Profile of Changing Situation - 1997-98
Decline in local militancy and waning effectiveness of militant outfits remained an issue of serious concern for the ISI, which constantly endeavoured to devise new strategies to retain its effectiveness. In April 1997, a new militant outfit, Tehrik-e- Jehad (TEJ - Hqrs. : Muzaffarabad, POK) was launched to step up militancy by increasingly inducting foreign mercenaries with the objective of pursuing a pro-Pakistan agenda. TEJ derived its support base from the Muslim Conference of POK and comprised cadres owing allegiance to Muslim Mujahideen (Salim Wani group), Al Barq (Farooq Qureshi group), Hizbullah and Ansar-ul-Islam (Shah group). Intelligence inputs also indicated a move by a section of HUA militants to join the TEJ following declaration of HUA as a terrorist organisation by the USA. The formation of the TEJ was a move undertaken by the ISI after losing confidence in the Kashmiri militants for their failure to popularise the 'jihad' in the Valley. The prevailing rift between the local and foreign mercenary component within the HUA was exploited by the ISI to float the TEJ in which Farooq Qureshi was appointed as its Amiri-e-Ala. Sardar Abdul Qayoom (ex-MP, POK/Muslim Conference) readily supported the new outfit, which has the portents of increasing Pakistan's grip over the movement on one hand and diluting the emotive demand of 'Azadi', on the other. Meanwhile, HuM, LET and HUA remained the dominant militant groups accounting for the majority of militant violence reported in the state during the period. However, the foreign mercenary component of all these groups continued to rise.
Realising its failure to derail the democratic process and faced with a situation where even secessionist leaders begun realising the futility of the 'movement', Pakistan started making a desperate bid to escalate violence in the Jammu region for sustaining militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. The emergence of the Jammu region as the thrust area of Pakistan-sponsored militant violence underscores the manner in which the very character of militancy in the Sate has undergone a change in terms of its composition and ultimate objective. Continuing disenchantment with violence in the Valley, evident in the fewer number of local Kashmiris willing to join the movement, forced the ISI to increasingly rely on foreign mercenaries. In this context, the visit of Mushahid Hussain (Pakistan Minister of Information), to the Markaz Ad-Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDA) Headquarters at Muridke confirmed the patronage extended by Pakistan to Pan-Islamic groups. The quest for 'Azadi', by now, had been overtaken by religious fundamentalists proclaiming a form of 'Jihad', which threatens to strike at the very roots of Kashmiriyat, by aggravating the communal divide. The targeted killing of Hindus in villages along infiltration routes was a direct consequence of this Jihad. Sialkot emerged as the nodal point for Pakistan sponsored militant groups launched with specific directives to resort to targeted violence at busy market places, railway installations and other public transport facilities. Despite sustained efforts by the ISI to enhance the destructive wherewithal of militant organisations by augmenting their arsenal with sophisticated weaponry including anti-aircraft guns, rocket launchers, Pika machine guns, missiles and explosives, particularly RDX, the security forces retained decisive dominance over militant groups, particularly in the Valley region. A large number of militant leaders were neutralised including Nayeem Khalid Lahori Sonaullah (C-in-C, HUA) Asadullah Mir (Administrator, HUM Srinagar), Mohd. Hanif Dar (Chief Commander, TUM), Mohd. Arif Hussain Qasi (ex-Chief Commander, HUA). S. Hameed (PL/Shoura-E-Jehad) and several senior functionaries of HUM. Pakistan, however continued infiltrating foreign mercenaries in large numbers and a significant escalation in incidents of border firing was witnessed particularly in the wake of the nuclear tests in 1998.
Growing dissension within the Hurriyat Conference and continuing discord between its leaders and militant outfits came to be viewed by Pakistan as having failed to impart the desired momentum to the secessionist movement. Bereft of any substantive issues to project, the APHC continued harping on alleged human right violations at various fora to sustain its contextual relevance in the State. Lacklustre response to its 'bandit' calls and protest demonstrations underscored the continuing public disillusionment with its secessionist designs. Parliamentary elections in J&K (1998) served to further consolidate the public mood against militancy and Hurriyat sponsored secessionist activities, indicating the increasing urge among the masses to associate with the democratic process. Significantly, dissension within the APHC continued even after S.A.S. Gillani, a known hardliner took over as its Chairman from Maulvi Umar Farooq on 24 April 1998. This came to the fore during the observance of the death anniversary of late Mirwaiz Maulvi Umar Farooq on 21 May 1998 when Gillani took exception to the decision by the Awami Action Committee (ACC) to organise the function on its platform without taking the Hurriyat leadership into confidence. However, with the nuclear tests in the subcontinent occupying centre stage, the discredited Hurriyat leadership and the militant groups started making desperate attempts to link it with the Kashmir issue in their bid to internationalise the dispute and prepare ground for third party intervention.
