October 2005 News

Jihad After The Quake

27 October 2005
South Asia Intelligence Review
Kanchan Lakshman

New Delhi: Many in South Asia had hoped that the earthquake of October 8, 2005, which killed tens of thousands of people and affected millions on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) would put a halt, at least momentarily, to the terrorist campaign in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and allow for unhindered relief and rehabilitation operations. Some fantasists went so far as to see in this natural disaster a 'window of opportunity' for dramatic cooperation and an improvement of relations between India and Pakistan. [The official death toll of the quake in J&K has been pegged at 1308, which includes 1206 civilians and 102 SF personnel. At least 6622 people are injured while 12 Army and 21 Border Roads Organisation personnel are still missing. While at least 40,000 people have died in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), 38,007 people have died so far in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan]. However, the terrorist campaign, evidently, recognizes no bounds and is not constrained by the humanitarian crisis in the wake of natural disasters. The assassination of J&K Minister of State for Education, Dr. Ghulam Nabi Lone, in the high security zone of Tulsibagh in capital Srinagar on October 18, 2005, is an indication that the Kashmir jihad will not be slowed down even by natural calamities. Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) legislator, Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, escaped unhurt in a simultaneous assassination attempt at his house, approximately 300 yards from the Minister's bungalow, though two security force (SF) personnel and a civilian were killed in these incidents. That terrorist groups would continue to maintain the now consistent and calibrated levels of violence is evident from the fact that, two days after the quake, 10 persons, belonging to four families, were killed by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) at Dhara and Gabbar in Rajouri district. At least 26 civilians, 18 SF personnel and 46 terrorists have died in terrorist-related violence between October 8 and October 23. On the ground in J&K, the terrorists are also attempting to take advantage of the earthquake relief operations along the LoC. They carried out two unsuccessful infiltration attempts immediately after the quake in order to benefit from the disorder caused by the natural disaster. Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, stated, on October 16: 'Militants have made about five infiltration attempts since the October 8 earthquake, including two on a single day. About 25-29 of them have been killed.' With the SFs engaged in relief, rescue and rehabilitation efforts, the terrorists are scouting for soft targets and also attempting to push in as many infiltrators as possible. The timing is crucial, since winter is rapidly setting in and plans for subversion have to be in place before the mountain passes close. The quake may have rendered the terrorists' task somewhat easier, since unconfirmed reports suggest that the porosity of the border has increased slightly, for instance in the Uri sector of Baramulla District near the LoC. The assassination of Dr. Lone, reportedly carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was intended to disrupt relief and rescue operations in the quake-hit Valley. It was also an attempt to bolster the ranks of the jihadis and mark their presence, especially after a significant loss of men and material in Pakistan and PoK. The challenge for the security establishment in J&K is now two-fold: maintaining their guard even as they struggle to complete relief and rehabilitation work before the onset of winter. The terrorists are expected to attempt to take advantage of this and negate the balance that the Forces are currently maintaining. To that end, there could be more high-profile incidents in the coming months, although the overall level of violence is not expected to see any drastic increase, primarily due to snow in the higher reaches and because of the cumulative impact of the earthquake. While authoritative assessments are unavailable, a fair amount of damage is reported to have occurred to some terrorist training camps in Pakistan and PoK. According to sources, camps of groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), LeT, Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen (TuM), HM and Al- Badr, which were located within a radius of 10 kilometers from the epicenter of the quake in Muzaffarabad, have been damaged. A wireless intercept of the TuM indicated that one of the outfit's building near Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK, had been destroyed and some cadres were buried under it. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) training centres at Balakot and Batrasi (NWFP), the JeM camp at Attock (Punjab province), Al-Badr's at Oghi (NWFP), an LeT camp at Mansehra (NWFP) and an HM recruitment camp at Jungle-Mangal (PoK) have also been damaged. Major General M. S. Balhara, General Officer Commanding Kilo Force in J&K, stated: '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 Hizb-ul-Mujahideen have been destroyed, too, across the Line of Control opposite Kupwara sector. The launching pads of militants have also been smashed by the quake.' Balhara added that an LeT message intercepted at Shamshabari range revealed that the group had lost 200 cadres in one PoK camp. At a briefing by the Union Home Ministry in New Delhi on October 16, Director General of Military Operations, Lieutenant General Madan Gopal, stated that the Hizb and LeT had suffered major losses in their PoK camps. While the exact number of destroyed camps is yet to be ascertained, it is safe to assume that significant destruction would have occurred to the jehadi infrastructure since the whole city of Muzaffarabad has been flattened. Sources said that communication centres of the HM (near Muzaffarabad) and TuM were among those that suffered severe damage. Nevertheless, the jihadis are currently regrouping with the prevalent atmosphere also offering them an opportunity to reinforce their support structures within PoK and in Pakistan, at the expense of the administration, which has come in for a great amount of flak for its delayed and ineffective response to the disaster. Groups that advocate radical Islam consider relief efforts and social aid to people