Terror groups targeting J&K's political system
8 December 2005
Srinagar: Evidence has begun to emerge of a large-scale effort by jihadist groups to place operatives inside Jammu and Kashmir's political system — a development that appears to be linked to preparations for a major terror offensive this coming spring. Shabbir Bukhari, the Lashkar organiser held early this month for organising a series of high-profile suicide-squad attacks in Srinagar, has told his interrogators that he made contact with several top politicians, including Jammu and Kashmir Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, Hakim Mohammad Yasin. Bukhari eventually succeeded in obtaining identification for the Lashkar operatives he commanded from the National Conference — Yasin's political rivals. Terror networks and politics Although there is no evidence Yasin or the other politicians contacted by Bukhari were aware of his work as a Lashkar organiser or knew of his real objectives, Bukhari's testimony has highlighted the vulnerability of Jammu and Kashmir's political system to penetration by terrorist groups. Using cash, coercion and common political interests, terrorist groups have long sought to build affiliations which can protect their most critical assets, overground sympathisers operating under the cover of legitimate businesses and political affiliation, from targeting by Indian forces. Terrorist groups first gained serious political leverage in the build-up to the 2002 elections, when the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen threw its weight behind the People's Democratic Party. Although the entente between the PDP and the Hizb slowly disintegrated after the former Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, took power, the organisation continued to influence political life. Cellphone records obtained by The Hindu show, for example, that the Budgam area Hizb commander, Yusuf Sheikh, made at least half-a-dozen calls to Yasin before his elimination in an encounter this May. Yasin had, in the weeks before Sheikh's elimination, complained to police authorities and his Cabinet colleagues that the terrorist had held out threats in connection with local elections in the Budgam area. A Budgam resident, Sheikh had sought to have his own relatives elected under party flags. That such threats were credible is beyond dispute: Sheikh, authorities say, was involved in 72 murders, and acquired considerable notoriety after he e-mailed authorities a photograph of the severed head of Farooq Ahmad, a mole the Jammu and Kashmir Police had planted in the Hizb-ul- Mujahideen. Cash for support In at least some measure, however, support for terrorism seems to be paid for in cash, rather than won at gunpoint — a method intelligence services refer to as 'active measures.' Last month, troops from the Army's south Kashmir-based Victor Force counter-terrorism formation recovered diaries and letters recording the financial activities of the Hizb's Kulgam district unit. Over just 15 months, the documents show, the Kulgam unit of the Hizb alone received over Rs. 4.5 million — a staggering amount, given that the organisation has no more than a few dozen armed operatives active in the area. A letter written to the Kulgam Hizb commander Khurshid Ahmad Sheikh from a still-unidentified operative code-named 'Rahimullah' shows much of this money was to be used to purchase goodwill. Rahimullah's letter asks Sheikh to make several monthly payments to sympathisers. For example, Rs. 2,500 was to be paid to a local notable, code-named 'Boss,' while Rs. 4,000 was to be given to be sent to a girls school run by local Islamists. Hizb's finances were also committed to south Kashmir Islamists battling the influence of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami. Such cultivation of local support appears to have helped the Kulgam Hizb to have built the networks it needed to execute a series of successful offensive operations against Indian forces this summer, notably the bombing of a Central Reserve Police Force convoy near the village of Wanpoh on July 1, 2005. Rahimullah, in his letter, specifically told Sheikh that the generous funds sent to the Kulgam Hizb were both a reward for such operations, and also special assistance to help the unit recover from a series of blows delivered to its command structure by security forces in spring. Forces operating in Jammu and Kashmir have long complained of lack of an adequate legal framework for action against those who harbour and handle funds for terrorists, as well as political interference to protect terror-linked individuals operating from behind a façade of mainstream party affiliations. Bukhari is expected to be charged under the new Unlawful Activities Act, which has provisions intended to facilitate the prosecution of overground supporters of terrorism — individuals who do not actually carry out acts of violence, but are critical to their execution. Experts say that his prosecution is expected to be a test of the effectiveness of the new legislation.