Islamic Terrorism in India

Most Muslims are not terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslims

Archive for May 9th, 2008

Kashmir’s Waning Jihad

Posted by jagoindia on May 9, 2008

Kashmir’s Waning Jihad

Late last year, Bilal Ahmad Mir decided to undertake the most dangerous decision of his life: he volunteered to leave the comfort of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’s (HM’s) offices in Muzaffarabad, and take charge of a terror cell in northern Kashmir.

Mir’s handlers at Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate armed him as best they could. He was given a legitimate Pakistani passport, AH0992231, stamped with a Nepal visa issued in Islamabad. On March 3, 2008, Mir flew from Karachi to Kathmandu on Pakistan International Airways flight 268 — and promptly handed himself over to waiting Indian intelligence operatives who his family had made contact with the previous summer.

Even as India prepares to resume the dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), stalled by the political crisis that swept Pakistan, J&K is readying for elections to its Legislative Assembly. By this winter, J&K should have a new Government in place. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan will likely be fleshing out a five point peace formula hit at by their covert negotiators S.K. Lambah and Tariq Aziz, which includes the recognition of the Line of Control (LoC) as a de facto border, cooperative management of some agreed subjects, free trade and movement, and demilitarisation — all contingent on an end to terrorism.

For the leadership of the HM, the numerically largest terror group in J&K, the prospect of an historic peace deal must appear just as the butcher’s blade does to the chicken whose neck it is about to sever.

Deal or no deal, the HM and other Islamist terror groups won’t be players in influencing the outcome of the electoral process in J&K — for the first time since 1995. In 1996, when the State took its first steps toward the restoration of democracy, 61 political workers were killed in terror strikes. Another 57 died in 1997. In 2001, the year before the fateful elections that brought the Congress-People’s Democratic Party (PDP) alliance to power, 76 political workers were killed. One hundred party workers were butchered in 2002.

Politicians were forced to cut deals with Islamist terror groups, making clear just where real power lay. Indeed, the killing of National Conference workers was a major reason for the party’s defeat in 2002, and led it to soften its stand on terrorism thereafter.

But now, jihadi organisations just don’t have the muscle left to enforce compliance. Earlier this year, the United Jihad Council (UJC) announced that it would not use force to obstruct the democratic process — the customary transformation of necessity to virtue. Few politicians take that promise at face value. As in past elections, the path to democracy will more likely than not be punctuated by assassinations and bombings. But the fact is, the jihad is waning.

Mir isn’t the only senior Hizb ul-Mujahideen commander to have given up the fight in recent months. Since late 2007, the HM’s ‘supreme commander’ in J&K, Nasir Ahmed Bhat, has been living in a safehouse outside Srinagar, under the secret protection of the State Government.

On the eve of the next Assembly Elections, the J&K Government hopes to use Bhat — better known as ‘Ghazi Misbahuddin,’ the alias traditionally used by the HM’s senior-most field commander — to demonstrate its willingness to talk to terrorists who decide to abjure violence. HM’s ‘supreme commander’, Mohammad Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin has refused to meet this condition, but others in the organisation seem increasingly willing to take whatever deals are on offer.

Unnoticed, over a dozen mid-ranking commanders at the Hizb’s camps in Pakistan have returned to India since January 2008. Most experts believe the flow home from HM camps would have been even higher if India had not come down hard on cross-LoC surrenders, after Intelligence reports warned that some rehabilitated terrorists had reactivated their connections with jihadi groups. All the major political parties in Jammu and Kashmir, though, are lobbying for a proper and secure rehabilitation policy to be put in place — and one most likely will be, once a new Government takes office.

Even as things are, the HM is desperately short on both leadership and cadre. Kulgam-born Riyaz Ahmad Bhat was scheduled to replace Nasir Ahmed Bhat, but flatly refused to run the risk. His parents, family sources said, have now travelled to Pakistan to secure their son’s marriage — and thus ensure he stays on at a HM camp rather than risking death at home. Muzaffar Ahmed Dar, a long-standing HM operative from Magam, with an undistinguished record of service in the organisation, was obliged to take charge in his stead. He has little, however, to take charge of.

Across the north Kashmir zone, the HM has just three commanders of significance: Mohammad Shafi Shah, a Papchan-Bandipora resident who uses the code-name ‘Dawood’; his old-friend from the adjoining village of Chuntimulla, Ali Mohammad Lone; and Tanvir Ahmad, from Baramulla’s Bagh-e-Islam neighbourhood. Together, these three HM formation leaders are believed to have less than three dozen men under their command.

