Infiltration into Kashmir provokes fear of terror offensive
4 January 2008
BARAMULLA (J&K): “Into thin air,” muttered the young officer, his uniform splattered with mud from a day of clambering up the mountains around Lolab. Police and soldiers spent much of Wednesday combing the forests around the frontier town in an unsuccessful search of over a dozen terrorists who penetrated India’s Line of Control defences the previous night. It was the largest group to have crossed the LoC in months but far from being the only one. Signs of trouble have been mounting since October, when Pakistan’s new Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate chief Lieutenant-General Nadeem Taj was thought to have met top terror commanders in Muzaffarabad to discuss the future of the Jammu and Kashmir jihad. As the Assembly elections approach, intelligence sources say, jihadi groups are preparing for war. Fund flows to the Hizb ul-Mujahideen, choked off two years ago, have reopened. Groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which Pakistan moved to rein in after India and Pakistan almost went to war in 2001-2002, have also begun to replenish their cadre and rebuild their operational capabilities. Pakistan-based Islamist terror groups, which make up the military backbone of the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, have shown a growing determination to control its political course. In a December 28 statement, for example, four Lashkar-e-Taiba front organisations lashed out at Islamist patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani for his condemnation of the assassination of the former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. In a statement faxed to newspaper offices, the Save Kashmir Movement, al-Nasireen, Farzandan-e-Milat and al-Istiklal described Mr. Geelani as “unprincipled.” He proved unable to recognise the “enemies of Islam.” His decision to call a “strike to mourn Benazir, who was an enemy of the Kashmir jihad, was a sin that would not be pardoned by Allah,” the statement said. Given that Mr. Geelani had in the past been hailed by the Lashkar’s Pakistan-based leadership as the sole authentic political voice of the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, this language startled many observers, not the least the Islamist leader’s party, which described it as the output of “sick minds.” Nonetheless, Mr. Geelani was unable to force the Lashkar front organisations to support his strike. As part of the effort to revive the flagging jihad in Jammu, hardline Islamists have been given key positions in the Hizb ul-Mujahideen, operatives hostile to the efforts of older leaders within the organisation to open doors for dialogue with the government of India. What used to be an ethnic-Kashmiri organisation, responsive to local concerns, is thus metamorphosing into a flag of convenience for Pakistani Islamists. Tajamul Islam, who served as the Hizb ul-Mujahideen’s central Kashmir commander, is believed to have worked at an al-Qaeda- linked communication unit in Afghanistan till the autumn of 1996. He then travelled to Bangladesh on a fake passport and arrived in India that December, thus becoming the first al-Qaeda-linked figure to occupy a senior position in the Hizb ul-Mujahideen command. A Jammu and Kashmir resident whose family emigrated to Pakistan in 1994, Mr. Islam was radicalised through his contacts with groups in Karachi rather than, as is traditional for Hizb commanders, the Jamaat-e-Islam in Jammu and Kashmir. One of the main roles of Mr. Islam, a Lahore-trained engineer, was to provide support for Lashkar and Jaish bombing operations.