August 2002 News

Lashkar, Jaish may merge to marginalise Hurriyat: Report

10 August 2002
The Times of India

NEW DELHI: With two main Kashmiri militant groups reportedly being disbanded, rumours of a possible merger of all such groups are rife, with speculation that this move could sideline the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) from the Kashmiri mainstream, media reports said. ''If all militant outfits unite under one banner, they stand a strong chance of replacing the APHC as the mainstream representative of Kashmiri people,'' the latest issue of Pakistani weekly The Herald said in an article. Quoting unnamed sources and observers among the militant ranks, it said the attempts to ''merge Pakistan-based outfits with those inside the Valley are aimed at dismantling the now universal perception that Islamabad has indeed been guilty of cross- border terrorism''. The two Kashmiri militant outfits - Lashkar-e- Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad - ''have now been completely disbanded and their activists have been placed at the disposal of either Syed Salahuddin''s Hizbul Mujahedeen or the Al-Omar Mujahedeen led by Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar - alias Mushtaq Latram- who was released by India along with Masood Azhar in exchange for the Kandahar hijack hostages. A person who could play a key role in this merger move, the magazine said, was Zargar who ''has since been shuttling'' between Pak- occupied Kashmir and Srinagar. ''Given that he has consistently supported (the move for) Kashmir''s accession to Pakistan, he seems to be the military establishment''s favourite to head whatever united entity comes in to being in the near future'', it said. On APHC, Zargar in an interview told the weekly ''those conducting politics on the blood of the martyrs do not have any right to represent Kashmir''. He said he could consider calling for a ceasefire with India if New Delhi ''withdraws its troops from Kashmir and accepts the whole of Kashmir as disputed territory''. Meanwhile, the top leaders of LeT and JeM, including Azhar, are currently in preventive custody whereas LeT chief Hafiz Saeed''s movements are restricted after he was recently released from prison. The weekly quoted the sources as saying the Pervez Musharraf regime has decided not to raise any more Pakistan- based outfits to fight in the valley. ''Although still in its infancy, this move is likely to gain momentum 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.'' ''Kashmir Liberation Army is amongst the more popular names currently floating around in Muzaffarabad,'' the magazine report said. It quoted Kashmir observers as saying there was another ''less visible agenda behind the proposed mergers'' and that was to ''replace'' APHC. Since the last ceasefire in 2000, APHC 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 APHC as the mainstream representative of Kashmiri people'', the report added.


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