October 2005 News

Nature Forces Back Terror

17 October 2005
Asia Times Online
Siddharth Srivastava

New Delhi: Collateral damage of the earthquake that has devastated Pakistan- administered Kashmir has been the impact on the infrastructure of militancy in the region. New Delhi estimates that anywhere between 500 to 2,000 militants might have been killed in the October 8 earthquake that has claimed over 40,000 lives. Although the impact on cross-border militancy is yet to be known, several observers have pointed out that the killer quake is the biggest flushing out of the jihadi infrastructure in Pakistan that might have occurred in the region. At the same time, there are fears that the worldwide aid that is China Business Big Picture flowing into Pakistan may end up in the wrong hands to be channeled into strengthening the militant infrastructure. This, in turn, calls for a strict monitoring of funds and material being routed to the earthquake-ravaged nation. It has been repeatedly established by Indian security agencies that the maximum number of terrorist camps hosted by Pakistan are located in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir, and specifically the capital city of Muzafarrabad, which has been virtually destroyed by the earthquake. Senior Indian Army officers recently claimed the existence of at least 55 militant training camps in the region. Almost all groups fighting the Indian army in the Indian section of Kashmir have 'camp offices' either in Muzafarrabad or adjoining areas affected by the quake. Indian security sources have said that the earthquake has completely snuffed out 15 militant training camps. Military officials have been quoted as saying that an estimated 1,000 Pakistani soldiers have also died in the earthquake after their concrete-roofed bunkers along the Kashmir frontier collapsed, though Pakistan has said that all its bunkers are earthquake-proof and as such unaffected. Of particular speculation has been the fate of Osama bin Laden, whom several Indian intelligence agencies believe has been holed up in Pakistani Kashmir, given the heat of joint US-Pakistani forces in the western front with Afghanistan. Most, however, feel that the wily terrorist must have felt the tremors, but was unlikely to have been caught in the maze of landslides that followed the quake. In an interview, a senior Indian Army official, Major General M S Balhara, general officer commanding, Kilo Force, a counter- insurgency division, has said: 'We have intercepted many messages of militants in North Kashmir and they all indicate that around 600-700 militants were killed in the quake. The control stations of Lashkar-e- Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen have been destroyed, too, across Line of Control [LoC] opposite Kupwara sector. The launching pads of militants have also been smashed by the quake.' At a briefing organized at the behest of the Home Ministry, director general of military operations, Lieutenant General Madan Gopal, said that the two hardcore terrorist outfits, Hizbul and Lashkar, had suffered major losses in camps in the Pakistani portion of Kashmir. Several security analysts have also said that the earthquake in Pakistan's highly-militarized Kashmir region had 'significantly depreciated' the militants' capacity. 'The militant groups and their army handlers will now be totally absorbed in relief, rescue and rehabilitation efforts,' said Arun Sahgal, of the United Service Institution in New Delhi. Militancy, however, has continued unabated in Indian Kashmir following the earthquake, with the Indian Army saying that it had killed 29 militants in the last one week, with 16 militants shot dead while trying to sneak into India from Pakistan. There have been targeted attacks against Hindus in Jammu as well. Most observers, however, see any setback to the militants operating in the Indian sub- continent as temporary, with the numbers likely to be quickly replenished given the industry that churns out indoctrinated youth. It is in this context that the earthquake is being seen as an opportunity for New Delhi to provide a fresh impetus to the stalled peace process, making it a two-pronged attack against militant activities, apart from the forces of nature. India has promised all help, but regional politics have prevented active involvement, one ugly outcome being the late arrival of US military helicopters when the Indian response could have launched quicker and more effective rescue operations, given troops stationed in the region of devastation. Pakistan refused an offer of Indian helicopters and disaster management experts to help distribute aid and ruled out a joint rescue operation, given the proximity of the earthquake to the LoC. However, there have been reports of impromptu help by Indian troops along the border, as well as the rare gesture of one Indian security person being allowed to return back after he accidentally crossed to the other side in the wake of the quake. A comment in an international newspaper reads: :'The greatest natural disaster in Pakistan's history offered a rare chance to warm the slight thaw in relations with India. By first prevaricating, then accepting only limited help from a neighbor with vast resources, [President] General [Pervez] Musharraf has displayed a depressing lack of imagination.' But, by demonstrating that it is more than willing to help, the image of India as a helpful neighbor in times of need has been buttressed, which creates a further constituency for peace. There are fears, however, of earthquake aid money from other countries falling into the wrong hands. It is estimated that Pakistan has suffered infrastructure loss to the tune of US$5 billion, apart from the loss of human lives. While the United Nations and most Western countries, such as the US, Britain, Canada, Germany, Turkey and Greece, have pledged aid that will amount to millions of dollars, doubts are being expressed about the end use. American Muslim leaders have advised donors to thoroughly research charities to avoid breaking US terrorism laws. At least one group, the Washington-based Muslim Advocates, has listed guidelines for giving money to charities. 'Some people are donating items such as blankets and clothing to avoid the chance they might be unwittingly bankrolling terrorists. I think the vast bulk of people are giving, want to give, and then it's a question of people wanting to be sure that they're not running afoul of these laws,' said a spokesperson. The secular pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) has accused Pakistan of adopting an 'indifferent attitude because of fear of exposure of militant camps'. 'One wonders why the Indian offer of help was refused, which could have saved hundreds of lives and could also have boosted the confidence between both governments. The answer to this is simple if we take militant camps into equation,' a senior JKLF leader said in a statement from London. Despite all the claims of dismantling militant training camps, he said, the open secret was that they were fully operational, with more than 3,000 militants of various nationalities. 'These camps were located in various parts of Pakistan [administered] Kashmir,' he added. 'What explanation could the Pakistan government give if some militants from Bangladesh, Sudan, Algeria and Egypt are seen? This could have been very embarrassing for the military government of General Pervez Musharraf, who on more than one occasion claimed there were no camps,' the JKLF leader said while reasoning Pakistan's turning down of India's offer for joint relief and rescue efforts. Indeed, in times of tragedy it will be a difficult task for monitoring agencies to balance the needs of the victims and those who do not deserve it. Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist.


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