June 2000 News

Kashmiri militants "trained by Pakistan"

11 June 2000
The Times (London)
Stephen Farrell

Kupwara: THREE bearded Muslim youths sit slumped in a sandbagged Indian police station in Srinagar, steeped in sullen defiance and failure. Abdul Rehman Dar, 23, Mushtaq Ahmad Parray, 18, and Manzoor Ahmad Shah, 16, born and brought up in Indian-held Kashmir, claim that they were among 8,000 to 10,000 disaffected locals to receive religious and weapons training in remote forest camps in Pakistan. They say that they were sneaked across mountains separating the divided Himalayan state. Another 6,000 foreigners - including Sudanese, Iranians, Pakistanis and Arabs - are, they allege, being trained in separate camps. The stories must be treated with caution - both sides tend to blame the other after a decade of separatist violence in which more than 30,000 people have been killed - but what is unusual about the trio"s account is that they seem to serve neither side"s purpose. Pakistan will be embarrassed because it denies providing militants with equipment or military training. It also undermines India"s insistence that the militants who have waged a ten-year campaign of separatist violence have little support among local Kashmiris. During more than two hours of questioning with no Indian officials present, the trio became animated only when outlining their hatred of the Indian security forces, accusing them of systematic killing, harassment and beatings. Mr. Shah, from the frontier village of Punzwa, said that he crossed the border into Pakistan on August 2 after being approached by a Hizbul Mujahideen militant he knew by the codename "Ishtaq". He said that he and 20 other Kashmiris were taken across the border by five Pakistani guides. They were brought to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-held Kashmir, and then on to a Mujahideen camp near Mansehra. Like the other two, he said that Pakistanis were involved at all stages of the border-crossing operation, but insisted that he never saw members of the Pakistan armed forces at any of the camps where he received three months of instruction in the Koran and jihad from fellow Kashmiri teachers. He was then sent with 75 others to a forest camp for training by foreign Urdu-speaking instructors in how to use small arms and light and heavy machine guns. After training, he was sent back across the border on May 25. Mr. Parray and Mr. Dar, from Halmatpora, said that they had joined much earlier. They received identical religious training at another camp named Safirda, before being sent back with Mr. Shah to recruit other Kashmiris to the cause. They failed, they claim, only because a fourth member of the group was captured and they surrendered, believing their hideouts to have been compromised. All three are being held in tiny, drab cells in an Indian police station in the frontier district of Kupwara. They receive no visits from relatives. One said that he had been beaten by the Indian soldiers after being caught within days of coming back across the border. At Kupwara, Indian security forces are everywhere. One Indian Army commander admitted privately that the cause that he was sent to fight was not worth the death of his men, none of whom had signed up to control a Muslim population that was never going to accept Indian rule. "I quite understand that I can do very little to fight insurgency here apart from killing a few militants, so for me the priority is the safety of my boys," he said. Some Muslim villagers condemned the militants, saying that they hated Pakistanis for killing relatives or friends. Others gave more support. "Whoever is in front of us at the time, we are for them," one said. "That is how you stay alive here."


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