July 2002 News

Track-2 for terror: Jehadi unity under Kashmir Liberation Army?

22 July 2002
The Indian Express
Mubashir Zaidi

Karachi: At a meeting with editors two months ago, Pak President General Pervez Musharraf said that while the US was obsessed with Al-Qaeda, for Islamabad, sectarian terrorism and Kashmir militancy were the two key issues. As he tries to tackle the vast gulf between Pakistan and its western allies, the contours of emerging policies are now becoming clear. '' Well-placed sources in Islamabad insist that the freeze on Kashmiri militants is valid only for this summer. These sources say that the military government has informed its western allies that Pakistan will not be able to keep Kashmiri militants inactive beyond this summer if the status quo in the disputed region continues beyond that point. This effectively gives Islamabad some eight or nine months in which to rethink its Kashmir policy. According to information gathered by the Herald, some of this rethinking may already have left its mark. In recent weeks, jehadi circles in Muzaffarabad have been abuzz with rumours of a merger between all jehadi groups. The two main Kashmir-focused groups in Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, have now been completely disbanded and their activists have been placed at the disposal of either Syed Salahuddin's Hizb-ul-Mujahideen or the al-Omar Mujahideen, led by Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar. Zargar is one of the three militant (the other two being Jaish chief Masood Azhar and Omar Sheikh who is now facing a death sentence in the Daniel Pearl kidnapping case) New Delhi hand-delivered to the government to the Taliban as ransom for IC-814 hostages. Meanwhile, the top leadership of the two banned organisations is currently in preventive custody. "The Lashkar and Jaish leadership cannot be allowed to become a party to such mergers because that would jeopardise the whole idea," says a highly placed source. So Azhar is being detained at his own house which has been turned into a sub-jail. The government is said to be maintaining the premises at a cost of 10,000 rupees per month. Similarly, Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed was released in the first week of May but was picked up again 10 days later. An interior ministry official maintains that the two leaders have no criminal charges against them and have been detained under the maintenance of public order ordinance for 90 days. But clearly, no one is taking chances any more. Observers believe that these nascent attempts at merging Pakistan-based outfits with those inside the Valley are aimed at negating the now universal perception that Islamabad has indeed been guilty of cross-border terrorism. Sources add that the government has decided, in principle, not to raise any more Pakistan-based outfits to fight in Kashmir. Although still in its infancy, this move is likely to gain mentum with the onset of winter — historically a period of low activity in the Valley—and according to jihadi circles in Muzaffarabad, may even result in one united organisation. The Kashmir Liberation Army is amongst the more popular Dames currently floating around in Muzaffarabad. Kashmir observers, however, say that mere is another, less visible agenda behind the proposed mergers. Since me fruitless ceasefire by Kashmiri militants last year, Pakistan has become increasingly wary of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). The 2000 ceasefire faltered when Hurriyat was warned by Kashmiri militants not to bypass Pakistan and enter into bilateral negotiations with India. Since then, the Hurriyat has become increasingly frustrated with the fact that Pakistan has actually become an obstacle rather than a benefactor. If all militant outfits unite under one banner, they stand a strong chance of replacing the Hurriyat as the mainstream representative of Kashmiri people. Sources in Muzaffarabad say that the person who could play a key role in this initiative is Mushtaq Zargar alias Latram. Since his release by India, Zargar has been shuttling between Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Srinagar. Given that he has consistently supported Kashmir's accession to Pakistan, he seems to be the military establishment's favourite to head whatever united entity comes into being.


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