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Why Pakistan is 'boosting Kashmir militants'

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Islamabad

Pro-Pakistan Kashmiri militants
India accuses Pakistan of fomenting militancy in Kashmir

Pakistan has long been accused of supporting militant groups operating in Kashmir.

As a fledgling peace process between India and Pakistan developed in the years since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US, it was widely believed that Islamabad's support for militancy had declined.

This has changed once again. Since 2009 militant activity has been on the increase in the Kashmir region.

After the deadly Mumbai (Bombay) attacks of 2008 India called off peace talks. Dialogue resumed in February 2010 but the issue of militancy allegedly supported by Pakistan remains high on India's agenda.

Pakistan's government denies any knowledge of Kashmir militant groups increasing their activities.

First rebellions

Initially militant groups in Kashmir appeared to be operating on their own - but there is evidence to suggest that they are once again under the protection of Pakistan's intelligence establishment.

Training camps are once again being set up on the Pakistani-controlled side of Kashmir.

WHO ARE THE MILITANTS?
Hizbul Mujahideen
Lashkar-e-Taiba
Harkatul Mujahideen
Jaish-e-Mohammad

Recruitment is also up in Pakistan's Punjab province, which has provided most of the shaheeds or "martyrs" for the militants.

In fact, so emboldened have the militants become, that one militant alliance, the United Jihad Council (UJC), held a public meeting for militants in Muzaffarabad in mid-January 2010.

The meeting was chaired by, among others, former ISI chief Lt Gen Hamid Gul.

It called for a reinvigorated jihad (holy war) until Kashmir was free of "Indian occupation".

This call has a long history across the disputed territory of Kashmir.

What started as essentially an indigenous popular uprising against Indian rule has undergone many changes.

The insurgency began in the 1980s as a peaceful rebellion but soon became an armed uprising. The first armed rebel group was the indigenous Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) but Islamic militant groups proliferated rapidly.

These groups were part of the legacy of the Soviet Afghan war which had recently ended and spawned "holy warriors", fired with religious zeal, who sought to carry jihad across the world.

Until the cataclysmic events of 11 September 2001, these groups effectively ran the insurgency.

Based in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, they found financing and recruited for their activities within Pakistan.

Indian police officials stand behind barbed wire blocking a road during a gunbattle in Srinagar - January 2010
Kashmir is at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan

In this regard, they are said to have been aided and guided by Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

But this changed after 11 September when the international crackdown on "jihad" finally caught up with the Kashmir militants.

In 2002, Pakistan's then President Pervez Musharraf banned the most violent of the militant groups.

He also ordered a reduction in Pakistan's open support for Kashmir militancy.

This included restructuring the ISI's Kashmir wing and limiting the movement of militants across the border with India.

Even the Indian authorities agreed that infiltration by militants had become minimal - and had almost completely stopped by 2005.

This policy remained in force until 2006-2007, when President Musharraf's career began to unravel.

Attacks in India

Since then, for reasons still not clear, Pakistan's intelligence apparatus has once again allowed militants to restart the Kashmir campaign of militancy.

Police detain a political activist  - Feb 2010
There are frequent protests against Indian rule

The essential structure of the Islamic militant groups have remained the same.

While new groups have emerged from time to time, militancy in Kashmir largely centred around three main organisations. These are the Hizbul Mujahideen (HuM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Harkatul Mujahideen (HM).

With the late addition of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), it is these four groups which continue to dominate Kashmir's militant landscape.

Not much is known about collaboration between the various militant groups, but most say they are members of the United Jihad Council (UJC).

The JEM and the LeT have achieved particular notoriety amongst the Indians.

Both are accused of carrying out audacious attacks on the Indian military in Kashmir. They are also accused of involvement in numerous other attacks on Indian territory.

The most famous of these are the attacks on the Indian parliament in Delhi in 2001 and those across Mumbai in November 2008.

The prevailing political sympathies among Kashmir militants is pro-Pakistani - with a heavy emphasis on religion.

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.

The APHC is split between a faction which supports negotiations with the Indian government and a faction which is opposed to such dialogue.

Such ideological differences can also result in friction between the factions of the separatist movement.

Eternal mistrust

Many ask why Pakistan appears to be so intent on reviving the Kashmir "jihad"?

The answer, according to analysts, lies in the eternal mistrust that has plagued the relationship between the neighbours.

Pakistan has cried itself hoarse in recent years about India's involvement in Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities have repeatedly accused India of using its increasing influence with the US to foment insurgencies along the country's western border.

In particular, it points to India's alleged support of rebels in Balochistan province.

But these words went largely unheeded during the current Afghan war.

Now, the argument goes, elements in Pakistan feel the time is ripe to use Kashmiri jihadis as an additional bargaining chip.

Hawks argue the only way to get a favourable deal with India is to encourage militancy in Kashmir.

That such attacks could in theory lead to a nuclear confrontation between the two sides seems largely overlooked.



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