Renewal of Militancy in Kashmir

Md. Sadiq

31 April 2008

Preparations seem to be on in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) for the revival of militancy in Kashmir this summer.

On a mild Sunday evening, residents of the city of Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, were startled by the sound of massive explosions that shook the ground and rattled window panes for miles around. The explosions continued for an incredible two hours. "Panic gripped the residents as the blasts, which began around 6pm IST, continued for about two hours," the president of Jammu & Kashmir National Students Federation, Mehmood Beigh, told Times of India from Muzaffarabad over phone. The Times report [28 Aparil 2008] went on to say that the explosions were the result of a fire engulfing the main ammunitions dump of the terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiyba. The correspondents said the terrorist camp is located inside the limits of Muzaffarabad Municipal Corporation at Chila Bandi near Shaive canal. "ISI and police have blocked all roads leading to the camp. Journalists and common people aren’t being allowed into the area," he said.

According to the news report, “another top-ranking Muzaffarabad-based JKNSF leader, Raja Saba, said Pakistani authorities are unlikely to ever accept that the blasts actually took place, as it would expose the Pakistan government’s lies about the nonexistence of terrorist camps in Muzaffarabad. Muzaffarabad-based journalist Tariq Naqqash said, "Apparently, LeT cadres have stopped even the police and the local administration officials from entering the area." They are being stopped about half a km from the blast site, he added. "I am waiting for an official statement but the authorities are tight-lipped." Arif Shahid — of All-Party National Alliance, a leading organisation against Pakistan rule in PoK — said terror camps continue to train hardcore terrorists for jihad in Kashmir.”

"We’ve been crying ourselves hoarse and asking Islamabad to throw these jihadis out of our land. We don’t want them here. But our repeated pleas have been falling on deaf ears," he said. "Extremist elements in Pakistan continue to lure the youths towards jihad. Not just this, ISI continues to get foreign nationals — Afghans, Saudis and Arabs — for Kashmir jihad." He said the training camps were running under the garb of hospitals. Kashmiri nationalists, resenting Islamabad’s occupation of PoK, have been running campaigns against the terror camps. In 2007, JKNSF organised a march against terrorist camps in PoK after LeT terrorists abducted a Muzaffarabad University student. There are believed to be at least 36 jihadi training camps in PoK, housing about 3,660 cadres. Majority of these camps are located in Muzaffarabad and Kotli. LeT maintains, among others, the Danna and Abdul-Bin-Masud camps in Muzaffarabad and Badli camp in Kotli with 500, 300 and 300 jihadis respectively. Similarly, Hizbul has, among others, the Jangal Mangal camp in Muzaffarabad and another one at Mangla with at least 300 cadres each.”

This report cannot but be a cause of concern for Kashmiris, who today are struggling to bring back peace and normalcy in their land. The portents, however, are ominous.

A recent report (28 April 2008) prepared by the US-based think tank, Stratfor, said that Pakistan is seeing the reappearance of several banned Kashmiri militant groups. According to the report the “reappearance of these groups is part of a broader shift in the long history of Pakistan's involvement with militant proxies.” The Stratfor report was based on a news item in the prestigious Pakistan daily, The Dawn of 25 April 2008, where it was claimed that “several banned Kashmiri militant groups are resurfacing in major Pakistani cities. Members of prominent groups like Harkat ul Mujahideen, al Badr, Harkat-e-Islami, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Hizbul Mujahideen reportedly are setting up new offices, changing their names, putting up flags and posters, holding large rallies, and delivering sermons in mosques to publicize the groups' activities.”

The Dawn report said that the Harkat ul Mujahideen has relocated its base from Islamabad to the city outskirts in Rawalpindi and is considering renaming itself Ansar-ul-Ummah, while Jaish-e-Muhammad is still deciding on a name change. The report also claimed that most of this activity is taking place in the port city of Karachi, and that the groups probably will be reactivated by mid-May. These groups are seizing the opportunity to come out from hiding while the newly elected Pakistani government remains in flux.

