The ISI has always been the executing arm of Pakistan's Kashmir obsession. As early as 1964, ISI-trained militants sneaked into the Gulmarg sector of Kashmir but their activities came to a standstill due to the 1965 Indo-Pak war.
It was in 1988 that Pakistan dictator Gen Zia-ul Haq gave ISI its present sinister status.
Operation Topac, blueprint of Pakistan's proxy war with India over J&K, to be executed by the ISI, catapulted the organisation to notoriety. Under Topac, ISI used combat methods which the Kashmiri mind could grasp, ie, co-ordinated use of moral and physical means other than military operations. In the first phase, local Kashmiri boys, especially those owing allegiance to Muslim United Front, were sent to camps in Pakistan for training. The ISI also established a hub for Islamic militants called Markaz Dwar with its spiritual leaders coming from Algeria, Sudan and Egypt and set up training camps in Pak-occupied Kashmir. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), comprising Kashmiri boys, was the first organisation to be trained in these camps. Phase II of Operation Topac began in 1992 with the ISI training Afghans. The aim: to spread the Kashmiri cause and rally support from the Islamic world. In 1993, Indian security forces caught Mohammad Fazal-al-Haji, member of Palestine-based PFLF, in south Kashmir. The ISI soon realised that unless it had Pak-based groups operating in the Valley, it would not be in full control. Therefore, with Jamait-e-Islami's help, the Hizbul Mujahideen started taking centrestage along with Harkat-ul-Ansar which the ISI created by merging Harkat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islam and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. To keep a tight control on the jehadis, these groups were put together under the United Jehad Council led by the Jamait-ul-Mujahideen leader.
In the early nineties there were over 40 militant outfits operating in the Valley. At present, nine are operational. They are all Pakistan based and include Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (Harkat-ul-Ansar's avatar), Jais-e-Mohammed, Al-Badr and Hizbul-Mujahideen.
The ISI provides sophisticated weaponry, including automatic grenades launchers, improvised timing devices and state-of-the-art communication gadgets, including frequency checking devices, for detecting military operations (most are of NATO/OS origin capable of frequency hopping and selective broadcast.) The other weapons continue to be the tested AK-47 and AK-56 with improved fire power.
With a decrease in local militants, the ISI strategy has been of suicide attacks by Fidayeen. In the past 16 months, Lashkar-e-Toiba has carried 30 such attacks, including the ones on the 15 Corp Headquarters in Srinagar. Interestingly, several mercenaries bred in the west, especially England, are being brought in. fund raisers by organisations like World Kashmir Freedom Movement and Mercy International, backed by the Jamait-e- Islami and controlled by the ISI, are collecting huge amounts in the name of the dead and dying in Kashmir. However, most of it goes to mujahideen fighting in Kashmir.