Militant groups in PoK asked to 'close camps'
30 May 2003
B. Muralidhar Reddy
ISLAMABAD: In what is perceived as yet another move to meet the Indian condition to 'dismantle the terrorism infrastructure', the Pakistan Government is said to have asked all the militant groups operating from Pakistan- occupied Kashmir (PoK) to close their offices and militant camps if any. Contrary to reports circulated by a Pakistani news agency that the Pervez Musharraf-Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali Government had set May 31 as the deadline for the 'jehadi' outfits to wind up their operations, no time frame was laid down. A senior Pakistani official who did not wish to be identified told The Hindu that 'we are at the moment engaged in the process of negotiations with representatives of some of these outfits. It is a fact that the move is linked to the India-Pakistan peace process'. Of course, there is no way any Government representative would concede on record that any directive has been issued to the militant outfits to shift out of Pakistan or the territory under its control (PoK). The reason is simple. It would amount to admitting the existence of offices and camps of these outfits that Pakistan has all along vehemently denied. When contacted, the PoK chief secretary, Shahid Rafi, said, 'there are no offices or militant camps of jehadi outfits in PoK. So the question of we asking them to wind up operations does not arise.' Since the April 17-18 peace initiative and the visit of the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, to the subcontinent in the second week of May, there has been a conscious effort on the part of Pakistan to prove that it is indeed serious in not allowing militant outfits, engaged in operations in Kashmir, to operate from its soil. The day Mr. Jamali picked up the phone and congratulated his Indian counterpart, Atal Behari Vajpayee (April 28), the Interior Minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, presided over an inter-provincial meeting on law and order where he declared that banned militant outfits under new names would not be allowed to function and that the writ of the state would prevail. He reiterated the resolve of the President, Pervez Musharraf, made on January 12, 2002, not to allow anyone to misuse the soil of Pakistan even in the name of Kashmir for violent activities. Subsequently, the former PoK Prime Minister and President, Sardar Qayyum Khan, confirmed that his party in PoK would not allow the banned organisations to operate in the name of the 'Kashmir cause'. A few days later, Mr. Hayat said that Pakistan had decided not to allow the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen to carry out any 'illegal activities' in the country. Soon afterwards, police detained three lieutenants of the Hizb chief on charges of displaying weapons in public. In a related development, police in Peshawar are said to have prevented the leader of the proscribed outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Maulana Masood Azhar, from addressing a Friday congregation. It is the second time in less than a month that authorities have restricted the movements of Azhar. The latest decision comes amid growing pressure on Islamabad to take tougher action against militant groups in Kashmir to prove its commitment to a peaceful dialogue with New Delhi. The Jaish was one of five militant organisations banned by Gen. Musharraf in January 2002 along with the Lashkar-e-Taiba. However unlike Azhar, the former Lashkar chief, Hafiz Saeed, has been conducting a high profile lecture tour across Pakistan. Prof. Saeed was allowed to address a rally in PoK around the same time that Azhar was stopped. The former LeT chief blasted the peace moves as a trap by India. Azhar was to address a conference in Peshawar organised by a Muslim group called Khudamul Islam. Police say the group is a new version of the Jaish.