In its one-time south Kashmir strongholds, the decimation of the HM has even more marked. Just one commander of consequence has survived the thoroughgoing destruction of the organisation by the J&K Police — Pervez Ahmad Dar, who uses the code-name ‘Pervez Musharraf’. Panzgam resident Raees Dar, known to his associates as ‘Kachroo’ or “brown-hair”, was arrested by the J&K Police on March 31, 2008; the organisation’s all-powerful financial chief Farooq Dar, code-named Hanif Khan, was shot dead near Tral on February 10, 2008.

Since the arrest of Tajamul Islam, the Karachi-bred son of one of HM chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah’s most trusted aides, the central division has had no leadership at all. On March 19, 2008, in a desperate attempt to demonstrate its continuing presence, the HM carried out a bombing at Srinagar’s Jehangir Chowk. Cadre and resources for the operation had to be mobilised by Tanvir Ahmed’s north Kashmir cell — leading to a series of errors which led to its rapid unravelling by Police investigators.

Indeed, the ease with which attempted HM terror operations have been stopped suggests a high degree of penetration by the J&K Police and Intelligence Bureau — another sign of the demoralisation in the rebel ranks. At least one ranking commander, south Kashmir — based Javed ‘Seepan’ Sheikh, is rumoured to be a Police asset, which has led to mistrust and factionalism within the HM’s already-fractured ranks.

Does all this mean that the waning of the jihad is an inexorable process? Not just yet: Pakistan’s covert services, and the Islamist terror groups it helped create, aren’t quite ready to give up the fight.

Addressing a March 1, 2008, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) gathering in Muzaffarabad by telephone, its Lahore-based amir Hafiz Mohammad Saeed announced that restrictions placed on his operations in Pakistan-administered J&K would soon be lifted. While the jihad in J&K had suffered because of the fallout of the United States’ war in Afghanistan, he said, things were changing. Saeed also announced the Lashkar would soon be setting up a new magazine devoted to the jihad in J&K.

On ground, there are signs that the LeT war-machine is preparing itself for renewed battle. In March 2008, the Lashkar began installing new state-of-the-art wireless communications equipment at its control station in Kel, just across the LoC from the critical infiltration routes across the Lolab mountains. A training centre just outside of Balakote, in Pakistan-administered J&K’s Muzaffarabad District, has been revived under the command of one of the Lashkar’s top irregular warfare instructors, Wagah resident Sagir Ahmed. And, sources indicate, since January 2008, a former Pakistan Army officer known to his subordinates as ‘Captain Salim’ has been training cadre for combat in J&K at a new camp in Lala Moosa, near Gujranwala.

Perhaps most important of all, the ISI has resumed direct funding for the HM, which was shut off under international pressure in 2006. Married cadre at the HM camps in Pakistan-administered J&K are now receiving PKR 10,000 a month, up from PKR 5,200; single men receive PKR 8,000 against the PKR 4,200 on offer before ISI funding was cut off.

All of this, of course, might prove to be too little—and too late. Despite energetic infiltration efforts last summer, violence levels have continued to drop.

Jihadi organisations in J&K have, however, demonstrated that they can put up a fight in the one area where they are still present in some strength — the dense forests above Baramulla, where the major infiltration routes across the LoC converge. Bucking the dramatic state-wide fall in violence, Baramulla saw an escalation in 2007, with 22 Indian soldiers and Policemen killed in combat against 16 in 2006, while 103 terrorists were killed, up from 95. Should high levels of infiltration take place this spring and summer, jihadi groups could well try to replicate this model elsewhere.

Whether this outcome is realised depends on two factors: the competence of India’s pre-election counter-terrorism operations, and the extent to which Pakistan is willing to go to revive the dying jihad.

It is the second of these that could prove most important. While politicians like People’s Party of Pakistan chief Asif Ali Zardari have laid out a brave agenda for peacemaking with India, the power to shape strategic policy lies not with them, but with Pakistan’s Army. General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani represents the Pakistan Army’s institutional consensus — a consensus that includes among its pillars the belief that sub-conventional warfare is an integral component of national security. In recent weeks, restrains imposed on anti-India jihadi groups like the Lashkar and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) have been loosened, in an evident effort to restore the Pakistan Army’s legitimacy among the Islamists, who have so spectacularly turned on it in recent months. With its forces heavily committed to the west, though, it is unclear just how far Pakistan’s military establishment can risk precipitating a potentially war-inducing crisis with India.

But this much is clear: the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir is clinging to the edge of the abyss by its fingernails. Whether it is any position to grab the rope Pakistan’s military establishment has thrown it — and if that rope is strong enough to take the load — remains to be seen.

The writer is the Deputy Editor and Chief of Bureau, Frontline, New Delhi.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Kashmir writhes with psychological impact of Islamic Terrorism

Posted by jagoindia on May 9, 2008

Kashmir psychological battle emerges as violence ebbs

SRINAGAR, India (AFP) — Violence has fallen in revolt-hit Indian Kashmir, but people are starting to show signs of serious trauma after nearly 20 years of insurgency against New Delhi’s rule, doctors say.

