June 2000 News

The Taliban connection

6 June 2000
The Indian Express

Srinagar: A MAJOR incident that rocked the country late last year has started paying dividends for the fast growing pan-Islamist militancy in Kashmir. The hijacking of IC-814 to Kandahar and the subsequent release of militant leader and Harkat ideologue Moulana Masood Azhar in exchange for the hostages has strengthened the Taliban-style Jehadi campaign here, more so after all factions of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen merged into Azhar''s newly floated Jaish Mohammad, or ''Army of the Prophet''. With the emergence of this Jehadi group as a major force, the Taliban are bound to have an increased influence on militancy in the Valley, since the Deobandi creed forms the primary religious and ideological base for both the Jaish and the Taliban. In fact, the Taliban movement was launched by students of the 9,000 madrasas which the Jaish''s (formerly Harkat) parent organisation _ Jamiat-e-Ulemai-Islam _ runs across Pakistan. Masood only strenghtened these ties after his release when he toured Kandahar to secure the blessings of the Taliban leadership. The Jaish organisation made its presence felt in Kashmir with a suicidal attack on the main entrance of the Army''s 15 Corps Headquaters at Badamibagh Cantonment. A 17-year-old local recruit attempted to ram an explosive-laden car inside the headquaters. The group has also surfaced in Srinagar, negating the government''s claim that the capital city has been cleansed of militancy. Only recently, Jaish militants fired around 17 rifle grenades at the high-security Civil Secretariat building in the heart of Srinagar. The next day, grenades were hurled at heavily guarded buses carrying state government employees. And just a week ago, a girl was shot in her leg in a busy Srinagar locality for wearing jeans. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen had also earlier shot at girls wearing jeans in Srinagar, branding them as ''unislamic'', besides attacking cable operators and banning their operations. Though the ban was later relaxed, music and entertainment channels like MTV, Channel V and Star Movies are taboo. Ideology apart, most of the Taliban and Jaish leaders and cadre have been classmates in the madrassas run by Jamiat-e-Ulemai-Islam (JUI) in Pakistan. Taliban''s links with the JUI date back to the years of the Afghan Mujahideen resistance movement against the erstwhile Soviet Union. The JUI first set up the madrassas preaching the Deobandi school of thought in Pakistan in 1947 as part of a ''purely religious movement to propagate their beliefs and mobilise the community of believers''. But the outlook of this movement changed irrevocably when its leader, Maulana Ghulam Ghaus Hazarvi turned it into a political party. A leading Pakistani journalist and expert on Afghan affairs, Ahmad Rasheed, writes in his latest book Taliban, Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia (I.B.Tauris Publishers, 2000) that during the 80s, Pakistan''s Afghan policy was conducted with the help of Jammat-e-Islami and Hikmatyar''s Hizb-e-Islami, who were also the main rivals of JUI inside Pakistan. The JUI was not given any political role in Afghanistan and was ignored. ''However, JUI used this period to set up hundreds of madrassas along the Pashtun belt in North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan, where it offered young Pakistani and Afghan refugees free education, food, shelter and military training. These madrassas were to train a new generation of Afghans for the post-Soviet period,'' Rasheed writes. According to Rasheed, the most important leader of JUI is Maulana Samiul Haq, a former member of the National Assembly and Senate whose madrassa _ Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania _ became a major training ground for the Taliban leadership. ''In 1999, at least eight Taliban cabinet ministers in Kabul were graduates of Haq''s madrassa and dozens more served as Taliban governors in the provinces, military commanders, judges and bureaucrats,'' notes Rasheed. Haqqania is in Akhora Khatak in NWFP and has a boarding school for 1,500, a high school for 1,000 day scholars and 12 affiliated smaller madrassas. In February 1999, says Rasheed, the madrassa had a staggering 15,000 applications for some 400 seats. It is learnt that most of the Jaish commanders operating in Kashmir are products of these madrassas, many among them from Haqqania itself. Moulana Samiul Haq, according to Rasheed, is in constant touch with Mullah Omar, the Taliban chief, helping him deal with international relations besides offering advice on Sharia decisions. ''Haq is also the principle organiser for recruiting Pakistani students to fight for the Taliban. After the Taliban''s defeat in Mazar in 1997, he received a telephone call from Omar asking for help. Haq shut down his madrassa and sent his entire student body to fight alongside the Taliban, thus providing 8,000 fresh recruits to Omar,'' Rasheed writes. Moulana Azhar Masood, who is emerging as the ultimate leader of Deobandi pan-Islamist militants in Kashmir after his release, has however been directly associated with Jamia Abu Yousuf, Madipore Karachi and Jamiat-ul-Uloomi Islamiyah in Binori town, Karachi. The Binori madrassa has around 8,000 students and several top Taliban leaders are from this institute. According to Ahmad Rasheed, this madrassa sent 600 students to join Taliban in 1996 alone. The Taliban connection of Kashmir''s pan-Islamist militancy seems an established fact now and as their strength in the Valley grows, the Amar Bil Maroof Wa Nahi An al-Munkar (Department of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice), whose religious police enforces a strict code of conduct and restrictions on women in Afghanistan, is bound to have a greater say in Kashmir as well.


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