who have been disregarded by the state as an important part of their strategy. According to Mohammed Shehzad, who has reported extensively from the earthquake-hit areas in Pakistan and PoK, 'the civil administration was seen nowhere in Muzaffarabad. The Army was in the bulk but it was not helping the people… A number of lives could have been saved had the Army soldiers helped the civilians. But the Army took no such initiative. Its officers still wore the starched uniform and the shining shoes; puffed the imported cigars; and ate the rich meals (sic).' Damningly, Saeed Bokhari, a schoolteacher at Chalpani, a village ten kilometers away from Muzaffarabad, said, 'the Army is showing preference for the relatives of soldiers in rescuing victims.' The state's acts of commission and omission have reportedly sparked off enormous hostility against the Pakistan Army and the Musharraf regime. Indeed, it is this gathering animosity that has conferred legitimacy on the jihadi presence in the day-to-day chores of rescue and relief. Jamat-ud-Daawa, the parent organisation of the LeT, is reported to have diverted a considerable part of its network towards relief efforts. Among the other Islamist groups that have contributed to quake relief are the Karachi-based Al- Rashid Trust (ART), one of the 27 groups and organisations listed by the US State Department on September 22, 2001, for their involvement in financing and supporting a network of international Islamist terrorist groups; and the charity wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami. The Musharraf regime's vacillating and deficient response has led people to seek assistance from the jihadis. The JD, according to credible Pakistani reportage, has emerged as the most 'effective relief agency that has built up an excellent rapport with the victims.' In Muzaffarabad, JD activists, numbering around 350 and connected through wireless telephony, manage 16 ambulances, motorboats, mobile X-ray machines-operation theatres, and are feeding approximately 3,000 people daily, according to the Pakistan Media Monitor. It also has an orthopedic unit near Sangam Hotel in Muzaffarabad under the supervision of Dr. Amir Aziz, who was arrested in 2002 (subsequently released) for treating Osama bin Laden. While relief efforts by groups such as the JD have provided much-needed succor, the inevitable gratitude of grief-stricken families will come in handy for the larger goals of the jihadis. There is some evidence already of the Islamist extremists recruiting for the jihad from amongst the quake-affected populace. The Pakistan Media Monitor quotes Mohammad Lateef, a 16-year-old resident of Moongbajri, a small village in Bagh District, as stating: 'I would repay their help by joining them next summer and fighting the atrocious Indian Army'. More insidious is the hidden and potentially long-term impact of the natural disaster on the socio-political landscape of the region, which has for long been the epicentre of the Kashmir jihad. For instance, the quake has destroyed almost all the schools in PoK. District Bagh (100 km from Muzaffarabad) had 341 schools for a population of 500,000 while Muzaffarabad, capital of PoK, had 1,512 schools for a population of 900,000 people. Virtually all school buildings in these areas have been flattened out, and thousands of students face an uncertain future, especially with the Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz himself indicating that reconstruction and rehabilitation 'would take decades'. The jihadi groups, within such a milieu, would find it far easier to bolster their ranks. According to Mohammad Amir Rana, there are more than 1,200 Madrassas (seminaries) in PoK being run by groups like the LeT, JeM, HM, Al-Badr, Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, Al-Barq, Harkat- ul-Mujahideen and Jamaat-e-Islami (some of these, would, no doubt, also have been damaged or destroyed by the earthquake). Further, the extremists are also propagating the view that the quake was the 'punishment of God' (Azab-e-Elahi) for abandoning the jihad. And while the Government has banned adoption of quake-hit children, groups like the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and JD have announced, through mosque loudspeakers, banners and pamphlets, that they will adopt children orphaned by the earthquake. 'The Jamatud Dawa has a huge complex at Misrial Road in Rawalpindi, by the name of Maaz bin Jabal. We will set up colonies in the complex where these children would be put up according to their age. Various ayahs (nursemaids) will raise them, ensuring motherly love,' said Zafar Iqbal, head of the JD's 'education wing'. The JD has more grandiose plans of rehabilitation. It plans to provide 'education' to students whose schools have been destroyed by the quake. 'We have a huge hostel in the Muridke Markaz that is spread on 170 acres. We will shift the affected students there to continue their studies. Moreover, we have 180 schools in Punjab. We hope to accommodate every affected student,' Iqbal added. With the state's writ undermined by its ineffective responses to the earthquake, and with popular frustration and anger against the regime growing, the terrorist groups have easily occupied the space created by the humanitarian crisis, and have become more brazen about their activities. More significant, however, is Islamabad's continuing ambivalence towards the jehadis. While President Musharraf told CNN on October 20 that banned religious groups would not be allowed to conduct relief efforts in the quake-stricken areas, the Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, while acknowledging the role of Islamist groups, declared, they are 'the lifeline of our rescue and relief work.' General Musharraf has also stated that, 'everyone is motivated to help the quake victims. I am not going to prevent anyone from helping the people.' While the quake has undoubtedly inflicted some damage on the jihadi infrastructure in Pakistan, the setback is expected to be momentary, and would be more than compensated by the emerging circumstances and by the accelerated replenishment rate of cadres. There is also an expectation of the renewal of state support after a modicum of stability is achieved on the relief and reconstruction front. Kanchan Lakshman is a Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management; Assistant Editor, Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution


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