August 2001 News

Have gun, will kill

The Week
19 August 2001
R. Prasannan

New Delhi: In Kashmir, there are three types of militant groups. The original variety-which wanted a unified Kashmir independent of India and Pakistan-is now sidelined. The foremost among them was the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front but without arms or money, its leaders these days are more comfortable shooting for TV interviews than with guns. The second category, which emerged in the early 1990s, wants Kashmir to go with Pakistan. These groups emerged after the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)-trained youth became jobless in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in February 1989. The Kashmiris among them returned to PoK for refresher courses in newly set-up camps; later, they crossed the line of control (LoC) and began shooting at Indian soldiers. Since the youth had cousins on this side of the LoC, they soon merged with the crowd. The emergence of these groups in the nineties was the turning point in Kashmir militancy. The largest is Hizbul Mujahideen. Its PoK-based chief Syed Salauddin claims to have a cadre of 30,000 but the Indian Army says they might not even have a tenth of this. Hizbul is the militant arm of Jamaat-i-Islami of Kashmir, and has the blessings of Jamaat-i-Islamis of PoK and Pakistan. Its unilateral ceasefire offer last July created a schism between Salauddin and its operational commander in the valley, Abdul Majid Dar. Indian security forces shot Dar's second-in-command, Abdul Hamid Tantray alias Masood, last month. Hizbul's decline began with the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Its sin was that it had links with Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had provided it with training camps. Indian agencies take credit for the split in Hizbul but Pakistani observers say Gen. Pervez Musharraf did it. Salauddin was playing into the hands of the United Jihad Council of pan-Islamists, whom Musharraf dreads. So the general assigned Lt.-Gen. Mohammed Aziz to deal directly with Dar. As soon as Dar offered India a ceasefire, Musharraf sent Aziz to meet Salauddin in Lahore. He told Salauddin to make impossible demands, to scuttle the ceasefire. Salauddin had his way, but the group virtually split. This was Musharraf's second attempt to split Hizbul. After grabbing power in October 1999, Musharraf persuaded a good number of non-Kashmiris, led by Lukman, to walk out of Hizbul and form Al-Badr, with its base in Bandipore. The group is now headed by Bakht Zameen and is not a Taliban favourite. There are small groups like Al-Barq, Al-Fatah, Al-Ummar Mujahideen and Hizbullah. Al-Barq is headed by Bilal Rahi, who recruits mainly from the Indian side of the LoC. It is politically linked to the People's Conference and split in 1997. Al-Fatah, led by Ejazur Rehman, was formed out of factions of Al-Jihad and Jihad Force in the mid-1990s. Of the original two, Al-Jihad, commanded by Mohammed Nazir, has more or less vanished. Al-Ummar Mujahideen was originally a pro-independence group, But switched its ideology on realising that there was more money and arms with pro-Pak groups. Its links with Maulana Umar Farooq, who once headed the Hurriyat Conference, made it once again a moderate before fading away. Hizbullah, militant wing of the J&K Muslim League, once spread more terror in the valley than even Hizbul. It has run out of steam. So has Muslim Janbaz Force, militant wing of Shabir Ahmed Shah's People's Democratic Forum. The third category-that believes in a pan-Islamic agenda-is more feared, but less bold than the second variety. Their targets are mostly unsecured neighbourhoods of security establishments, like the gate of a battalion headquarters, or the bicycle park of the Army headquarters. But the proximity earns them more newspaper headlines. They have no particular love for Kashmir; they fight wherever Islam is in danger and idolise terror lords like Osama bin Laden. Lashkar-e-Toiba is the foremost among them. Headed by Prof. Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed of Lahore, it was founded during the last days of the Afghan conflict. Rather than fighting security forces in Kashmir, it believes in symbolic attacks. Post-Kargil, an interesting pattern of Lashkar attacks emerged. First, there was an attack near a battalion headquarters, then a brigade, divisional and corps headquarters and last summer in the bicycle park outside Army headquarters in Delhi. The only aberration in the pattern was an attack on the Red Fort. While the Hizbul and other groups confine themselves to the valley, Lashkar plants bombs in other Indian cities. Its funds come from outside Pakistan, as do at least 10 per cent of its cadre. Harkatul Mujahideen is another pan-Islamic group with close links with the Taliban. Kashmiris do not constitute even 5 per cent of its cadre. Even the Pakistani military leadership is uncomfortable with this group which is spreading fundamentalist ideas in civil society. It has kept a low profile in recent months thanks to the ISI's squeeze on its funds. A group to watch is Jaish-e-Mohammad, led by Maulana Masood Azhar, who got himself released following the hijack of an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar in December 1999. Uncomfortable with the increasing moderation of Hizbul and the cowardly terror of Lashkar, the Pakistan establishment is cultivating this group among the pan-Islamists. But, all the same, the generals are not exactly happy with the maulana who is increasingly getting closer to the Taliban.


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