November 2001 News

We are in danger: J&K ultras

18 November 2001
The Indian Express

Peshawar: Pakistan''s military ruler General Pervez Musharraf may have emerged unscathed from the war in Afghanistan, but he could soon face a lot more awkwardness over Kashmir. Militants aiming to fight in Kashmir lounged in the grounds behind the Hadiqat-ul-Ulum madrassa in Peshawar on Sunday, angry over the US bombing of Afghanistan, but much more concerned with opposing Musharraf and pursuing the war in Kashmir. ''Pakistan may do what it has done in Afghanistan - surrender,'' said Professor Mohammad Ibrahim, head of Jamaat-e-Islami in North West Frontier Province, the turbulent region bordering Afghanistan. ''The people of Pakistan will not accept it,'' the white- bearded leader told Reuters. ''We consider Kashmir part of Pakistan. Afghanistan was another country.'' That distinction may help explain why the demonstrations against Musharraf''s support for the US campaign in Afghanistan never caught fire. Ibrahim readily concedes the threat by his party, perhaps the best organised religious group in Pakistan, to mobilise millions never materialised. But Kashmir goes to the heart of Pakistan''s reason for existence. As the self- proclaimed home for the subcontinent''s Muslims, Pakistan has never accepted that Kashmir could decide to join India. The opposition to the war in Afghanistan had resonated on a different level. Many Pakistani religious groups support the Taliban''s extreme interpretations of Islam and perhaps a majority of the population saw the bombing as an assault by the Christian West on a fellow Muslim country. GOVERNMENT PRECAUTIONS That potential opposition was enough for the government to lock up key religious leaders, including Ibrahim''s national leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed, who is under house arrest and has been threatened with charges of trying to undermine the state. A madrassa, or religious seminary, run by the rival Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam religious party in Peshawar where many of the Taliban picked up their views was firmly closed on Sunday. ''Government orders,'' explained a staff member in the otherwise deserted courtyard. The tension could get much worse if the focus now turned to Kashmir. Religious parties fear the West will take up India''s demand for international pressure on Pakistan to halt support for militants fighting in Kashmir. ''India has declared many times that there is terrorism in Kashmir and America and Britain are agreeing with India,'' said Ibrahim. ''We are in danger, the country is not in safe hands. ''We want to topple this government, the rulers have no right to rule this country,'' said the 47-year-old religious leader. As long as the United States was focused on the war in Afghanistan, it did not want the diversion of Kashmir. But, as part of its post- September 11 war on terrorism, it has promised to turn to the violence that is now the key feature of the 54-year-old dispute as India demands. Pakistan not only says there are no terrorists, only freedom fighters, but says it gives only political and moral support to an indigenous uprising. It firmly denies any military involvement and dismisses Indian charges of mass infiltration of fighters from Pakistan. That may be the only point on which the Indian government and Pakistan''s religious parties agree. ''The Pakistan government is telling lies,'' said Ibrahim, happy to introduce fighters coming and going from Kashmir. ''I expect of the government of Pakistan to help the Kashmiri people against the Indian tyranny by use of the Pakistan armed forces.'' Outside, Karamat Ullah, general-secretary of the Hizbul Mujahideen armed wing of the Jamaat-E-Islami, was talking to young men sitting around the grounds or playing cricket. Many were recruits heading for training in Kashmir -courses of one month and three months are the standard - or were coming or going from the war zone. Karamat Ullah, short but tough, said 500 to 600 members of his organisation per month crossed the frontier dividing Indian and Pakistani forces in Kashmir, many rotating in or out in advance of the winter closure of the passes around this time of year. A 20-year- old fighter, Naimat Ullah, explained that he had returned to Peshawar about a year ago after 13 months inside Kashmir fighting Indian forces. He is now working as a clerk at the ''transit centre'' until he takes another turn inside Kashmir, where more than 30,000 people have died in 12 years of conflict. Although Hizbul Mujahideen deny using training camps inside Afghanistan in recent years, the large number of Pakistanis fighting with the Taliban has provided a steady stream of experienced fighters to send on to Kashmir. ''Some of the people have been killed in Afghanistan but many have returned back and they will certainly participate in Kashmir,'' said Naimat Ullah of the Taliban defeat. With those Taliban training fields now disappearing and Musharraf more likely to face pressure on Kashmir, the religious parties fuelling the fighting could find themselves in a much more emotional struggle than the half-hearted protests over Afghanistan. ''We cannot do anything in the near future about Afghanistan,'' said Ibrahim. ''Our main concern is Pakistan. We are planning for a lengthy movement.''


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