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Claims and realities

Print edition : Jan 05, 2002 T+T-

Despite Islamabad's claims, Pakistan-based terrorist groups operate in India. And President Musharraf, a prisoner of the religious Right, is apparently not fully in control of the situation.

ON the southern flanks of the Pir Panjal, most people are certain that war is imminent. At least 14 Army battalions that were on counter-terrorist duties have been pulled out to be deployed on the western border. Some of the areas worst hit by terrorist violence, such as Buddhal and Kandi in Rajouri and Thanamandi and Bimbar Gali in Poonch, have been almost entirely stripped of cover. Similar troop withdrawal during the Kargil War enabled a succession of communal massacres on the mountains and allowed terrorists to build permanent fortified defences in areas such as Surankote. Common sense suggests there can be only one reason to open the way for such a tragedy to take place again.

Common sense, however, does not seem to have much to do with the flood of tanks and troops piling up along on the Line of Control (LoC). The United States, the pivot of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's foreign policy, has made it clear that any military adventure will be looked on with disfavour. Politically inspired war-mongering, however, makes it more or less certain that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf will not be able to act against the powerful Islamist groups that sponsor terrorism in India. Any action against such groups would be seen in Pakistan as capitulation to India, which would be suicidal for a President who is already weakened by his support to the U.S. war in Afghanistan. In this sense, the Army build-up subverts the very political objective Indian officials say they are committed to.

Actual events through the Jammu sector also affirm the belief that no proper thought has gone into the build-up. As things stand, tens of thousands of troops are committed to doing little other than exchanging fire that is visually spectacular but tactically pointless. "Most of the time," says one officer posted at a forward position near Samba, "we're just firing into the fog." As a result of the troop withdrawal, offensive winter operations against terrorist groups within the State have become increasingly defocussed. Winter operations have traditionally yielded good results because snow prevents terrorists from withdrawing into the high mountains. Given that the Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba are engaged in a major restructuring process, this pull-back could have serious consequences next summer.

None of this is ought to surprise anyone. The Bharatiya Janata Party's policy on Jammu and Kashmir has long been built on the basis of concerns in Lucknow, not Lahore. Consider, for example, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani's energetic promotion of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO). The Ordinance provides for severe legal penalties for individuals who support terrorist organisations or harbour and finance their members. Even as the Advani roadshow has been under way, the Prime Minister's Office top gun Brajesh Mishra and former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief A.S. Dulat have been holding covert dialogue with the key functionaries of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which seeks to secure its entry into mainstream politics. All executive committee members of the APHC publicly support terrorist organisations that are active in Jammu and Kashmir.

IF Indian policy is farcical, Pakistan's claim about action against terrorist groups is even worse. Measures such as the freezing of the bank accounts of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad are on the face of it ridiculous. The Lashkar-e-Toiba has no bank accounts, since its finances are directly controlled by its parent body, the Markaz Dawa wal'Irshad. The Markaz's assets have not been frozen. The Jaish-e-Mohammad does have accounts with the Allied Bank at Binori (No. 1697), Karachi, and at Khayabeya (No. 1342-0), Rawalpindi. Operated by Khadri Mohammad Sadiq and Bahsud Ahmad, both accounts have been used to deposit funds raised from West Asia and the United Kingdom. Neither, however, has been used directly to finance terrorist operations.

Nor does official pressure on the Markaz itself appear to be particularly effective. Last month Markaz chief Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed announced that the activities of his organisation, renamed the Jamaat ad-Dawa, would be separated from those of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. A new 11-member council was set up to command the Lashkar, supposedly made up entirely of representatives from either side of the LoC. But six of the council's members were from the Pakistan side of the LoC, while the names of those from the Indian side, like "Mr. Abdullah of Anantnag", were obviously fictitious. Most important, the organisation's web site made it clear that the Lashkar's military operations would continue to be led by Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, a Pakistani national who has commanded the organisation's terrorist activities in India since 1995.

