Even though they claim to be waging a jihad (holy war) against India, Pakistan-sponsored militants have frequently targeted innocent Kashmiris, including women and children, who have suffered the brunt of the long-running militancy in the trouble-torn state. Seeking to destroy the secular and communal harmony in Jammu and Kashmir, militant outfits have also targeted minority communities in the state. Though Pakistan continues to deny its involvement, there is considerable evidence that since 1990, a planned and organised militant campaign sponsored from across the border has brutalised Kashmir and its people.
On 18 July 2006, unidentified gunmen kidnapped a 17-year-old youth Mukhtar Ahmed Sheikh, a student of XI class in Boys Higher Secondary School, Kapran, Kulgam, when he was playing cricket in village Kachhodora, Shopian (Pulwama). The gunmen dragged the youth up to village Nowgam, Shopian, where they mercilessly butchered him in the presence of some women and children of the village.
This is not an isolated incident in the trouble-torn State of J&K. Militants have violently assaulted Kashmiris, including women by chopping off their noses and ears as a means of punishing their relatives whom they consider to be traitors. Some women have also been punished for not adopting Islamic dress codes as demanded by some militant groups, while cable operators and internet centres have been targeted for promoting “immorality”. Recently, the Pakistan based Harkat-ul-Jehadi Islami (HUJI) even asked women to stop using mobile phones or visit public parks. Reports indicate that militant attacks on women is on the rise in the state, especially in the hill districts of Jammu division. Observers say that this is primarily because women are turning their back on militancy and have also taken up arms training to counter militant outfits operating in the state.
Militant groups have also attacked religious minorities in Kashmir such as the Hindus and the Sikhs, as well as ethnic minorities such as Bakarwals and Gujjars. These communities have traditionally been part of Kashmir's secular and inclusive culture. Militant outfits have often targeted them claiming that they work as informers for the security agencies. However, the underlying reason for targeting the minority community is that these outfits aim to destroy the secular character of Kashmir. Militant killed 35 Sikhs in Chittisinghpura on the eve of the then US president Clinton visit to India in March 2000 to send a message to the visiting dignitary that the situation in state continues to be volatile. In recent years, militants have committed at least twenty massacres of civilians of minority groups, usually in the middle of night, when they were asleep. One of the most inhuman attacks took place in the aftermath of the October 2005 earthquake when militants decapitated ten Hindus in Rajouri district even as they were climbing out of the rubble and mourning their dead. In May 2006, 35 Hindus were killed in the remote hamlets of Doda and Udhampur. Reports indicated the involvement of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant outfit. The attack on Hindus was aimed at foiling the roundtable conference convened in Srinagar by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 24-25 May. In recent months, militants have also attacked and killed tourists in order to prevent the development of the tourism industry which provides employment to a large number of Kashmiris.
In recent years, the conflict has increasingly taken a religious overtone; many militant groups have also begun to impose a more fundamentalist version of Islam in predominantly Sufi Kashmir. Militants have also been implicated in bomb attacks even outside J&K. These include the recent serial bomb-blasts in Mumbai on 7 July 2006, which killed more than 200 civilians, (although no group has clamed responsibility), serial bomb blasts in Delhi on 29 October 2005 that killed over 70 civilians (a little known group Islami Inqlabi Mahaz claimed responsibility). In March 2006, a series of bomb blasts in Varanasi killed twenty people. Once again a little known group Lashkar-e Qahar claimed responsibility. Analysts say these outfits are merely offshoots of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad which are apparently seeking to avoid international condemnation and scrutiny of their actions.
There is considerable evidence that over many years Pakistan has provided Kashmiri militants with training, weapons, funding and sanctuary. Officially, Pakistan denies all this. However, the real decision making authority and management of the Kashmiri struggle rests with the Pakistani military and its intelligence agency ISI. This authority and control is shared by the top leadership of the numerous militant outfits created and supported by Pakistan over the years. Under pressure from the US after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, Pakistan banned several militant groups in January 2002, including the JeM and LeT, although they have continued to operate after changing their names. India blames these groups for many armed attacks like the attack on Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001. The Indian army claims to have killed militants belonging to different outfits who were trying to infiltrate in Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). Reports in the international media indicate that there are militant training camps are still operational in PoK and other parts of Pakistan. After the 8 October 2005 earthquake, several militant outfits were seen helping the affected people by providing them conducted weatherised tents. Militant outfits such as the LeT, JeM and the Hizbul Mujahideen had mounted rescue and relief operations even before the Pakistani government could mobilize its resources.
These events clearly indicate that Pakistan has continued to rely on its policy of fomenting cross border terrorism to keep India bogged down in Kashmir. Pakistan is also using the militant outfits to gain a bargaining advantage in the ongoing peace process with India. However, continuing violence in Kashmir has led New Delhi to freeze the ongoing dialogue process with Pakistan. Pakistan has clearly not realised that continuing militancy in Kashmir will only prove detrimental to the peace process and a permanent resolution of the long pending Kashmir issue.