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Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 15:58 GMT
Who are the Kashmir militants?
The Kashmir Liberation Front photographed in the early 1990s
Older groups have seen their influence diminish
What started as essentially an indigenous popular uprising in Indian-administered Kashmir has in the last 12 years undergone major changes.

Since it began in the late 1980s, the armed militancy has increased significantly in strength.

Despite a large number of casualties, the militants are still believed to number thousands rather than hundreds.

Several new militant groups, mostly having radical Islamic views, have also emerged.

(Click here for more on the groups India says were behind the 13 December attack on its parliament)

In fact, in the last few years they seem to have taken the lead, shifting the ideological emphasis of the movement from a nationalistic and secularist one to an Islamic one.

As a result, some of the groups that were in the forefront of the armed insurgency in 1989 - particularly the pro-independence Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) - have receded into the background.

At present, the prevailing political tendency among the militants in Kashmir is pro-Pakistani, with a heavy emphasis on religion.

Ideological differences

However, this may not be entirely true for the separatist political movement represented by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), as many of its constituent groups have kept their options open.

At times, such ideological differences also result in friction between the factions of the separatist movement.

Among the factors that have largely contributed to this change in the ideological base of the armed Kashmiri movement are:

  • The high-handedness of the Indian security forces
  • Encouragement given to pro-Pakistan groups by Islamabad
  • The availability of large numbers of Islamic fighters from Afghanistan

Confined activities

About two dozen armed militant groups claim to be operating inside Indian-administered Kashmir.

Apart from a couple of prominent groups, most of them are part of an alliance known as the United Jihad Council (UJC).

A Kashmir rebel fighter holds a rifle
Islamabad denies it arms the militants

The UJC has its headquarters in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and is only loosely linked to the Srinagar-based APHC.

Most of these militant groups are very small, and prefer to keep their activities confined to one selected part of Jammu or Kashmir.

The various militant groups face a substantial Indian security presence.

According to figures provided by the Indian military, there are about 125,000 troops and paramilitaries in the Kashmir Valley and surrounding areas.

Unofficial figures put that figure much higher, and Pakistan and the APHC leaders put that figure at over half a million.

The two groups India says were behind the 13 December attack on parliament in Delhi are Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba

Jaish-e-Mohammad

This is a rapidly growing group.

It emerged when a former member of another militant group, Maulana Masood Azhar, was set free by the Indian authorities in December 1999 after the hijack of an Indian Airlines plane.

The group has continued to grow and at present seems to have the support of a large number of religious seminaries in Pakistan.

India says it was Jaish-e-Mohammad who attacked the state assembly in Indian-administered Kashmir last October.

In the ensuing gun battle nearly 40 people were killed.

That led the chief minister of the region to demand of the Indian federal government that it launch attacks on militant bases on Pakistani soil.

Lashkar-e-Toiba

If there is an armed separatist group which has had a real impact on the militant movement in recent years, it is the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

It is the militant outfit of Markaz-e-Tawatul Irshad - a religious seminary at Muridke in Pakistani Punjab.

Lashkar has emerged as one of the most prominent groups that are involved in militant activities in Kashmir.

It gained more support because of its role in the 1999 Kargil conflict with India and later on by sending its members on suicide missions to blow up military cantonments in different parts of Indian-administered Kashmir.

Lashkar's professed ideology goes beyond merely challenging Indian rule in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

In a pamphlet entitled Why Are We Waging Jihad, the group defines its agenda as the restoration of Islamic rule over all parts of India.

In 2000 its activists carried out controversial armed attacks inside the Red Fort in Delhi and attempted to assassinate the Bombay-based hard-line Hindu leader Bal Thackery of the Shiv Sena party.

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