The Stratfor report says that “this apparent revitalization of Pakistan's Kashmiri militant groups probably also is taking place with a wink and a nod from the country's military and security apparatus. According to the Strafor analysis “Pakistan is located in a strategic stretch of the Islamic belt. The country's Islamist-nationalist foundation combined with a mountainous and sparsely populated periphery creates a natural hotbed for Islamist militancy that Islamabad has long made use of in its dealings with its neighbors. India has been Pakistan's primary threat since their 1947 partition...In 1989, efforts by the Pakistani intelligence agency known as Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to establish these Kashmiri groups came to light when a popular uprising - swiftly exploited by Pakistan - broke out in the Vale of Kashmir against Indian rule. The uprising allowed militant cells steadily to make their way into India from Pakistan to carry out attacks. Pakistan's use of these groups reached a peak in the 1999 Kargil war, when Islamist Kashmiri insurgents under the thumb of the ISI helped Pakistani forces infiltrate the Line of Control into Indian territory.”

“Soon after al Qaeda moved against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, the Pakistani government came under the spotlight for its ties to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Under pressure from both the United States and India, the Pakistani government had to work to create the impression that it was indeed distancing itself from these militant proxies, including those fighting on behalf of Kashmir. As a result, many of these groups officially were banned by the Pakistani government, and thus were forced to go underground and operate under different names. Pakistan intended for the crackdown to occur mainly on the surface, however. Every now and then a Kashmiri militant leader would be placed under house arrest and then released a few days later. Government addresses were made on television condemning several of the militant groups while the militant leaders continued to collect donations through charity organizations. Official bans were announced on the groups' activities while attacks in Kashmir continued, albeit at a lower tempo. While Islamabad had to keep up appearances with New Delhi and Washington, it also had a strategic need to maintain a working relationship with these groups both for its own security as well as for its grand strategy in dealing with Afghanistan and India. But over time, al Qaeda's influence over these groups expanded, making it all the more difficult for Pakistan to distinguish between the 'good' and 'bad' jihadists. The groups handled by the ISI either complied with Islambad's wishes and brought down the level of attacks, went rogue, joined up with transnational jihadist forces like al Qaeda, or tried to strike a tenuous balance between the ISI and al Qaeda. As a result, Islamabad's grip over these sundry Islamist militants gradually loosened, and the militants that it formally had on its payroll started turning on the state. Pakistan now has reached the stage where its primary threat has emanated from its own borders, namely, a raging Islamist insurgency seeking to topple the Pakistani state and establish an Islamic polity.”

The Stratfor report goes on to argue that “political developments over the past year, particularly the debacle of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's efforts to contain dissent within the judiciary and his Red Mosque crackdown only have exacerbated the backlash from the government's anti-militant maneuvers. It was thus only a matter of time before the military and security establishment reassessed their militant management strategy. “ The report has suggested that “Pakistan needs to put a lid on the jihadist presence concentrated in its Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the North-West Frontier Province and the Pashtun corridor in northwestern Balochistan province. Naturally, this is easier said than done, and the newly elected government in Islamabad still is trying to figure out exactly how to go about striking the nearly impossible balance between negotiations with militant leaders and airstrikes against militant strongholds. But a key part of this strategy does involve shifting the militant focus from Afghanistan back to Kashmir, which explains the re-emergence of Kashmiri militant groups in major Pakistani cities.”

The Stratfor report concludes by pointing out that the revitalisation of “Pakistan's Kashmiri militant node naturally is a cause for alarm in New Delhi. Since 9/11, India has been quite content to see Pakistan too busy to pursue an aggressive strategy in Kashmir. But if Pakistan is now making a concerted effort to shift the militant tide to Kashmir, current Indian military strategies will need to shift as well...Pakistan is entering a new phase in its militant proxy saga, and the reported re-emergence of Kashmiri groups in Pakistan is likely just the beginning.”

Since the publication of the Stratfor report, things have only worsened. Three incidents seem to point to worse things to come. It would appear that the Indian security establishment were beginning to pick up ominous signals from across the border. On 5 May 2008, BSF director general A K Mitra said that militants across the border are waiting to enter the country once mountain passes in Jammu and Kashmir open with the melting of snow. 'The BSF has strong inputs that militants are waiting along the border to enter the country,' he told reporters on the sidelines of a foundation stone laying ceremony for a BSF building here. He said along the western border, the infiltration is presently low. However, 'once the mountain passes open, the militant activities along the border are likely to increase manifold,' he said.

