Kashmiri jihad from the clutches of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies,” such that the jihad is “for the sake of Allah” (meaning for the purpose of implementing sharia) as opposed to a struggle “for the sake of international criminals.”
“After achieving this liberation,” Zawahiri says, “the Mujahideen must plan their jihad by taking free and independent decisions that are guided by the principles of sharia.” This is the same as Lelhari’s call for an independent shura council.
The al Qaeda chief says that he is “of the view that the Mujahideen in Kashmir- at this stage at least- should single-mindedly focus on inflicting unrelenting blows on the Indian Army and government, so as to bleed the Indian economy and make India suffer sustained losses in manpower and equipment.”
Zawahiri’s recommendation stands in direct contrast to Pakistan’s supposed reticence regarding large-scale attacks on Indian forces, as alleged by AGH’s Lelhari.
Accuses Pakistan of betraying the jihadists in Afghanistan and Kashmir
The Pakistani military and intelligence establishment has traditionally supported jihadist groups focused on the Kashmiri cause, including outfits allied with al Qaeda. But Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and AGH have argued that the Pakistanis are not trustworthy in this regard. Zawahiri amplifies this critique, but parts of his story are entirely dubious.
In Zawahiri’s telling, the Pakistani government and Army are “toadies of America” who prevented the “Arab Mujahideen” from “head[ing] to Kashmir after expelling the Russians from Afghanistan.”
In reality, as the 9/11 Commission found, al Qaeda trained fighters for the Kashmiri cause in Afghan camps during the 1990s. The U.S. learned that Pakistan’s military intelligence service even had a presence at one of the al Qaeda camps struck in retaliation for the Aug. 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings. The Pakistanis were training Kashmiri jihadists.
Zawahiri accuses the Pakistanis of selling out the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as well as the mujahideen and emigrants who served it.
“Pakistan’s intelligence agencies provided the Crusader[s] with extensive information about the Islamic Emirate and its Mujahideen” after 9/11, Zawahiri says. As a result, the Pakistani government “arrested the mujahideen of al Qaeda and the Islamic Emirate, tortured them in its prisons and handed them over to the Crusaders.” Pakistani intelligence provided the Americans with “safe houses, secret private prisons, logistic routes and support,” while “secur[ing] the land route (to Afghanistan) for them” and allowing the U.S. to fly its drones over Pakistani airspace. In “return,” Zawahiri claims, the Pakistanis “received bribes.”
It is true that Pakistan helped conduct counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda and provided other assistance after 9/11. However, as everyone knows, the Pakistanis played a double game by simultaneously harboring the Taliban’s senior leadership, including members of the al Qaeda-allied Haqqani Network. Therefore, Zawahiri’s summary of Pakistan’s behavior is incomplete.
The al Qaeda leader implicitly concedes that the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment is willing to work with the jihadists, but he casts this support in an entirely negative light.
“All the Pakistani Army and government are interested in is exploiting the mujahideen for specific political objectives, only to dump or persecute them later,” Zawahiri claims. The “beneficiaries” of this policy are nothing more than a “bunch of traitors who fill their pockets with bribes and illegitimate wealth.”
For these reasons, Zawahiri argues, it is “impossible for these [Pakistani] agencies to support the Islamic cause, defend Muslims, or liberate their lands.” Pakistan’s “conflict with India is essentially a secular rivalry over borders managed by the American intelligence.”
Kashmiri jihad part of the ummah’s struggle
A central theme in Zawahiri’s message is that the fight in Kashmir shouldn’t be thought of as separate conflict, but is instead part of the ummah’s (worldwide community of Muslims) jihad against a vast array of forces. The Egyptian al Qaeda chief calls on unnamed scholars to emphasize this point.
“You [the scholars] must clearly state that supporting the jihad in Kashmir, the Philippines, Chechnya, Central Asia, Iraq, Syria, the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, the Islamic Maghreb and Turkistan is an individual obligation on all Muslims, until sufficient strength is achieved to expel the disbelieving occupier from Muslim lands,” Zawahiri says.
In this same vein, Zawahiri says the “mujahideen in Kashmir must benefit from the jihadi awakening in the different theaters of jihad.” The fighters in Kashmir “must communicate with the Mujahideen in different parts of the world, and ensure that their voice reaches them, so that the Kashmir issue is raised at the popular level within the ummah and its latest developments are continuously brought to light.” Moreover, Zawahiri elaborates, the Kashmiri jihadists “need to establish stronger channels of communication with their Muslim brethren all over the Muslim world.”
Need for jihadist guidelines
In 2013, Zawahiri issued his general guidelines for waging jihad. This code of conduct was drafted with an eye toward building and preserving popular support by, among other things, avoiding operations that alienate the common man.
Without specifically mentioning these guidelines, Zawahiri calls for something similar in Kashmir. He says that “mosques, markets, and gathering places of Muslims” should not “become targets of explosions.”
He is especially concerned that “crimes” could “distort the image of the mujahideen and divert the attention of the Muslim masses from the core issues, turning them into [a] receptive audience for the propaganda campaigns of governments. and Western-controlled media.” In addition, Zawahiri claims, the Pakistani Army and intelligence services use the media under their control to exploit “these deviations” and “distort” the jihad for their own ends.
In the “absence of sharia guidelines,” Zawahiri warns, the mujahideen could be turned “into murderers” and mere criminals. Some of “these deviations and diseases have [already] penetrated into the ranks of the mujahideen, and there is no choice but to confront this phenomenon by enjoining good and forbidding evil.”
Jihad on behalf of Taliban’s Islamic Emirate is an “individual obligation”
Twice in his remarks Zawahiri calls on scholars to inform Muslims that it is their individual duty to wage jihad in Afghanistan.
Zawahiri exclaims: “Esteemed scholars! It is your duty to preach to the Ummah that the Jihad against America in Afghanistan today is an individual obligation (fard ayn), just as the jihad against Russia was three decades earlier.”
“Clarify to the people that we are a single ummah, and our jihad is one jihad,” the al Qaeda honcho says to scholars. Moreover these same scholars should explain that “support of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan is an individual obligation on the people of Afghanistan and those in their proximity, and after them on all Muslims, until sufficient strength is achieved to defeat America, its allies, and its agents.”
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