The Markaz's own official polemic makes it clear it has no intention of sundering its organic links with terrorism directed at the Indian state. Speaking to the 1999 convention of the organisation at Lahore, Maulana Abdul Aziz Alvi, the Amir (supreme leader) in charge of the Markaz's Kashmir operations, let it be known that "the young men of Lashkar-e-Toiba are following the footsteps of their pious elders. They are performing jehad only to uphold the flag of Islam and earn Allah's blessings, and not for worldly benefits. They convey the message that no law can flourish other than that of Allah". He further said: "Muslims ruled this part of the world for about seven hundred and fifty years. Now Muslim government will be established again in the subcontinent, insha-Allah, and the Lashkar-e-Toiba will perform this feat." Such fascist rhetoric still litters the Markaz's web site and its publications, notably Voice of Islam. It takes little to imagine how U.S. President George Bush, fulsome in his praise of Pakistani action against terrorist groups, would have reacted if similar rhetoric directed against his country had been delivered in Baghdad or Havana.

While the Markaz has removed its signboard from outside its sprawling camps at Muridke, near Lahore, and taken its 38 Chamberlain Road, Lahore address off its web site, both facilities continue to operate unhindered. A few hundred arrests, mainly of foot soldiers uninvolved in terrorist activity, have indeed taken place. But the forward camps of terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Al Badr continue to be in place, often right next to Pakistan Army facilities on the LoC. And there is evidence that the highest levels of the Army continue to be directly involved in the activities of these fascist groups. The Jaish-e-Mohammad, for example, is believed to have changed its operation name to the Tehreeq-ul-Furqan after an October 10 meeting presided over by the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Mohammad Aziz. Aziz has chosen Nazimuddin Shamzai as the formal patron for the outfit. Shamzai is a well-known Taliban sympathiser and Mullah Mohammad Omar's one-time teacher at the Binori mosque in Karachi.

IT is important, however, to consider the limitations faced by Musharraf. The fact is that India is not the only country that has been unable to secure Pakistan-based suspects involved in terrorist crimes against its citizens. Early in October, German authorities came across information that Sheikh, who released along with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar in the IC-814 prisoners-for-hostages swap, may have played a key role in the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Sheikh, informants told the German internal security service, sent $100,000 to Mohammad Atta. Atta is thought to have returned $15,600 through the hawala channel just before the attack in New York.

Officials of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation are not the only ones who have been unable to pressure Pakistan to detain Sheikh. The U.K., too, has long wanted his extradition for crime against its subjects. In October 1994, Sheikh had organised the abduction of three British citizens and one American from a low-budget hotel in New Delhi's Paharganj area and held them hostage with a view to bargaining for the release of Azhar. The hostages were driven to a safe house near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Police officials rescued them on October 31 after a brief shootout, in which an Uttar Pradesh Police commando was killed. Sheikh and his accomplice Abdul Rahim, a Pakistani national, were arrested. The incident was the second in a series of three kidnappings of foreign tourists that were carried out to secure Azhar's release.

All of this suggests that Musharraf is not wholly in control of his military intelligence service, which has developed a close relationship with Pakistan's religious Right since the late 1970s. In recent weeks, despite the pressures on Musharraf to curtail the activities of Islamist terrorist groups, the Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI) has been preparing the ground for a restructured offensive in Jammu and Kashmir. For one, the centrist command of the Hizbul Mujahideen, led by Abdul Majid Dar, has been replaced by expressly pro-Pakistan leaders such as Ghulam Hassan Khan and his second-in-charge, Abdul Ahmad Bhat. Although the new leadership is of Kashmiri ethnic origin, it has ordered its cadre to work under the Lashkar. Then, there is growing evidence that elements of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen have begun offensive operations in India along with Al Qaeda operatives.

Indian officials, understandably, see Pakistan's demand for more evidence as a stalling tactic. Records of phone calls made to Dubai and Karachi by the five terrorists who attacked Parliament House are available, which, along with the confessional statement of the key accused Mohammad Afzal Ansari constitute credible prima facie evidence of the involvement of Pakistan- based groups in the operation. "It ought to be obvious to anyone," points out one intelligence official, "that you can't prove a case unless you can question suspects."

Pakistan's record inspires little confidence, either. It first denied having anything to do with the hijackers of IC-814 and then protected them after they appeared in public on Pakistani soil. It denied any official role in the Kargil War, and then gave medals to soldiers killed in battle. The presence in Karachi of Dawood Ibrahim, an accused in the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai, was long denied, until independent media investigation in that country blew the lid off these lies. Calls for evidence appear all the more farcical since groups based in Pakistan have publicly claimed responsibility for dozens of acts of terrorism against the Indian state.

War-mongering in India will make it more or less impossible for Musharraf to act, prisoner as he is of the religious Right. But should he fail to do so, the ongoing war in Jammu and Kashmir, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives, will sooner or later explode into something unimaginably more ugly.