One Boy's Tale Of Militant Training
2 October 2003
The Christian Science Monitor
Bandipora: Two years ago, Mushtaq Ahmad Bhat went out to buy a candle. Nine months later, he returned a militant. The story of this 18-year-old's capture in Kashmir and training in Pakistan will give discomfort to both sides of this 14-year-old struggle over the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir. Mr. Bhat believes he was trained in Pakistan, not by private guerrillas but by civilian officers of Pakistan's intelligence agencies. His story could not be independently corroborated and contradicts Pakistan's consistent assertions that it offers only 'moral and diplomatic support' to the Kashmiri militants. But other youths tell a similar story. The profound support these militants receive inside Indian Kashmir also contradicts India's claim that the insurgency enjoys no local support. 'We lived in the homes of tribal people, we lived like families, cooked meals together,' says the friendly, green-eyed teenager. 'There were only militants in the mountain heights, but in the lower areas, we mixed with the local people [in Indian Kashmir], and they helped us.' Bhat's brief entry into the Kashmir militancy movement began on the dark streets of his hometown, Sopore. Gunmen from Harkatul Jihad-e Islami, a small but disciplined militant group, approached him on the main street itself, and told him they were taking him to Pakistan. If he resisted, or if he told his family, the gunmen said they would kill them. Getting across the Line of Control into Pakistani- administered Kashmir was easy, Bhat says, since Indian Army or security forces go to the mountainous border only at rare intervals, perhaps once a week. On his arrival in Pakistan, Bhat says, the militants handed him over to Pakistanis. 'They wore civilian clothes like you,' he tells a reporter, 'and they asked me the same questions you are asking. They wanted to find out if I was an Indian spy.' But the big tip-off that they were Pakistanis, not Kashmiris, is that they did not speak the Kashmiri language. Bhat was then taken to a training camp in the mountains where he stayed for three months, along with 150 other young Kashmiris. They were trained, he says, by men in civilian clothes who had expert knowledge of weapons and military strategy that surpass that of typical militants. Bhat also received some political and religious indoctrination, including speakers who would tell of the atrocities of the Indian forces in Kashmir and the need to protect Islam. 'They were motivating us for carrying out military attacks,' says Bhat. He left the group, then under threat tried to return. He was arrested by Indian troops en route.