Kashmir’s ‘Kasab’ Story Casts Light On NWFP Threat

10 April 2009
The Hindu


New Delhi: For the past week, prime-time television news has been saturated with lurid speculation on the prospect of an invasion by the Taliban, fuelled by an early spring surge in infiltration across the Line of Control. Now, the Jammu and Kashmir police have found one of the hundreds of jihadists who have made up that surge: a 15-year-old boy with only the beginnings of a beard, hiding, paralysed by fear, behind a clump of rocks in the north Kashmir mountains. Babar Nasim’s story has some similarities with that of Mohammad Ajmal Amir - the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist arrested in the course of the November 2008 carnage in Mumbai. It also underlines the dangers held out to India by the transformation of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier into a de facto Taliban state. Like Amir, Nasim grew up in a family of landless peasants, Jammu and Kashmir police sources have told The Hindu. His father, Hameed Rehman, operates a tractor in the Upper Dir region, close to the border with Afghanistan. Nasim himself worked as an agricultural labourer, but left home last year after a fight with his parents. Homeless and hungry, Nasim was recruited by the Harkat ul-Mujahideen’s office in Timergara town. Last summer, he was despatched for weapons training at a camp in Manshehra, Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Early in April, Nasim was despatched across the Line of Control from Kel - a key launching station for jihadists. His group, made up in the main of Lashkar personnel, crossed the snow-covered Sonapindi pass into Macchel, but was engaged by Indian troops. Famed for its high levels of education, Dir for long prospered by exporting skilled workers to West Asia. Now, Nasim’s story suggests, the rise of the Taliban has laid the foundations for a grim new form of migrant labour. Located between Swat and Bajaur districts of Pakistan’s war-ravaged NWFP, Dir has seen a dramatic expansion of Taliban power in recent years. Earlier this month, over 1,000 Taliban insurgents were reported to have taken control of several villages in Lower Dir. New recruits from the region were said to be under training along Dir’s border with Afghanistan, in preparation for a push towards Upper Dir. In 2008, militia groups formed by the Payandakhel and Sultankhel tribes repulsed a similar Taliban push. But the Dir-based Taliban was strengthened by the Pakistan government’s controversial peace deal with the pro-Taliban Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi. Dozens of Taliban from the Dir area were released, allowing the group to establish bases across the district. Large-scale refugee flows have since been reported from the region. Pakistan’s Red Crescent Society is operating camps for 1,403 families in Timergara and Khunji.