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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 19:49 GMT 20:49 UK
Analysis: Is al-Qaeda in Kashmir?
Pakistan troops patrol the Line of Control
Pakistan is enforcing a ban on incursions

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's suggestion in Delhi that al-Qaeda militants may be active in Kashmir dropped like a bombshell in Islamabad.

Pakistan's sympathy and support for the separatist movement and some of the militant groups fighting to end Indian rule in Kashmir have never been a secret.

Kashmir guerrillas
The "jihadis" are finding it harder to operate
But does this really mean that Islamabad would allow al-Qaeda to penetrate the movement, or to even find refuge there?

Senior officials and many Kashmir-watchers in Islamabad believe it is highly unlikely.

They say that with Delhi launching a highly-aggressive diplomatic campaign to brand the separatists as terrorists, Islamabad must try to convince the world that what has been going on in Indian-administered Kashmir is in fact a freedom struggle.

In such a situation, observers say, it is not in Pakistan's interest to allow any al-Qaeda members to operate from, or even find refuge in, Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Hardliners unpersuaded

The armed militancy that used to dominate the atmosphere in Muzaffarabad is completely missing

But Pakistan's earlier policy of encouraging non-Kashmiris to take part in armed militancy is also to blame.

At least two retired army generals who are sympathetic to the Islamic movements openly brag about the way Islamic warriors from various countries took training in Afghanistan, and later participated in what they describe as the holy war, or jihad, in Kashmir.

Aslam Beg, a former army chief, proudly told a recent conference of religious leaders in Islamabad that militants from several countries had fought alongside the Kashmiri militants.

Like General Beg, a former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), General Hamid Gul, has been equally critical of President Musharraf's decision to impose restrictions on the militants.

Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld: Admits he has no hard evidence
But even these hardline Islamists believe that al-Qaeda has no role in Kashmir.

It is no secret that at one time the so-called holy warriors from Afghanistan and some Arab countries joined the Pakistani militants to give the armed insurgency in Kashmir an Islamic colour.

But during the last couple of years their numbers diminished, and only Pakistani members of some of the Islamic groups were left to carry forward the campaign.

Crackdown on 'jihadis'

And now even that has started to change.

Last month, under international pressure, President Musharraf began fully enforcing a decision taken in January to impose a complete ban on incursions across the Line of Control.

Islamic groups say they will defy the restrictions.

But a recent visit to Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, gave the impression the authorities were determined to stop encouraging a so-called "jihadi culture".

Unlike in the past, the pro-militant slogans have been wiped out from the walls, the offices of various militant organisations are almost deserted, and the armed militancy that used to dominate the atmosphere in the city is completely missing.

The Islamic or militant groups can hardly be pleased with the development, but they seem to have no choice.

In such circumstances it is nearly impossible to imagine that al-Qaeda could operate easily from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

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12 Jun 02 | South Asia
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