Increasing numbers of people are complaining of mental health problems, say doctors in the breathtakingly beautiful region, known as the “Switzerland of the East” before the Islamic separatist insurgency erupted in 1989.

“There’s an alarming mental health crisis,” leading psychologist Arshid Hussain told AFP as he ushered into his office at the state-run Kashmir Psychiatry Hospital a woman whose husband was recently shot dead by gunmen.

“The violence has dropped but the flow of people seeking psychiatric help gets higher each day,” he said. “I’m getting an increasing number complaining of insomnia, nightmares, anxiety and unexplained pains.”

The insurgency in the flashpoint South Asian region was long ranked as one of the world’s most deadly, but now has been eclipsed by other trouble spots.

The number of daily revolt-related deaths involving soldiers, civilians and rebels now stands at two, still high but down from 10 a day in 2001.

Part of that decline has been attributed to a slow-moving peace process that began four years ago between India and Pakistan. The Himalayan region is held in part by each but claimed in full by both.

Still, while 43,000 people have died by official count, thousands more have suffered mentally after narrowly escaping death in blasts, being wounded or discovering that loved ones have been tortured or killed in the conflict.

“Thousands of people have suffered trauma because they’ve seen killings, explosions and other forms of violence,” said Pervez Masoodi, a doctor at a small government-run hospital in Chadoora, a 45-minute drive from Srinagar.

“Villagers come in droves to seek help for their traumas, but we can’t do much as we’re under-staffed,” says Masoodi. “The psychiatric care crisis needs to be urgently addressed. We need counselling centres across the state.”

Casual conversations with Kashmiris quickly turn to stories of relatives killed, of near-misses in bomb attacks and anonymous threatening telephone calls.

The scale of the psychiatric problem is evident in the numbers.

At the state’s lone state-run psychiatric hospital in Srinagar, doctors registered more than 60,000 patients last year compared with just 1,500 patients in 1989, the year the insurgency began.

But the figure only represents the tip of the iceberg. Many do not visit mental health experts because of the huge stigma attached to mental illness.

Mushtaq Margoob, another leading psychiatrist, estimated one million people — ten percent of Kashmir’s population of 10 million — has suffered from some form of depression, with a number displaying suicidal tendencies.

Doctors say the biggest problem in offering treatment is a lack of facilities as the one state-run psychiatric hospital cannot cope with the numbers. There are some private clinics but too few and only available to those with sufficient means.

“Mental health services are dangerously inadequate,” Hussain said at the hospital, turning to ask another woman who lost her husband and son in a 1996 bomb blast how she was faring.

“I’ve been visiting a private clinic for psychological help,” said Mehbooba Akhter, whose husband died in a blast several years ago. “I’ve often thought of ending my life but I keep going for the sake of my daughter who’s just 11.

Experts say they are particularly concerned about children, as many parents are reluctant to bring them in for counselling in case neighbours find out.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the region’s main Muslim cleric and leader of a moderate separatist alliance, also said he has noted people, especially the young, seem more tense.

“It’s difficult preaching to an angry audience, to bring them some kind of solace,” said Farooq, whose father was shot dead in 1990 by unidentified gunmen.

“We need to find a political solution to the Kashmir dispute to end all these traumas.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Exhibition to dispel Islamophobia in Kochi

Posted by jagoindia on May 9, 2008

Exhibition to dispel Islamophobia

Special Correspondent

KOCHI: With a view to projecting the “real face of Islam” at a time of increasing Islamophobia worldwide, a 10-day exhibition organised by the Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen is currently on at the international stadium here. Cultural conferences, religious discourses, seminars on human rights and women’s issues figured prominently at the meet titled ‘Salvation’.

It traces the history, faith traditions and myriad cultural expressions of Islamic communities and tries to highlight the pacifist and humanistic faces of the nascent religion in the world. The show, it is claimed, is a way to counter the “western-media created terrorist image of Islam” in the post-9/11 period and dispel the misconceptions about Islamic practices.

Waleed Khalid Al-Ammar, a senior official of the Kuwait government, who opened the show here last week, said terrorism and superstitions were absolutely alien to the Islamic faith. It was these two issues that had been the chief causes for Islam being misunderstood now. He urged the Muslims in India, which gave its citizens the freedom of religion and worship, to create a harmonious social atmosphere.

Speakers at the seminar pointed out the need to present the real spirit and character of Islam against the relentless western campaign to dub all Muslims terrorists and promoters of violence. They regretted that for the mistakes of a minuscule minority, which professed violence to get even with perceived injustice to Muslims, the entire global Islamic community was being dubbed terrorists.

An array of speakers drawn from public life addressed meetings at the exhibition venue during the past one week. The exhibition will conclude on May 11.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »