Lashkar's Renewed Threats Cause Unease In Kashmir

Lashkar's Renewed Threats Cause Unease In Kashmir

8 February 2012
The Hindu
Praveen Swami

Srinagar: In November 2004, Iftikhar Riaz Rana from Peshawar was driven to Wagah under police escort, and walked across the border into Pakistan a free man. Eleven years earlier, in February 1993, Rana, then just 18, had surrendered to Indian soldiers at the village of Sangra, near the Line of Control in Mendhar, after a fire fight that lasted three days. The fighting claimed the lives of three Lashkar-e-Taiba jihadists and two Indian soldiers. Four other Lashkar jihadists, along with Rana, also chose to surrender: Zulfikar Ali Khan, an Afghan national, Abdul Khaliq from Faislabad, Amir Hamza from Mirpur and Zamir Ahmad from Gujranwala. The oldest of the men was then 19 ; the youngest just fifteen. Last year in December, Rana resurfaced - this time as one of the organisers of a massive Lashkar-organised rally in Lahore. For at least the last six months, intelligence sources say, he has been organising the Lashkar's field commanders in Kashmir, threatening local secessionists for seeking peace with New Delhi. Earlier, he had been active raising funds for the legal defence of Lashkar operatives held in Indian prisons, reaching out to contacts in the Middle East and Europe. Rana's predecessor, Muzammil Bhat, who trained the 26-11 assault team, disappeared after the attacks - but after two quiet years, there are signs that the Lashkar is back in the jihad business. Revival Even though violence in Jammu and Kashmir is at an all-time low - 78 terrorists, 15 security personnel and 24 civilians were killed in fighting last year, down from 237 terrorists, 44 security force personnel and 38 civilians in 2008 - there are signs of trouble. Lashkar operatives have been making attempts to recruit new operatives and the organisation's language is becoming ever-more aggressive. Less than a month before the 26-11 attacks, Lashkar chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed had held out a grim warning: “The only language India understands is that of force … and that is the language it must be talked to in.” He's saying much the same again. Pushed out of public life after 26-11, Saeed has found a new lease of life since last year's meltdown in the Pakistan-United States relationship - an event which led a besieged Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate to let jihadists, their most reliable political partners, off the leash. Saeed drew an audience estimated at over 1 lakh to his November 19 Difa-e-Pakistan [Defence of Pakistan], where he called for Pakistan's government to sever its relationship with India and the United Sates. Though the Difa-e-Pakistan movement represents a disparate coalition of Islamists - among them, cleric Sami ul-Haq's faction of the Jamiat Ullema-e-Islam, former army chief Mirza Aslam Beig, and Pakistan-administered Kashmir chapter of the Jama'at-e-Islami - there's little doubt who is in charge. In its December 19 edition, the Urdu-language Roznama Ummat reported 3,000 volunteers from the Jama'at-ud-Dawa, the Lashkar's political wing, were in charge of security at the Lahore rally. “The flags fluttering at the rally,” it said, “were either Ahl-e-Sunnat wal'Jamaat's [the Lashkar's parent sect] or Jamaat-ud-Dawa's.” Saeed's message has also reappeared online. In a 2011 speech posted on the Lashkar's YouTube channel, analyst Tufail Ahmad has written Saeed claimed the Prophet Muhammad had called for a war “against the Hindu so that the greatness of the jihad can be evident.” Following “the success of this jihad [against the culture of pig], after the end of Judaism, after the end of Christianity, after the end of obscenity and irreligiousness, Islam will rule the world.” Last month, tens of thousands of Lashkar supporters attended the second Difa-e-Pakistan rally in Rawalpindi; an even larger gathering is scheduled to be held in Karachi on February 12, which intelligence sources say, will likely involve Islamists from factions once opposed to the Lashkar. The police claim there is evidence this Lashkar revival is manifesting itself in Kashmir too. Last year, an investigation into the assassination of Salafist cleric Shaukat Ahmad Shah threw up evidence that the Lashkar carried out the killing using former members of the Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen (TuM), a now-defunct Kashmiri group with which it shares a theological affiliation. Mr. Shah was reviled by critics within the Salafist movement for seeking an accommodation with India. The police have alleged that Javed Munshi - a former TuM commander deported from Nepal and jailed in 1999, bailed out in 2005, and again incarcerated briefly in 2007 and 2009 - received weapons and cash from the Lashkar to assassinate Mr. Shah. He, in turn, turned to old TuM comrades for help. Bilal Ahmad Dar, held by the police in November on charges of murdering a police informer, is also alleged to have been among recent recruits; so is Muzaffar Ahmad Mir, who has been arrested on charges of killing two police officers. Few of the recent recruits have, unlike an earlier generation of jihadists from Kashmir, trained in Pakistan - but many seem to have been drawn to the cause either through clerical networks associated with the hardline Saut-ul-Haq faction of the Ahl-e-Hadith, Shaukat Ahmad Shah's sect. Saeed, intelligence and police officials in Jammu and Kashmir fear, will have to act. “The bottom line is this,” says a senior Jammu and Kashmir Police officer, “the Lashkar has been quiet because of western pressure. If Pakistan's intelligence services feel free to act, its operations will resume - perhaps not at the same level as before, but lethal none the less.”