Just three days later, on the night of 8 May, the Border Security Force foiled an infiltration bid on the international border in Jammu, the first such attempt this year. J.B. Sangwan, BSF deputy inspector-general, Jammu frontier, said the incident occurred at 10.40pm. Around 10 militants had crossed the border and were advancing towards the fencing in the Samba sector when BSF troops spotted them. “Our ambush party detected some suspicious movement near the bund at the IB. As soon as the militants were detected, they fired at our troops with AK assault rifles and lobbed grenades,” he said. “We retaliated and the firing continued for some time.” But there was no loss of life as the militants were pushed back. About 450 empty cartridges of the assault rifles were found at the spot. The infiltration bid comes as high-level talks are on between India and Pakistan. Foreign minister Pranab Mukerjee is slated to visit Islamabad soon to meet his counterpart and take the stalled dialogue process ahead. BSF sources said the Pakistani Rangers (border guards) had helped the militants sneak into Jammu. “The Pakistani Rangers provided the militants with a covering fire, which is a clear violation of ceasefire,” said a senior BSF officer. But the BSF DIG disagreed, perhaps in view of India and Pakistan’s renewed attempts to bring the stalled talks back on track. “We can’t say it is a ceasefire violation by the Pakistani rangers,” Sangwan said. The ceasefire has been in place since November 2003. But, he added, the BSF lodged a verbal protest with the Pakistani Rangers at a flag meeting at the Bangalard border outpost this morning.

Later, the India Express reported that the incident could be the precursor to more terrorist incidents. “It is possible that some infiltrators may have managed to sneak in that night. Though no trace of any such infiltrator has so far been found, I won’t be surprised if some of them were able to take the advantage of darkness and heavy firing to get inside Indian borders,” BSF DG A K Mitra told reporters. “There are likely to be more such incidents in the area as the remaining are active. These are attempts to disrupt the election process,” an official said. Sure enough, on 11 May, a Sunday, there was a major shoot out between Indian army soldiers and terrorists in Kaili Mandi in Samba (Jammu region). The skirmish claimed the lives of eight people, including two security officials and one photo journalist. The two highly trained terrorists were killed only when the house they had taken refuge in was blasted by the army. Meanwhile, security forces on Monday shot dead another militant, who is suspected to have sneaked out a day after the fierce gunbattle in Samba area, while a jawan injured in the fighting succumbed taking the toll in the encounter to ten.

On 14 May 2008, Indian military units stationed along the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir reported that Pakistani troops had resorted to heavy firing, breaking a 5-year long lull in hostilities. The Indian army claimed that the firing took place across the Tanghdar sector of the Line of Control, 168 km north of Srinagar on 13 May evening. Pakistan's military said that no such incident had taken place. "It's incorrect. We have refuted it and have informed India at a high level there has been no such incident," said Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas, Reuters reported. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah was right when he said incidents like samba encounter do not not augur well for establishing permanent peace in the state.

Sadly, the re-emergence of such violence auger well either for the subcontinent or for the Muslims of the region. On 25th February 2008, thousands of Muslims scholars had gathered at Darul-Uloom, the subcontinent's biggest centre of Islamic theology. The scholars unanimously declared that "Islam sternly condemns all kinds of oppression, violence and terrorism." A three-page resolution said: "Unleashing violence or spreading terror or killing people is not only a serious sin but is also a heinous crime." The head of Darul-Uloom, Maulana Marghoobur Rahman, said terrorist acts fell under the "shirk category of sins", for which there is no pardon. Lambasting the Western nations' role in "oppressing" Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, the resolution urged the Indian government not to be influenced by the West. "It is for the first time that representatives of more than 4,000 madrasah and all prominent Islamic institutions of the country have unanimously condemned acts of terror and all types of violence," said Maulana Khalid Rasheed, head of the Lucknow-based Firangi Mahal. He hoped that the conference edict would have its desired impact on India's neighbours, especially Pakistan, where suicide and terror bombings have left hundreds dead. Bashir-ud-din, the Grand Mufti of Kashmir, has supported the Deoband declaration, reiterating that Islam doesn't allow the killing of innocent people.

[ends]