September 2002 News

Polls in J&K may not quieten militancy

28 September 2002
The Times of India

Srinagar: The authorities in Delhi and the separatist leadership in the Valley expect that the successful conduct of the assembly elections could jump-start their stalled dialogue. But, security officials say, this optimism ignores hundreds of hardened jihadis and militants, mostly Pakistanis, who are unlikely to abandon the gun, under any circumstance. ‘‘These people owe no allegiance to the Hurriyat and many are out of the control of the Pakistani authorities,’’ says an intelligence officer here. Just how deadly these Pakistanis are has been reflected by the various fidayeen (suicide) attacks. But it can also be glimpsed in the tenacity of people like Tariq Mehmood, an Al- Badr militant arrested by the authorities a few weeks ago. Paraded before the media, Mehmood looked much worse for the wear, after his arrest. But much to the discomfiture of the officials present he declared, ‘‘I have no regrets. On the contrary, I am happy since I have come to fight for the path of Allah.’’ Married and with two small children, Mehmood, was a registered medical practitioner and a Jamaat-e-Islami activist from Pakistan’s Gujrat district. After Masood Azhar’s forced release, every Pakistani knows that to be arrested is certain death, yet says a BSF commandant, many declare that they would follow the orders of their Amir or leader, if they are given another chance. Jihad-e-Kashmir or the Kashmir jihad, as the Pakistanis see it, is tough from the outset. Army officers recount the difficulties of those who infiltrate the Line of Control face. Besides three layers of Army patrols and ambushes, there is the ever-present danger of betrayal by the locals. Within the Valley, the Pakistanis establish camps in the high mountain ranges or in the thick forests of northern and south-western Kashmir. ‘‘They construct room-size hideouts underground, with small ventilation shafts. These are covered with leaves and mud and are nearly invisible. Inside they pile up blankets, often using as many as 10-15 of them, for warmth in the sub-zero temperatures.’’ The eight or ten militants may remain inactive for weeks on end, leaving their hideouts to make a trip to nearby villages for a bath or to purchase food or a gas cylinder. They undertake military action only on specific orders that come to them through their radio sets in Pakistan. It is common-place to attribute this fanatic devotion to madarsas, or to Islam itself. A closer look at the phenomenon reveals that what drives such fanaticism is a special ‘‘culture of death’’ that terrorist groups foster. This culture is visible in the nominally Hindu, LTTE, as well as the Muslim Jaish-e-Mohammed or Lashkar-e-Taiba. According to Indian intelligence officers, when a militant is killed in Kashmir, there are elaborate funeral rites, complete with the burial of an empty coffin in his village in Pakistan. The parents of the ‘‘shaheed’’ are made to sit on a pedestal and feted by the local elite. Emotional speeches detail the ‘‘shaheed’s’’ valour. With emotions at the highest pitch, volunteers are called for, and not surprisingly anywhere between 80-100 young men register. Of these, say Indian intelligence officers, some 15 make grade for arms training and out of this number roughly half actually make it to Kashmir.


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