WASHINGTON -- Al-Qaida leaders in hiding and foot-soldiers preparing for terrorist attacks are turning to outlawed Pakistani extremist groups for spiritual and military training, shelter and logistical support, say U.S. officials who see them as an emerging threat.
One group - Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, or Army of the Pure - is an example of how Osama bin Laden's followers take advantage of scattered Islamic militant allies to maintain momentum, four years after a U.S.-led military campaign destroyed al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan.
Lashkar is among the organizations fighting for the disputed region of Kashmir. U.S. officials say the group stands out for a number of reasons, including its missionary work and other involvement outside the area.
Elements of Pakistan's intelligence services have supported Lashkar in the past. Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, banned Lashkar in 2002 for its alleged links to an attack on India's parliament.
Lashkar leaders insist the group's focus is freeing Muslims in Indian-controlled Kashmir - not attacks on the West. Pakistani officials say the group is local, not international.
Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Jehangir Karamat, said in an Associated Press interview that he considers Lashkar incapable of international terrorism and particularly of working with al-Qaida because the groups have different languages and agendas.
Al-Qaida has "no linkage with any organization in Pakistan," Karamat said. "They don't need it and they don't have it - never had it."
Still, the United States is closely watching Lashkar because of its apparent willingness to help those involved in the global jihad on a grass-roots level.
The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity, said they do not believe Lashkar's leadership is coordinating international attacks with groups including the remnants of al-Qaida. Instead, they worry about connections among foot-soldiers - extremists who may point friends of friends to paramilitary camps.
Last year, the State Department estimated the group had several thousand members.
The Lashkar organization represents a classic example of the diffusion of Islamic extremism - based in Afghanistan until the U.S. toppled the Taliban in 2001 - that CIA Director Porter Goss and other intelligence officials have warned of.
Ken Katzman, a Middle East expert at the Congressional Research Service, said groups including Lashkar have revived the training structure once found in Afghanistan, setting up "Afghanistan East" in northern Pakistan. Some in Pakistan deny the camps' existence.
"I think this is emerging as the next theater to test whether Pakistan is serious about eliminating the al-Qaida presence," Katzman said.
Some examples of high-profile moments where Lashkar's fingerprints are suspected or spotted:
-International authorities are looking into whether an Islamic school run by Lashkar trained at least one of the bombers who attacked four London buses on July 7. Officials are also looking closely at the associations of the three other bombers. Pakistani authorities have yet to find direct links and say any tie may be a small piece of the investigation.
-In Virginia, a prominent Islamic scholar was sentenced to life in prison this summer for encouraging his followers to join the Taliban and fight the United States after Sept. 11, 2001. After one fiery speech, several attendees went to Pakistan and received military training from Lashkar. The young men were part of the "Virginia jihad network" that sometimes trained for holy war by playing paintball games in the woods.
-U.S. officials say Abu Farraj al-Libbi, a top al-Qaida operational leader picked up in Pakistan in May, ran from a site associated with Lashkar before Pakistani forces captured him in a graveyard shootout. He is in U.S. custody, accused of planning two assassination attempts on Musharraf. Some Pakistani officials have said al-Libbi was sheltered by another Muslim militant organization.
-In March 2002, a senior al-Qaida lieutenant and planner, Abu Zubaydah, was captured at a Lashkar safehouse in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
- The Australian Taliban, David Hicks, whom U.S. forces captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan, was trained by Lashkar in the late 1990s. He is being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Bush administration is cautious about pushing too hard on Pakistan, an ally in the fight against terrorism.
The United States added Lashkar to its list of terrorist groups in 2001 and extended the designation in December 2003.
"We hope this list will help to isolate these terrorist organizations ... and to prevent their members' movement across international borders," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said then.
U.S. officials acknowledge the differences between al-Qaida and Lashkar, including their respective roots in the Wahhabi and Deobandi sects of Islam. Yet they say that their histories have intersected since the 1990s, creating highly complex and dangerous relationships that authorities sometimes struggle to monitor.
The officials and counterterrorism experts note that camps affiliated with Lashkar may be particularly attractive to extremist recruits because they don't get the scrutiny of those run by al-Qaida, now largely underground.
"What's crazy is that these groups, because they are a little bit more low key than al-Qaida, they have been able to operate, in Pakistan especially without hindrance," said Evan Kohlmann, an international terrorism consultant who has studied Lashkar.
MIM: According to this article the groups active in Kashmir who are part of the Hurriyat conference are being supported by Pakistan
The All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), an alliance of secessionist parties and leaders, was formed on March 9, 1993 as a political front to further the cause of Kashmiri separatism. The amalgam has, since then, been consistently promoted by Pakistan in the latter's quest to establish legitimacy over its claim on the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir.
