August 2000 News

Azhar''s Emergence Threatens Pakistan-Based Jehadis

28 August 2000
Times of India
Mahendra Ved

New Delhi: Free from Indian jail thanks to last December''s Kandahar hijack drama, Kashmiri militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar is busy taking over the leadership of the multi-national ''jehadi'' volunteers, directly at the cost of the established outfits that have been active for long along the Pakistan-Afghan border and in Pak-occupied-Kashmir. The Jaish-e-Mohammad floated by him has ''virtually decimated the Harkat-ul Mujahideen'', comprising mostly of volunteers from Punjab in Pakistan, The Friday Times has reported. He is also believed to be working to dislodge the Hizbul Mujahideen leadership in the PoK, which has come under suspicion for its willingness to talk with the Indian authorities. The paper says: ''Azhar has been visiting a number of madrassahs in Pakistan, and lecturing young Taliban - both Pakistani and Afghans - on the virtues of fighting the infidels. He attracts quite a bit of attention wherever he goes.'' His emergence appears to be part of the effort by Islamabad to give a Kashmiri face to the ''jehad''. Officially training camps are being closed down, but actually they are being relocated elsewhere. The paper quotes Sheikh Jamilur Rahman of Tehrik-ul Mujahideen as saying: ''Now we have enough expertise and space in the hills of Kashmir. We don''t need to train our people in Afghanistan any more.'' The Taliban have asked Pakistan-based militant organisations to pack up. Kabul''s refrain is: ''We don''t want to strain our relations with Pakistan'' which is under the US pressure to close down these camps. Closed are 18 camps, including some prominent ones, established during the Afghan resistance against the Soviet forces, at Khost (target of US missiles in 1998), Kargha, outside Kabul, Rishkore, south east of Kabul and one near Jelalabad. ''Run by various fundamentalist and sectarian groups, these camps have been host to militants from a variety of nationalities - Arabs, Africans, Central Asians and Pakistanis,'' says the paper. Most of these camps were manned by Pakistanis and directly or indirectly affiliated to the Harkat, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al-Badr. The bazars of Kabul and Kandahar have numerous foreigners awaiting the relocation of their camps and resumption of their training. The paper quotes Taliban regime''s foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil as saying: ''We do not want bad publicity for Pakistan because of these camps, and that is why they have all been wound up.'' Asked where the trainees from abroad could have gone, the minister said they may have gone to Pakistan. ''We cannot throw them out of Afghanistan. They have been our guests all these years.'' Indian intelligence sources believe that Azhar is part of the process of relocating the training camps and continuing the ''jehad'' by weeding out elements that have lost their utility or have become too high profile in the eyes of the world community. They have identified in all, 91 camps in the PoK, 72 in Pakistan and 21 in Afghanistan. Nineteen of the PoK camps are in and around Muzaffarabad, mostly manned by Hizb commanders.


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