Early this year militancy changed tack in Kashmir; Pakistan put it's weight behinds a new terrorist outfit called Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) or the "Army of the Pure." The Puritanism of this army was characterised by a level of brutality, which surpasses that of the 40 odd militant groups that Pakistan had sponsored previously in Kashmir. Mass murders of defenceless people, mainly Hindus is this outfits speciality. A pointer is that it is LET that is responsible for the cold blooded murders of 23 people in Wandhama in Kashmir and the recent massacre of a wedding party in Doda, Jammu. And this level of its cold-blooded brutality is what sets LET apart from other terrorist organisation that operated in Kashmir before. In Wandhama children as young as one year were murdered along with scores of women and defenceless men.
This brutal operational style of the LET is a result of the manner in which they are organised and the level of indoctrination that the LET cadres are subjected to. This cadre base of LET is mainly Pakistani nationals who predominantly belong to one Islamic sect called the Al-e-Hadis or the Wahabis. Lashkar-e-Toiba is basically the militant arm of the Markaz Dawa-Wal-Irshad (MDI), an Islamic fundamentalist organisation of the Wahabis in Pakistan. Established in the early eighties, the MDI is headquartered at Muridke, Gujranwals, a small town near Lahore in Pakistan. The sponsors of MDI are the Jamaat-e-Ahle Hadis of Pakistan and the creed of the organisation in to indulge in constant "Jihad" or Holy War till the "rule of Allah is established throughout the world." Currently with active support from the Pakistan government India is their prime target for establishing the "rule of Allah".
The spread of MDI in Pakistan is phenomenal. It has over 500 offices in various parts of the country, a bulk of them are in Punjab (Pakistan). These offices function as recruitment centers for the cadres and some of them are located in areas like Bhawalpur, Jang Mor, Muzzafarabad and Baldiya Rajajung, Kasoor district.
Initially MDI was heavily involved in fighting the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in alliance with an Afghan outfit called "Jamaat Al Dawa Ilal Quran Va Sunna".
The first time that LET came into the valley was in 1993 when in tandem with Islami Inquilabi Mahaz a terrorist outfit based in Poonch district of Jammu 12 Pakistani and Afghan mercenaries were smuggled into Indian side. Prior to their incursion in Poonch this group had been briefed by Col Murtaza Gillani and Major Hassan both operatives of the Pakistan ISI. Their basic task was to attack an Indian army camp based at a place called Balnoi in Poonch. Equipped with heavy field weapons this group attacked the headquarters of 11 JAK rifles, Killing 2 army personnel and injuring several others. In the retaliatory action 3 of the mercenaries were killed and while they ran 5 of them were captured and the others escaped.
However, it was from mid 1994 that MDI had started inducting its cadres in Jammu and Kashmir under this banner. The first major action of this group was on October 29,1994 when a gang of 50 to 60 LET personnel attacked an army patrol.
Around 1996 after the failure of the Pakistan sponsored militancy to present elections in Kashmir, LET and its mentors the ISI changed their strategy and started concentrating in the border districts of Jammu division, predominantly in Poonch and Doda districts. This was apparent when in May 1996 the LET attacked another army patrol in a region called Thathri in Doda district. In this five foreign militants were killed, four of them were from Pakistan occupied Kashmir and one was an Afghan.
While, locally in Kashmir the focus of terrorism was gradually shifting from the valley to the border regions of Jammu in Pakistan too following the elections of Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister LET was being cultivated in a big way. An indication of the official patronage from Pakistan was the recent visit of Mushahid Hussain the minister for Information in the Nawaz Sharif government to the LET and MDI headquarters in Muridke. Accompanied by the Punjab province governor, Shahid Hamid and a host of provincial ministers. Speaking at a reception given in their honour by the MDI/LET Mr. Hussain hailed the activities in Kashmir. Even as the political bosses of Pakistan chose MDI and the LET as their main instruments of incursion in Jammu and Kashmir, the ISI (Pak equivalent of the CIA) also decided to adopt the LET as its favourite instrument for spreading terror in India. Mainly because the cadres of LET were so fundamentalist in their attitude that the term mercy did not enter the realms of their thought as far as non-Muslims in India were concerned. And this is were LET provided the answer for the new orientation to terrorism that Pakistan was giving. With Kashmiris getting tired of militancy, Pakistan had to find a new area for operation. They selected the border districts of Jammu, mainly Poonch and Doda for sending trained militants into India. Both Poonch and Doda like Kashmir had seen a great amount of communal harmony between the Hindu and the Muslim community residing in these regions.
Pakistan current game plan was to break this harmony and create major wedge, which would lead to communal riots. The cadres of LET with their blind fanaticism came in handy for mass killings of Hindus in the region. Secondly, as most LET cadres were of non-Kashmiri stock (mainly Punjabis) they could easily blend with the local population who also linguistically are allied to Punjab. Moreover, as a result of their blind, unlike other militant groups the cadres of LET prefer to die in an encounter with the security forces rather than get caught. This is apparent from the fact that in 1997 the largest group of militant killed in clashes with the security forces belonged to LET.
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