Terror links

Published : Jan 22, 2000 00:00 IST

Post-Kandahar, the role of jehadi groups that use Afghanistan and Pakistan as a base to launch terrorist attacks in Kashmir is once again under the spotlight.

THE last word has not been heard on the hijacking that ended in Kandahar on New Year's Eve. Given the circumstances of the incident, it is unlikely that the war of words between the governments of India and Pakistan will die down anytime soon.

As expected, Pakistan has denied any role in the hijacking, repeatedly pointing out that Islamabad had not established contact with the hijackers. It also denies that the hijackers have entered its territory.

Considering the porous nature of the Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, the certainty with which Islamabad has denied that the hijackers entered its territory is surprising. If no one has seen them, as Pakistan maintains, it is difficult to say whether or not the five hijackers have entered Pakistan.

Now that it is clear that the hijackers and the released militants such as Masood Azhar and Ahmed Umar Saeed Sheikh belong to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the role of jehadi groups that use Pakistan as a springboard is once again in the spotlight. In a sens e, the group identity of the hijackers is rather more significant than their individual identities. Even reports in the Pakistani press confirmed the Harkat's involvement in the hijacking.

The Harkat operates openly in Pakistan, and during the just-concluded month of Ramzan it put up camps in all the leading markets in Islamabad. At these camps it sold posters, diaries and tapes of Masood Azhar's speeches.

The Pakistan Government tolerates groups such as the Harkat and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Further, the licence given to Masood Azhar to spew venom at India and the United States (although Masood Azhar subsequently denied somewhat tamely that he had not spoken of a jehad against the U.S.) shows that the Pakistani establishment's sympathies lie squarely with the 'Kashmir jehad'.

It is clear that Pakistan is actively pursuing a "bleed India" policy. The sanctuary afforded to Masood Azhar reflects the "belligerent approach" adopted by the Pervez Musharraf Government. The Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate acquired a new chief some time ago: the earlier chief, Lt. Gen. Khwaja Ziauddin, was "arrested" at the time of the October 12, 1999 coup. The new chief, Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmad, 10 Corps Commander at the time of the coup, is considered a hawk.

NONE of this, however, absolves the Indian Government and its security forces of the responsibility to combat terrorism in Kashmir. In the post-Kargil phase, following the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from within Indian territory, it was known that Pak istan-based terrorists would raise the stakes in Kashmir. However, the State administration appears not to have taken precautionary steps. For the first time in 11 years of insurgency, the high-security Army cantonment in Badami Bagh in Srinagar was subj ected to a daredevil attack by terrorists.

There is little doubt that most of the terrorists participating in the targeted attacks on military camps are Pakistanis or other foreign nationals fighting a "jehad". The Kashmiri component appears to be a minor one.

THE recent blast in Batmaloo, in which some 10 Kashmiri civilians were killed, was the handiwork of a Pakistan-based terrorist outfit. Such attacks on Kashmiri people show that the "international jehadists" have no respect for innocent Kashmiri lives.

If only India could get its act together, there is no better time than now to launch a two-pronged - military and political - onslaught against the "jehadists". For, in the final analysis, the real battle against Pakistani jehadists will be fought in Kas hmir while the diplomatic onslaught can continue in different capitals of the world.

The Indian security establishment was caught napping in Kargil. And the story of what happened when the hijacked plane landed at Amritsar is well known. By now, it should be clear that brave words alone cannot ensure the safety and security of Indian nat ionals and the Indian state.

The real cause for worry is that the Indian state may have lost the capability to come up with an effective response to crisis situations. So far, responsibility has not been fixed for either the lapse that led to Kargil or the fiasco involving the aircr aft in Amritsar.

The terrorist outfits exploited this weakness in Kandahar as did Pakistan in Kargil. In the absence of a proper response, both Pakistan and the terrorists supported by it can only become further emboldened.

Although there is no evidence on record that the hijacking was masterminded by Pakistani intelligence agencies, diplomatic sources told Frontline that Pakistani intelligence operatives were present in Kandahar. These sources disclosed that in all probability the ISI became involved in the hijacking after the incident occurred and decisively influenced the subsequent course of events. After that, Pakistani intelligence influenced the course of the hijacking by getting the ulema from Pakista n to advise the Taliban against resorting to a rescue storming option or taking any action against the hijackers.

The hijackers were given 10 hours to leave Afghanistan - with the consent of the Government of India and the Taliban. However, the Taliban were not strictly required to stick to the deal once the hostages were released. The hijackers could have been arre sted and tried under Taliban law or handed over to India to face the legal process.

Available information also suggests that the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen has a formidable presence in some parts of Afghanistan and the Taliban does not interfere too much in its activities. Several Harkat activists were killed in the missile attack by the U.S. on the Khost camp in Afghanistan on August 20, 1998. Since then, some camps may have been shifted, but the Taliban, given its jehadi predilections, would have had no problems in providing sanctuary to the hijackers if it was called upon to do so.

IT is also becoming clear that the "moderate Islam" promised by Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, will apply only at a rhetorical level. Even if one concedes that the "moderate Islam" will apply for Pakistan alone and that the calls for a "jehad" are simply a strategy to keep India tied down, civil society in Pakistan is aware of the problems created inside the country by the marriage of a jehadi mindset and Kalashnikov rifles.

It is inconceivable that one can opt for "moderate Islamic practices" within one's country while promoting "jehadi elements" in neighbouring India. Groups such as the Harkat and the Lashkar-e-Taiba make no secret of the fact that their "jehad" is not con fined to Kashmir but extends to the rest of India.

Although there are reports that Musharraf's government is trying to introduce "secular" subjects such as science and mathematics into the curriculum of the deeni madrassas (religious seminaries), there is no doubt that as long as this Afghan-Pakis tan-Kashmir jehadi linkage continues there is little hope of moderate Islamic practices being implemented in Pakistan.

In a sense, the Kandahar hijackers and the released militants typify the Afghan-Pakistani linkages to the Kashmir situation as never before. If it is accepted even for argument's sake that the hijackers are not in Pakistan, it is fairly evident that they can only be in Afghanistan.

As far as Masood Azhar is concerned, his statements in Karachi and Bahawalpur only reveal that the Pakistani state has no compunctions in allowing vitriolic speeches against both India and the U.S. According to a report in The News, Azhar's remark s against the U.S. drew a swift and angry response from the U.S. State Department, after which he was told to stay quiet.

With Pakistan saying that there was no credible evidence to suggest that the hijackers entered the country and India demanding the extradition of the hijackers, it is clear that the war of words between the two countries in the post-Kandahar situation wi ll continue.

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