Earlier, the formation of the Jammu & Kashmir Solidarity Forum (JKSF) by the ISI as an an umbrella organisation designed to bring together political parties of POK and various Kashmiri secessionist groups was resented by the Hurriyat Conference. The JKSF was viewed as an effort to create an alternative to the APHC. However, its proposed human-chain programme from UNMOGIP, Muzaffarabad to UNMOGIP, Srinagar on 24 October 1997, failed to materialise. Undeterred Pakistan continued in its efforts to project the Kashmir issue at international fora and inspired the adoption of a resolution at the OIC Conference (9-11 December 1997) at Tehran (Iran), paving way for the making of a separate Contact Group on the issue. The resolution, adopted included, gross and systematic human rights violations, support to the Kashmiris' right of self determination, provision of financial assistance to Kashmiris, admission and scholarship for Kashmiri youth in educational institutions and condemnation of the Government of India for the destruction of Charar-e-Sharief Shrine and demolition of Babri Masjid. The resolution also demanded reconstruction of these monuments. The contact group on the Kashmir issue, comprising heads of the Government of Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and host Iran, chaired by the Turkish President, Sulaeman, did not mention anything about cross border terrorism being encouraged by Pakistan in Jammu & Kashmir.
The J&K Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), which has been the focal point of the secessionist activities in the State and the guiding spirit behind the militant activities of the HuM, remained in a state of flux. In the wake of mounting pressure from the security forces, its organisational activities were seriously jeopardised forcing its cadres to go on the run. The involvement of the JEI in the armed struggle through the HuM and the consequent deviation from its original socio-politico-religous agenda was viewed by a significant section as a tactical blunder. The JEI leadership was under considerable pressure to initiate measures that would effectively ease pressure from the security forces. With this objective, G.M. Butt, a moderate leader, was elected the Amir-e- Jamaat of JEI. Butt's election signifies the moderation in JEl's stance and the ascendancy of an opinion within the organisation, which has been demanding JEl's dissociation from militancy. After being elected. Butt publicly denounced violence and the gun-culture and expressed the desire for a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue.
Shabir Shah, a prominent secessionist leader of the People's League, launched a new political outfit called the 'All Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party' at Srinagar on 25 May. Explaining its objective, Shabir mentioned that the new party acknowledged the entire undivided State, including POK, as a disputed territory and was committed to seeking a peaceful solution in a democratic manner through a meaningful dialogue in accordance with public aspirations. Shabir also clarified that while militancy had helped bring the Kashmir issue to the notice of the international community, there was a need for a new initiative to resolve the problem. The whole issue, however needs to be viewed in the backdrop of increasing factionalism with the PL. Earlier, at a press conference (Srinagar - 11 February ), Nayeem Khan, one time close confidant of Shabir announced that he had taken over as Chairman of the party thereby marginalising him within his own group. It may be mentioned that Shabir Shah who had fallen out with the APHC was making efforts for quite some time to launch a new party following the steady erosion of the support base of the PL and growing factionalism culminating in its split in February 1998.
During this period, there were concerted attempts to evoke a communal backlash in the State through targeted killing of Hindus residing in isolated pockets in the Kashmir Valley and in the Jammu region. The targeted killing of 23 Kashmiri Pandits on 26 January 1998 at Wandhama (Srinagar), 26 Hindus in the intervening night of 17-18 April at Parankote (Udhampur), and the brutal Chapnair incident in which 25 Hindus were killed in the Doda district on 19 June are indicative of efforts to communalise the situation. The Jammu region, particularly the sensitive districts of Rajouri and Poonch witnessed several incidents of belligerent attacks on pickets of security forces. In a move designed to woo the local Muslims of Jammu region, the ISI resorted to infiltration of a large number of militants hailing from the same ethnic stock in POK. The long drawn student agitation over the selection list of MBBS/BDS candidates issued by the Competent Authority, J&K in the last week of February 1998, alleging discrimination against Hindu candidates also kept the Jammu region in sharp focus during the early half of 1998.