Kashmir Rebels Vow To Continue Fighting
7 January 2004
The Washington Post
Srinagar: Islamic guerrillas vowed to continue fighting to drive Indian troops out of Kashmir on Wednesday despite an India-Pakistan peace effort meant to resolve the five-decade dispute over the Himalayan region. Four guerrillas were killed Wednesday in what the Indian army said was a fierce shootout in Kashmir, and an Indian intelligence official said intercepted radio transmissions show militants are planning more strikes - possibly around India's Republic Day celebrations on Jan. 26. The violence showed the difficulties ahead after Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at the close of a regional summit Tuesday, announced their surprise agreement to hold talks on Kashmir. Militant groups have sabotaged peace efforts before. In December 2001, they launched a deadly attack on India's parliament, dashing peace moves and bringing the nuclear-armed neighbors to the brink of war. More recently, Kashmiri militant groups are believed to have staged the second of two December assassination attempts against Musharraf. The attacks on his motorcade might actually help peace efforts, however, by bolstering the president's claim that he cannot fully rein in the militants and that Pakistan should not be held responsible if they manage to carry out an attack. In Tuesday's joint statement, Musharraf pledged not to let his country to be used as a haven for terrorism, and Vajpayee promised to seek a solution to the dispute over Kashmir, a divided territory claimed in its entirety by both sides. Hard-liners quickly showed their displeasure, with Islamic militants vowing not to halt their bloody insurgency seeking to put the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir under Pakistani rule, or to carve out an independent Kashmiri state. 'The strategy of the mujahedeen will be that they will continue their operations against Indian forces so that they are beaten and forced to flee Kashmir,' said Omar Naqashbandi, an official with Jaish-e-Mohammed, one of the deadliest groups fighting Indian forces over the two-thirds of Kashmir under New Delhi's control. Syed Salahuddin, the chief of Hezb-ul Mujahedeen militant group, warned that military operations would continue until India frees jailed militants. As part of 'intense counter-terrorist operations,' Indian troops said they killed four Hezb-ul Mujahedeen militants in a major operation by a paramilitary battalion and the Jammu-Kashmir state police. Acting on a tip, the troops surrounded an area where militants were suspected to be hiding in the Bhadrakot area in northern Kashmir at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday 'and a fierce encounter ensued during which four local Hezb-ul Mujahedeen terrorists were killed,' the Defense Ministry said in a statement. Soldiers recovered three AK-47 rifles, a pistol, ammunition and a radio from the bodies of the slain men, the statement said. India expects a surge in violence from militants. Based on radio intercepts, intelligence officials believe they are planning more strikes, possibly around Republic Day on Jan. 26. 'We are expecting an increase in militant activity. They want to get noticed,' said K. Srinivasan, a senior Indian security intelligence official in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. In New Delhi, Vajpayee met with national security and foreign affairs officials to go over security scenarios as the talks unfold. The talks will revolve around eight points, including Kashmir and two other territorial spats, as well as terrorism, trade and confidence-building measures, a high-ranking Indian official said. Congratulations poured in from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and the European Union. More than 65,000 people have died since 1989 in the conflict over Muslim-majority Kashmir, which is divided between predominantly Hindu India and mainly Muslim Pakistan. Other attempts to end the India-Pakistan feud have ended in disappointment, most recently during July 2001 talks between Vajpayee and Musharraf in the Indian city of Agra. But observers on both sides said the atmosphere has improved since then. Musharraf has become a staunch U.S. ally since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. His government has banned more than a dozen militant organizations and arrested over 500 al-Qaida suspects, turning most over to American authorities.