The origins of the Hurriyat are traced to the 1993 phase of the Kashmir militancy. The initial euphoria of ‘armed struggle' had subsided in the light of counter-insurgency operations launched by the Indian security forces. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) with its pro-independence ideology had been marginalised and replaced by a network of Islamist extremist outfits controlled by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's external intelligence agency.
Parallel to this, Pakistan was aggressively pursing an agenda of attempting to portray its proxy war against India as an indigenous uprising against Indian sovereignty and internationalise the Kashmir issue. It was in this context that the Hurriyat was formed as an umbrella body for all over-ground secessionist organisations. Since the international community frowned upon the resort to violence by non-state actors, the Hurriyat was an ideal platform to promote the Kashmiri secessionist cause.
Ideology and Role
According to the Hurriyat Conference, Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory and ‘India's control' on it is not justified. It supports the Pakistani claim that Kashmir is the ‘unfinished agenda of Partition' and needs to be solved ‘as per the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.'
The APHC perceives itself to be the sole representative of the Kashmiri people, a claim that has so far been endorsed explicitly only by Pakistan.
The outfit's primary role has been to project a negative image of counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and to mobilise public opinion against the Indian security forces. The alliance has consistently followed up local allegations of security force excesses, and in several documented cases, allegedly distorted facts to suit its propaganda. For instance, the Haigam firing incident of February 16, 2001 was portrayed as an assault on a peaceful gathering whereas, as later indicated in news reports and official clarifications, the army contingent fired upon the mob only when they were blocked and prevented from moving.
The APHC enjoys an observer's status in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). Incidentally, the OIC had dropped hard-line Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, from its guest list and instead invited Mirwaiz Umar Farooq for its June 2005 Foreign Ministers Conference in Yemen.
There are currently two factions of the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz (a hereditary title of one of Kashmir's important religious seats, and also head priest of the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar) Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The Mirwaiz-led group, also referred to as the ‘moderate faction' along with non-Hurriyat leaders like Yasin Malik undertook, between June 2-16, 2005, the first formal visit of Kashmiri separatists to Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and subsequently, though unsanctioned by Indian authorities, to Pakistan.
Internal fissures within the Hurriyat Conference had culminated in a formal split on September 7, 2003, with at least 12 of its 26 constituents 'removing' the then Chairman Maulana Mohammad Abbas Ansari and 'replacing' him with Massarat Alam as its interim chief. The dissenters reportedly met at the residence of hardliner and pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) leader S. A. S. Geelani and decided to depose Ansari and 'suspend' the seven-member executive committee, the highest decision-making forum of the APHC. A five-member committee was formed to review the Hurriyat Constitution and suggest amendments to reverse what the dissenters perceive as 'autocratic' decisions taken by the executive committee.
Since then, Geelani has formed his own faction of the Hurriyat called the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Jammu and Kashmir. On October 12, 2004 he was unanimously elected as its Chairman for a period of three years. A 25-member strong Majlis-e-Shoora (advisory council) to assist and advise the Chairman was also announced on the same day. A statement released by the faction said 21 members were elected to the 'shoora' and the Chairman was authorised to nominate four members. It also said all the 14 districts of the State were duly represented in the 'shoora,' the highest decision-making body of the outfit. The Geelani reportedly has 16 constituents.
The alliance largely functions as a co-operative body with an Executive Council composing of seven members drawn from the main constituent outfits. The Executive Council is the highest decision-making authority. It currently comprises:
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (Acting Chairman)
Awami Action Committee
Maulana Abbas Ansari
Bilal Ghani Lone
Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat
Other important leaders of the APHC faction headed by the Mirwaiz are: Fazal Haq Qureshi of the People's Political Front, who is also a member of the General Council (which has eight members); Javid Ahmad Mir of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Forum; Syeda Nuzhat of the Khawateen-e-Kashmir; Chairman of the breakaway faction of the Democratic Freedom Party Syed Saleem Geelani; Mohammad Yousuf Naqash of the Islamic Political Party; Manan Bukhari of the Republican Party; Mohammad Amin Qureshi of the People's Political Conference; Khalil Ahmad Khalil of the People's Conference faction led by Bilal Lone (the other faction is led by his brother Sajad Lone); Tableegul Islam leader Bashir Kant; Allama Iqbal Students Union leader Abdul Manan; Amuatai-e-Islami leader Abdul Hamid Bhawani; Shahid-ul-Islam is the spokesperson.
