J&K ultras ready to defend Afghanistan
22 September 2001
The Hindustan Times
Quetta: Pakistan-based militants fighting in Kashmir have said they were prepared to defend Afghanistan against any attack if the ruling Taliban asked for support. ''We have received no messages from the Taliban... We will respond when they do give us a call,'' Yahya Mujahid, spokesman for Lashkar-e-Taiba guerrilla group, told Reuters. Lashkar is one of the major guerrilla groups fighting Indian rule in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. Mujahid was speaking by telephone from Lahore, capital of Pakistan''s central province of Punjab. An assembly of Afghan Islamic clerics on Thursday called for ''holy war'' against anyone who participates in widely expected U.S. military strikes on Afghanistan in retaliation for the devastating September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Mujahid said most of the militant groups would follow what he called the ''collective decisions'' of the Jihad Council for the Defence of Aghanistan - a grouping of pro-Taliban Islamic groups in Pakistan. The group called for a nationwide general strike on Friday in protest at Pakistan''s support to the United States for military strikes on Afghanistan to force its Taliban rulers to hand over Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is Washington''s prime suspect in the September 11 attacks which killed more than 6,500 people. No Kashmir pullout Mujahid dismissed as ''Indian propaganda'' media reports that Lashkar had ordered its fighters to pull out of Kashmir to defend Afghanistan. ''None of our Kashmiri freedom fighters are moving towards Afghanistan and to my best knowledge none of the other groups are doing that,'' he said. Last year the United States placed Lashkar, dreaded for suicide attacks in Indian-ruled Kashmir, on its list of ''terrorist organisations''. The chief of another militant faction known to have close links with bin Laden said his fighters in Kashmir and Afghanistan would continue to ''do what they are supposed to''. ''Nothing has happened that we were not expecting. We are always prepared to such situations and we will respond appropriately when the time comes,'' said the Pakistan-based faction leader, who asked not to be identified. ''Our men in Kashmir will continue their operations and our men in Afghanistan will perform their duty,'' he said declining to explain the duties of his men in Afghanistan. Talking on a mobile phone from an undisclosed location in Pakistan, he warned the United States against targeting ''Kashmiri freedom fighters''. ''The Americans should make a clear distinction between freedom fighters and terrorists. Otherwise it will continue to multiply its enemies around the world,'' he said. ''If the Kashmir cause is affected, America will turn thousands of Kashmiri freedom fighters against it, exactly the same way they turned thousands of Afghans and Arabs against them because of their policies on Palestine and Afghanistan.'' Most Islamists and militant factions view the U.S. role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with deep suspicion and accuse Washington of ditching its mujahideen allies after Soviet occupation troops withdrew from Afghanistan 12 years ago.