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Monday, July 5, 1999 Published at 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK

World: South Asia

Pakistan and the Kashmir militants

Young fighters in Pakistan enlist for Kashmir

By South Asia Analyst Alastair Lawson

Militant groups active in Pakistan have said they will consider a request from Islamabad to withdraw from territory they have occupied in Indian administered Kashmir.

Their announcement follows talks between the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Clinton in Washington. The two leaders agreed that concrete steps needed to be taken for the restoration of the Line of Control in Kashmir.

Kashmir Conflict
The announcement of the withdrawal brings into focus once again the complicated relationship between the Pakistani authorities and militant groups fighting in Kashmir.

Ever since militant groups first became active in Kashmir 10 years ago, India has accused Pakistan of arming and training them. Delhi says that the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence agency has provided them with training facilities and camps in Pakistan.

[ image:  ]
It says the Pakistani military not only provided the militant groups with logistical support to occupy part of Indian administered Kashmir six weeks ago, but also supplied troops as well.

The Pakistani Government has consistently denied that its troops are in Indian administered Kashmir. It says that it only provides the various militant groups with moral, diplomatic and political support.

Diverse militant groups

Most of the militant groups active in the Kargil area say they are controlled by the United Jihad Council, an organisation comprising 14 militant groups. Of these only five are considered to be influential: Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Al-Badar and Tehrik-i-Jihad.

[ image: Tehrik-i-Jihad volunteers fundraising]
Tehrik-i-Jihad volunteers fundraising
They have given a contrasting reaction to Pakistan's pledge that it will encourage them to withdraw. The Tehrik-i-Jihad spokesmen have argued that the decision should be taken by the United Jihad Council but the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba have rejected the call.

Commentators in Pakistan say that it would not be difficult for the Pakistani Government and military to curtail the activities of these groups in the Kargil area. They point out that it would be virtually impossible for them to hold onto positions in Indian administered Kashmir without the logistical support of the Pakistani army.

Army's role

That raises the question of whether or not the army is supportive of Mr Sharif's pledge to encourage the militants to leave the Kargil area.

[ image: Sharif: asserted his control over the military]
Sharif: asserted his control over the military
While the relationship between the government and the generals is notoriously complex, there has so far been little evidence of any discontent within the ranks.

That has been the case ever since Mr Sharif appeared to assert his control over the army last October, when he dismissed the army chief, General Jehangir Karamat, after he made a speech in which he criticised the government.

Sources say that ever since the Kargil dispute began, Mr Sharif has gone out of his way to take the military into his confidence.

Hardline opposition

However, there is always the danger that some militant groups will not accept his plea for them to withdraw. That may especially be the case among the more hardline groups which embrace a more rigid form of Islam.

Abdullah Muntazer of the Lashkar-e Taiba: "We will not withdraw"
The Lashkar-e-Taiba group, for example, is thought to contain numerous non Kashmiris - possibly members of the Taleban movement of Afghanistan - which are thought to be unwilling to be seen to make any concessions at all to India.

Likewise Mr Sharif will no doubt be eager to ensure that his effort to resolve the Kargil stand-off does not end up antagonising his political opponents. Already Pakistan's largest Islamic based party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, has said they do not believe the militants should come back.

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