The aftermath of the attack on the Pakistani military’s GHQ earlier this week has brought attention to the complex stew of jihadi groups running around the Punjab. Imtiaz Gul provides an overview at Foreign Policy while the venerable B. Raman provides another at Outlook India. The story starts with the Saudis supporting anti-Shia groups in Pakistan to counter Iranian-backed Shia militancy. This was exacerbated by local animosities in regions were Pakistan’s Shia minority were wealthy landowners. The main anti-Shia group was Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). Reportedly it received substantial state support under General Zia who wanted to counter his political rivals. SSP became involved in politics and spun-off violent groups, most notably Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in 1996. Supposedly there is no connection between the political SSP and the terrorist LeJ. This is an organizational maneuver that has been repeated endlessly in the Pakistani jihadi milieu. Supposedly, both of these groups have been banned – but banned groups in Pakistan never seem to disappear, they just change their names.
The anti-Shia groups also worked with the Pakistani government during the Afghan war, where they forged links with the Arab jihadis and the Afghans. When Pakistan began supporting jihadi groups to fight in Kashmir the anti-Shia groups were an entryway. An effective unraveling of the Kashmiri groups is an enormous task – a small piece of the picture can be seen here. Individuals often move between groups – either because the group is shifting identity because of too much international attention or just for better “career opportunities.” Jaish-e-Mohammed was founded after Harkat ul-Ansar official Maulana Masood Azhar was freed from Indian prison and found that he was a popular figure. So rather then rejoin his old outfit, now renamed Harkat ul-Mujahideen (after Harkat ul-Ansar became a banned terrorist organization) Azhar founded JeM. Azhar was a model jihadi entrepreneur, with the venture capital provided (reportedly) by the ISI.