Lashkar moves to give struggle a ''pure Kashmir colour''
25 December 2001
SRINAGAR: One of the most ''potent'' guerrilla outfits in the world, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which, along with the Jaish-e-Mohammad, has been held responsible for the December 13 attack on Parliament, has now been pushed to the wall due to pressure exerted by the United States on Pakistan. Because of this, its head, Prof. Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, a big name in the international Islamic network, had to step down to give a ''pure Kashmir colour'' to his organisation. The move is aimed at making it difficult for India to ''malign Pakistan'' on its support to cross-border militancy as now the LeT can claim to be based in Kashmir (whether in Jammu and Kashmir or in Pakistan- occupied Kashmir). PoK is used as a base by most militants operating in Kashmir, since they consider it part of the State as it existed on August 14, 1947. That is why Maulana Wahid Kashmiri, who hails from Poonch district in Jammu, is the new head of LeT. Such is its notoriety that the LeT, along with the JeM, is the first suspect when any attack is carried out in Kashmir or elsewhere. This is partly because the Hizb-ul- Mujahideen is faction-ridden and has hardly any interest in carrying out violent activities. ''The Hizb is more interested in politics now rather than in militancy, though Pakistan continues to push it into the violence,'' says a top security official. The LeT, which has a strong Wahabi ideology, has grabbed the ''lion''s share'' in the armed struggle for Kashmir. The first to introduce ''fidayeen'' (suicide squads), it has stolen the show with an ''army'' of over 4,000 highly-indoctrinated cadre. Though LeT cadres have been present in Kashmir since 1993 - when they operated with friendly outfits - they started dominating the scene only after the Kargil war. What is causing concern now is the increase in the number of Kashmiris joining the outfit. After its first ''fidayeen'' operation on the BSF headquarters in 1999, it did not look back. The number of such operations has now gone up to 45, of which 29 were carried out this year alone. Significantly, Kashmiris were involved in only two such attacks - on April 19, 2000, a 12th class student, Afaaq Shah, of Khanyar, rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into the headquarters of the 15 Corps in Srinagar and in the second incident, on December 27, 2000, one Mohammad Aslam led an attack on the Special Operations Group camp, where he was working as a Special Police Officer (SPO). All the other attacks were carried out by foreigners. The ''fidayeen'' attacks caused a large number of casualties among the security forces and helped project the LeT''s image as a puritanical group. It also resulted in the security forces consulting Israeli experts ''for making the barracks secure''. The attacks inspired the JeM to constitute ''fidayeen'' squads who were responsible for the October 1 attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and the December 13 attack on Parliament. The LeT is seen as one of the off-shoots of Russia''s invasion of Afghanistan. Some Wahabi clerics and scholars, who enrolled volunteers to sustain the over-the-decade-old war in the Afghan ravines, came together after the disintegration of the USSR. In 1989, two of them - Prof. Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Prof. Zafar Iqbal - founded the Markaz Ad-Da''awa Wal Irshad, an organisation that has interests in various fields ranging from education to jehad. While Prof. Hafiz Mohammad Saeed was in- charge of militancy (LeT), Prof. Zafar Iqbal was head of reform- oriented education. Adopting Islamic rule in all walks of life is the aim of the Markaz, which operates from its headquarters in Muridke, near Lahore. Spread over 200 acres, the complex has houses, schools (which have over 800 students), mosques, ponds for breeding fish, stables and even its own farms. There was also a quantum jump in the number of schools it ran - from two in 1994 to 170 in 2000. They have also set up a number of small hospitals. The Muridke campus has flats for the widows and orphans of Markaz volunteers who are killed in Kashmir. The outfit is so zealous in its ideology that even radios or television sets are not to be found on the campus. Its training facilities, according to the Jammu and Kashmir police, are located in various areas of PoK. Of late, the LeT has succeeded in establishing camps in the upper parts of the Kashmir valley as well. Apart from the fact that its recruits have the best weapons and state-of-the-art communication technology, the Lashkar also has a propaganda arsenal. It publishes magazines in many languages, has a website and also plans to set up its radio station. Apart from its schools, many volunteers from other educational institutions - some even from the United Kingdom and the United States - join the Lashkar. Fighters from over 17 countries, including Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Chechnya and the U.K., have been either killed or detained in Kashmir. The LeT also took part in the Kargil war. According to its magazine, the first group of infiltrators who fought pitched battles with the Army in upper Drass and Batalik were its volunteers. Prof. Saeed personally supervised the fighters in the initial stages, according to Pakistan media. Only later did the Pakistan Army take over. Having proximity with Pakistani Islamic groups such as the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam, the outfit has been at loggerheads with the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf''s initiative of making peace with India. On its part, India has been saying that the Lashkar was getting maximum official patronage in Pakistan. It refers to the visit of Pakistan''s erstwhile Information Minister, Mr. Mushahid Hussain''s visit to Muridke along with the Punjab Governor, Mr. Shahid Hamid, in 1997. Notwithstanding its denials, India holds the Lashkar responsible for the Chattisinghpura massacre, in which 35 Sikhs were mowed down in March 2000, and also the one in the twin villages of Bijbehara, where five women were killed. Till 1999, the LeT organised yearly conferences in which thousands of people from across Pakistan would take part. A million-strong crowd attended its November 1988 conference. However, after explosions during the 1998 and 1999 meets, in which many activists were killed, the conferences have not been held.