Harkat follows suit, gets Kashmiri to head outfit
26 December 2001
The Hindustan Times
Srinagar: Pakistan-based militant outfits are going through a change of guard and are replacing their chiefs with Kashmiris. After the Lashkar-e- Tayyeba replaced jehadi leader Hafiz Mohammad Syed with a lesser- known Kashmiri militant, Abdul Wahid, it''s the turn of the Harkat-ul- Mujahideen. The Harkat, another Pak-based militant group operating in J&K, will replace its chief, Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil, with Maulvi Farooq, chief of the Harkat''s Muzaffarabad-based wing. Sources said Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Azhar Masood was also under pressure to step down and hand over the reins of the outfit to some Kashmiri militant. Observers view his arrest and the subsequent release on Tuesday in this backdrop. Sources said the offices of all the three groups were being shifted from Pakistan to Muzaffarabad (POK). Observers say the change in jehadi leadership is aimed at diminishing the role of foreign elements in Kashmir and to give the control to Kashmiris. The Hizbul Mujahideen and other dormant Kashmiri groups will dominate the new set-up. A separatist said this would also blunt the Indian government''s argument that the violence in Kashmir is part of international terrorism. This change of heads is said to be part of a deal Pervez Musharraf clinched with the United States, before siding with it in the Afghan war. Sources said the Bush administration had assured Musharraf that it would not include Kashmir in its list of terror zones. But, the Americans were never easy with Jaish, Harkat and Lashkar. Though the three groups operate mainly in Jammu and Kashmir and some parts of India, the United States sees them as part of an international jehadi movement - a new anarchist expression of religious extremism the West is most scared of. All the three outfits now fall in America''s list of terror groups. Pakistan was also not too happy with the functioning of these groups. The attacks on the State Assembly in Srinagar and on Parliament House in New Delhi have embarrassed General Musharraf more than anything else. The Pak President appears determined to rein in the three groups and restrict their activities on Pakistani soil. The change of command and closure of offices across Pakistan is being viewed as an exercise in this direction. Militant leaders of Kashmir had also complained that non-Kashmiris had hijacked the ''freedom struggle''.