Both factions are headquartered in Srinagar, capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Hurriyat Conference appointed Mirwaiz Umar Farooq as its caretaker chairman on August 8, 2004, saying efforts to unify the factions would continue. The decision was made at the Hurriyat's executive council meeting in Srinagar, attended by five general council members, invited especially for consultations. The executive council met for the first time to discuss the unification of the two factions after Maulana Abbas Ansari resigned on July 7, 2004.
APHC Constitution (Version as adopted in March 1993)
The Constitution of the APHC says: "The APHC shall be a union of political, social, and religious parties of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with its head office in Srinagar."
It spells the objectives of the conglomerate as:
To make peaceful struggle to secure for the people of Jammu and Kashmir the exercise of the right of self determination in accordance with the UN Charter and the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council, however, the exercise of the right of self determination shall also include the right to independence.
To make endeavour for an alternative negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute amongst all the three parties to the dispute -- India, Pakistan and people of the Jammu and Kashmir -- under the auspices of UN or any other friendly countries, provided that such settlement reflects the will and aspirations of the people of the state.
To project ongoing struggle, in the state before the nations and governments of the world in its proper perspective as being a struggle directed against the forcible and fraudulent occupation of the state by India and for the achievement of the right of the self determination of its people.
To make endeavour, in keeping with the Muslim majority character of the state, for promoting the build up of a society based on Islamic values, while safeguarding the rights and interests of the non-Muslims.
To make endeavour for the achievements of any objectives which may be ancillary or incidental to the objectives specified above.
The Executive Council: The executive council shall consist of seven members from the seven executive parties. They are: Syed Ali Shah Geelani (Jamaat-e-Islami) Umar Farooq (Awami Action Committee), Sheikh Abdul Aziz (People's League), Moulvi Abbas Ansari (Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen), Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat (Muslim Conference), Yasin Malik (JKLF) and Abdul Gani Lone (People's Conference).
The chairman shall hold the office for two years. He shall vacate his office if he ceases to be a member of the executive council. He may at any time resign his office by submitting his resignation to the executive council.
General Council: It had more than 23 parties and organisations as members, including traders and employee unions. While the membership of the executive council as per the constitution can not be increased, the general council can accommodate more members if deemed so or if any party or organisation seeks membership.
Quorum: The quorum for the meetings in the executive council is four members.
Official Spokesman: The executive council may appoint one of its members as the official spokesman of the APHC to explain the view point if the APHC.
Finance: The executive committee shall also act as the finance committee of the APHC.
(The original list of 26 parties)
1. Aawami Action Committee
3. Jammu and Kashmir People's Conference
4. Muslim Conference
5. Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front
6. People's League
7. Ittihad-ul Muslimeen
8. All Jammu & Kashmir Employees' Confederation
9. Employees and Workers Confederation
10. Anjaman-e-Tablig-ul Islam
11. Liberation Council
12. Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadith
13. Kashmir Bazme Tawheed
15. Kashmir Bar Association
16. Political Conference
17. Tehreek-e-Huriati Kashmiri
18. Jamiate Ulama-E-Islam
19. Anjamani Auqafi Jama Masjid
20. Muslim Khawateen Markaz
21. Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Committee
22. Jammu and Kashmir People's Basic Rights (Protection) Committee
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's decision to meet the Hurriyat leadership is a no-brainer. That makes it a dubious first. It is not clear what policy aims are being sought to be addressed through an apex-level dialogue with the separatists.
In his time Atal Bihari Vajpayee had wisely resisted the idea of dealing directly with the Hurriyat though his positive moves in respect of Kashmir had opened up the space for reaching a truce with the people, above all by ensuring a fair assembly election that was acclaimed within the Kashmir valley and way beyond. Subsequently, he got his home minister to keep the Hurriyat engaged though the separatists had boycotted the polls.
Naturally, no representative government can decline to discuss issues with any section of the people, no matter what their grievances, aims, or demands. But does the conversation have to be at the level of prime minister in order to be deemed genuine?
What if the interaction hits a dead-end, as is likely to be the case, since the Hurriyat brings nothing to the table? It has little to offer that compliments the search for peace or contributes to the strengthening of the democratic milieu in Kashmir.
Besides, if the prime minister engages the Hurriyat directly, why not, let us say, also the Naxalites, should they make that demand in order to secure a higher profile for themselves. Indeed, the ULFA has already done that. Like the Naxalites and ULFA, the Hurriyat too has made it abundantly clear that no process of discussion can influence its aims.
The original Hurriyat has split. The section led by Ali Shah Geelani, which propagates Kashmir's merger with Pakistan, repudiates the very idea of talking with the government until the Indian State comes to view Kashmir as 'disputed territory.' Other breakaway elements, most notably Yasin Malik's Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front that tilts at windmills and rather grandiloquently speaks of 'independence' for all of J&K (including areas under Pakistan control), are also keeping away from Manmohan Singh's table.
