Days after a 10-man death squad attacked Mumbai in November 2008, the Lashkar-e-Taiba's Internet portal disappeared into thin air: part of an effort to persuade the world that Pakistan was indeed serious about shutting down the operations of jihadists operating from its soil.
Now, the Lashkar has returned online using a Facebook page run by its parent religious body, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa Facebook page is nowhere near as elaborate as the web portals it hosted prior to the Mumbai attacks, but it still contains a wealth of propaganda intended to rouse supporters.
In a poster for a March 23, 2010 rally, held to mark the anniversary of the 1940 resolution which led to the formation of Pakistan, the Jamaat refers to a “debt that has yet to be honoured.” Slogans superimposed over an image of the burning Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai explains what the “debt” is: “free Kashmir, Pakistan's lifeline, from the enemy;” work for the “freedom of the Muslims of Gujarat, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and the rest of India;” to “save Pakistan's parched rivers.”
Maps posted on the Jamaat's Facebook page provide a graphic illustration of its ambitions. One map of India is emblazoned with the crescent-moon and star logo of Pakistan, and the flag of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa flying on the Red Fort in New Delhi. In another, much of northern, north-eastern and central India are referred to as Pakistan. Nepal, Bangladesh and south India are marked “disputed territories.”
The page also carries a facsimile of a Hadith — sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad — which purports to provide scriptural legitimacy to the Jamaat's jihad. “A King of the House of the Pious,” it prophesies, “will send a Lashkar [army] towards India. The mujahideen will plunder the land of India, take over its treasures, and the King will use these treasures to honour the House of the Pious.” “The mujahideen of this Lashkar,” it continues, “will conquer all territory between the east and west and will establish the Kingdom of the Pious.”
Pictures of Osama
Interestingly, the page also contains several images of Al-Qaeda chief Osama-bin-Laden — a figure whose role in the ongoing jihad against the Pakistani state has led the Jamaat-ud-Dawa to distance itself from him. In one computer-generated image, Osama is shown riding away on horseback from a burning White House. There is also a low-resolution image of an individual who appears to be Jamaat chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed seated next to Osama.
Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar's new Facebook page does not contain similar exhortations to violence. But his younger brother, Talha Saif — whose Facebook page uses the alias Saif-ul-Islam — uses Facebook to guide readers to a YouTube slideshow extolling the bravery of Mumbai assault team member Ajmal Amir Kasab and other jihadist material.
Much of the audience of the Facebook jihadists seem to be young diaspora Pakistanis. Judging by the MTV-inspired visual content of their pages, they appear to be driven less by Islamist politics than the lure of what is being called “jihadi cool”: in the words of Georgetown University scholar C. Christine Fair, a radical chic revolving around “motorcycles, guns and access to women.”
The Jamaat's online followers include 1987-born Amir Akram, whose Facebook page displays him proudly displaying the medals he has won in the service of Pakistan's armed forces. Akram asserts that he supports “dictatorship whether civil or military,” but his cultural tastes appear to be at odds with the Jamaat's neo-conservatism. His Facebook page states that he enjoys cricket and Indian popular films; the young officer's friends include several women wearing attire which the Jamaat would likely consider inappropriate.
Rana Jahanzaib asserts he hates the Indian Premier League and Star Plus television — but his profile page says he is “interested in women,” and is looking for dating and a relationship. So, too, is his fellow Jamaat follower Rizwan Ahmad, who claims to have studied at the Delhi Public School before going on to complete higher education at the SKANS School of Accountancy in Lahore.
Jaish chief Azhar's more improbable Facebook friends include Rotterdam-based Gautam Ramaswamy, whose profile also demonstrates an eclectic interest in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the philosophy of Adi Shankara and the music of the heavy metal band Slayer.