The abduction of Wall Street Journal report, Daniel Pearl, and the involvement of banned militant organisation Jaish-e Mohammad in Pearl’s kidnapping have raised some significant questions about Pakistan’s Kashmir policy and the organisations entrusted with running it.
Why did the establishment allow Masoud Azhar to set up Jaish? What was Sheikh Omar Saeed doing in Pakistan? Omar Saeed is known to have had connections with Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda organisation as also with Masoud Azhar. Was the establishment ignorant of these connections? If yes, why was that? If no, why did no one realize the implications of such connections for Pakistan’s security policies?
Add to this a recent statement by General Pervez Musharraf that Masoud Azhar may be an Indian plant and the mystery, as also the significance of these questions, is enhanced manifold. Whatever the truth, the fact is that while guest militants may have hurt the Indian army successfully they also did much to harm Pakistan’s Kashmir policy.
“Everyone in the establishment seemed convinced that the introduction of these elements had infused a new vigour in the Kashmiris’ fight for independence,” a senior Kashmiri leader from Indian-held Kashmir told TFT at a recent meeting in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir. The man, who hails from the Valley, is one of the top leaders of a group fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir.
He recalled that until 1993-1994, Hezb-ul Mujahideen, Tehrik-ul Mujahideen, Al-Fatah Force, Jammu-Kashmir Peoples League, and the JKLF had effectively fought Indian security forces. But the experience also allowed the Indian army to develop better counter-insurgency tactics. By the mid-nineties, the Indians had figured out the insurgents’ tactics and their logistics, penetrated some of the groups and introduced their own Kashmiri groups to counter the insurgents. They stepped up the counter-insurgency operations and successfully began wiping out Kashmiri groups.
Short on manpower, the Kashmiri insurgents soon began receiving highly trained and motivated guest fighters. “They were better trained, enjoyed better logistics and had the ability to take on Indian security forces much more effectively. They were successful in hurting the Indians, but also hurt our cause,” the Kashmiri leader told TFT.
Also, while this was going on, no one seemed to have appreciated the changes taking place in the outside world. “The increasing connection between Kashmir and Afghanistan was overlooked. Now everyone within the United Jihad Council – an alliance of more than a dozen Kashmiri outfits battling the Indians – as also within the establishment repents having promoted these elements. They have damaged our cause and also landed Pakistan in trouble,” he said.
Even some senior Pakistan army officers, especially retired officers, admit the induction of guest militants was a fatal mistake. A former DG-ISI, now a federal minister, has been openly accusing these groups of pushing their agenda at the expense of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, all the bigwigs of the indigenous Kashmiri outfits – including Syed Sallahuddin of Hezb-ul Mujahideen – have gone underground. Phone contacts to these organisations are gone and many have even moved residences and offices in the last month or so.
The famous Hezb-ul Mujahideen house in the G-9 sector of Islamabad has got new occupants, and the communication antennas atop the house are gone. None of the outfits is issuing any statements, nor are they willing to entertain interview requests.
Jaish-e Mohammad was probably the last nail in the coffin. Another insider says the hijacking in fact led to the establishment of a US-Indian “strategic dialogue on terrorism”. And the focus was on groups operating from Pakistan. “We had been warning against the irreparable damage to the Kashmir cause but no one heard us,” Amanullah Khan, chief of the JKLF told TFT.
“The Kargil conflict had made it abundantly clear that ‘military solution’ was a non-starter,” Khan told TFT in Rawalpindi. He argued that the “wishful policies” pursued by the jihadis with the approval of the establishment had now forced Pakistan to take measures like the creation of an impotent Kashmir committee headed by the controversial Sardar Qayyum Khan.
Khan indicated the contradictions Sardar Qayyum has lived though since the 1972 Shimla Agreement. Sardar Qayyum had then praised Mr Bhutto for “salvaging Kashmir and Pakistan through the Shimla Accord”. “But now he is heaping scorn on Mr Bhutto for having signed the accord,” Khan said.
JKLF had then opposed the Agreement. “We opposed it because it excluded the Kashmiris as a party to the dispute and by doing so denied them the right of self-determination,” he recalled.
Interestingly, Sardar Qayyum was once Mr Nawaz Sharif’s mentor. But at a recent seminar in Lahore, he was critical of Mr Sharif and said that the exiled premier had let the Kashmiris down. Yet, in February 1992, during his Teheran visit, Sharif told Lyse Ducet of the BBC that “we are ready to consider all options to resolve the Kashmir issue, including the third option.” The statement so upset the establishment in Rawalpindi that Sharif’s media managers denied he had ever said so and begged the BBC to not replay the tape-recorded statement.
Published in Pakistan Newspaper TheFridayTimes