With these elements -- who represent by far the more stable and the more influential sections of the original Hurriyat -- staying out, there is little likelihood that Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and his cohorts, who are being engaged by the prime minister, can rustle up anything even remotely resembling a coherent posture.
Indeed, the Mirwaiz will be looking over his shoulder even as he raises a steaming cup of tea at the prime minister's office. He and his group will be conscious that they command neither fire-power nor stand at the head of people's power in Kashmir. This is likely to make them unduly anxious about taking imaginary false steps and fearful of condemnation at the hands of the Hurriyat blocs missing at the discussion. And it should not be forgotten for a minute that the Mirwaiz's own party, the Awami Action Committee, has traditionally sported the pro-Pakistan creed, a fact he adverted to when on a tour of Pakistan recently. This too leaves him little room for manoeuvre even if he were to be inclined, at a personal level, toward negotiation.
Given the baggage the Mirwaiz carries, there is not much in concrete terms that he and his group can present on the eve of conferring with the prime minister. Indeed, their only realistic aim can be to gain a higher profile for themselves through the dialogue. This may add to their CV and promote their case when it comes to representation in certain fora, especially since they also happen to be the flavour of the season in Islamabad.
Small wonder that all that the Mirwaiz has found possible to say in recent days is that the interaction of his group with the prime minister will signal for the first time that the people of Kashmir have at last become a party to the discussion on the status of Kashmir. The flagrant sub-text here is that the Mirwaiz's Hurriyat is the true voice of Kashmir. This, of course, is being economical with the truth and would make the Kashmiris guffaw.
What is true is that the Hurriyat boycotted the last assembly election and the people defied them to vote in large numbers. About 40 percent exercised their franchise eventually though some 800 were slaughtered in the run-up to the election for showing the temerity to take an interest in the poll process. That is the measure of the gap that has come to exist between people's aspirations and what the Hurriyat propagates. Anyone with the least familiarity with Kashmir recognises this. And yet, New Delhi privileges the likes of the Hurriyat by holding direct talks with them though they stand ignored by the people. This is the surest way to alienate the people whose disdain for all Hurriyat factions -- not just the Mirwaiz's -- is not any more a matter of conjecture.
Through the years of turmoil that dogged Kashmir, Pakistan officially regarded the separatists as the sole legitimate voice of Kashmir. However, General Pervez Musharraf was recently obliged to note that those elected by the people, the MLAs, were also representatives. This was not just a long overdue recognition of reality. In effect, it was points shorn off the Hurriyat by Pakistan under force of circumstances. This was Pakistan doing what it can -- even by going against its own grain -- to keep in touch with popular opinion in Kashmir. And yet, the prime minister has seen no incongruity in the idea of confabulating with the Hurriyat.
For the move to be meaningful, it should deliver at least on one of three counts: draw India and Pakistan closer; draw the people of Kashmir -- who have been through an unimaginable trauma -- closer to the Centre; gain India points in counsels of the world for talking to secessionist elements. Indeed, it will be extraordinary if any of these goals is met.
Pakistan's stance on Kashmir essentially flows from its understanding of the two-nation theory. The start of a process of discussion between the Indian leadership at the highest level and Kashmir's secessionist conglomerate can only boost hopes in Islamabad. As such, it could lead to the Pakistan establishment dragging its feet even more on the composite dialogue with India. As for deepening the truce with the people of the valley, the prime minister's move vis-a-vis the Hurriyat is likely to bring on exasperation among the populace, and a sense of despair. It is unlikely to be noted as an act of bridge-building.
If this is the case, it is hard to see how India is going to earn the gratitude of the power-brokers of the world when it talks to a marginalised Kashmiri set that play no part in calming the valley. It is apparent the prime minister has been inappropriately advised.
Anand K Sahay is a visiting professor at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Srinagar: The Muslim League Jammu and Kashmir Monday said "the party has strong apprehension about the sincerity of purpose behind the ongoing talks between government of India and some of the confused leadership." These apprehension according to the party have been substantiated by the following information: "Farooq Kathwari and Siddiq Wahid are the minds behind Hurriyat talks and Haseeb Drabu is controlling Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The Hurriyat has accepted to take part in elections and will announce it within sometime." The party further said: "We condemn such move and will vehemently oppose it. Nobody can be allowed to play with the sentiments of people of Jammu and Kashmir and ignore the sacrifices of people." The only way to solve the Kashmir issue is to implement the UN resolution, the party added.