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A Quieter Winter Ahead?

A Quieter Winter Ahead?
Zahid HUssein
A Quieter Winter Ahead?
Senior government officials involved in formulating the Kashmir policy believe there will be a beneficial trickledown effect of the September 11 bombings. One of them declares that after the tragic events in the US, there will be a recognition that "terrorism is terrorism is terrorism, wherever it happens." Pointing out that the Musharraf we now see on TV "is not the same Musharraf we saw in Agra", an official said "the rhetoric of jehad in Kashmir will go down. The world will now realise that jehad of the kind practiced here has no place in modern society."

With Gen Musharraf likely to be preoccupied with US demands on the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, Kashmir might experience a relative lull. The jehadis will be asked to lie low in order to save the Pakistan government from being further embarrassed on its chief export commodity—terror. For the moment, the Hurriyat, which depends critically on international opinion, is expected to keep quiet. For, given the current international mood, its attempts to equate 'jehad' with 'freedom struggle' is expected to fall on deaf ears.

Although officials are still watching to see the US response, they have no hesitation in admitting that human rights allegations might now be seen in a more balanced perspective. Officials point out that the Kashmiri leadership is already very defensive about what happened in New York and Washington, given the kind of statements they have put out.

There is expectation that the US might move faster to characterise groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba as terrorist organisations and include others like the Harkat-ul-Mujahiddeen and Jaish-e-Mohammed in the list. Says a senior home ministry official: "For some time now, we have been presenting evidence about terrorism in the Valley and all the while the Americans thought that our perceptions were exaggerated since it didn't touch them. We showed them dairies the Lashkar produces annually, containing lists of enemies of Islam, which had pictures of the American, Russian, Indian and the Israeli flags. All three who were released after the IC 814 hijack—Masood Azhar of the Jaish, Syed Omar Sheikh of the Al Umma and Mushtaq Latrum—have been as virulently anti-India as they have been anti-US."

The official continues: "Syed Omar is, in fact, a British national, an lse graduate, who was involved in the kidnapping of four foreigners from Paharganj in Delhi in 1994, including one American. America should now pressurise Islamabad to deliver him as well."

One diplomat cites the instance of Fazlur Rehman Khalil, now the Harkat general secretary, who declared at a press conference in Islamabad after Tomahawk missiles killed five Harkat operatives in August 1998, "In case America gives Tomahawk missiles and bullet-proof jackets to every American citizen, we will still find their eyes to hit at." "The Americans took up the issue with Chaudhury Shujaat Hussain, interior minister in Nawaz Sharif's government," says the diplomat.

Agrees another official: "Any one of these guys could become the next Osama bin laden. You have to nip these things in the bud." Mushtaq Latrum, for instance, was the chief of the Al-Ummar-Mujahiddeen, the militant wing of the Awami Action Committee, the Mirwaiz's outfit. Mushtaq now freely operates out of Muzaffarabad and Rawalpindi.

What the officials stress is the interdependence between the various terrorist outfits. The Lashkar and Harkat, for instance, are part of the International Islamic Front that swears allegiance to Osama bin Laden, who once declared that "Kashmir is the gateway to India".

Given the transnational nature of terrorism in terms of movements, funding, weapons sourcing and other aspects, officials hope that the anti-terrorism coalition that might emerge from the current exercise may yield a system that addresses these aspects as well.
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