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Kashmiri views on militant group

The Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba is accused of links to attacks last month in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay) which left at least 170 people dead. Two BBC correspondents on either side of the Line of Control which divides the disputed territory find out what people think about the group and its activities.

ALTAF HUSSAIN, SRINAGAR, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR

Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is a Pakistan-based militant group.

It joined the armed resistance against Indian rule in Kashmir in the early 1990s.

However, it gained prominence when it introduced "fidayeen" attacks in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley about a decade ago.

A "fidayeen" attack is different from a suicide attack in as much as the attacker has a chance of coming back alive.

Gate on the Line of Control
There is some sympathy for Lashkar in both parts of Kashmir

The LeT has carried out a number of audacious attacks on Indian military installations in the state.

It was responsible for the attack on Delhi's Red Fort in 2000 and blamed for an attack on the Indian parliament the following year.

Analyst Tahir Mohiuddin says the Mumbai attacks do not have the imprint of the LeT. While he does not rule out their involvement, he says there is a lot of confusion.

"There have been reports that the attackers in Mumbai looked for American and British nationals besides Jews.

"This has not been the agenda of the LeT. For that matter they have dissociated themselves from the conflict between the government forces and the Taleban in north-western Pakistan," he said.

Ordinary people in Kashmir have expressed deep shock over the Mumbai attacks but they have diverse views as to who did it.

"Whatever happened in Mumbai was wrong. Innocent people have been killed. They were human beings like us," Mushtaq Ahmed, a government employee, said.

Adnan, a student, said that "many lives were lost and it should not have happened". He is worried that now Kashmiris staying in other states in India will be harassed.

"They will be labelled as militants. Those living as tenants will be subject to frequent investigations."

Javed Ahmed, a labourer, said that the Mumbai attacks could be the "handiwork of a hardline Hindu organisation".

He says there should be a thorough probe before anyone is blamed.

Noor-ul-Sajad, a lawyer, said the attacks might have been masterminded by political parties ahead of forthcoming elections in India.

Woman in Srinagar
Most people want peace above all else

While views on who did it differ, there is general concern among Kashmiri people over the adverse impact the Mumbai attacks have had on relations between India and Pakistan.

Many fear an outbreak of war.

Others say that even if war is averted, the deterioration of relations between the two countries will badly impact on the process of dialogue to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

"The two neighbours were drawing closer but now they are again drifting apart," Noor-ul-Sajad said.

The editor of the leading newspaper, the Daily Etilaat, Khurshid Wani, says that "any souring of relations between the two countries will have a direct bearing on Kashmir - it will bring the ongoing dialogue process to a complete halt or at least slow it down".

Even the hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has, while lamenting "the carnage" in Mumbai, warned that war between the two neighbours would be a disaster for both.

People living in border areas in Kashmir are also worried that a renewed exchange of firing between the two armies across the Line of Control would make life hell for them again.

They have enjoyed a relatively peaceful life since India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire five years ago and now all that looks to be in jeopardy.

ZULFIQAR ALI, MUZAFFARABAD, PAKISTANI-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR

People here have also condemned the Mumbai attacks - but many remain to be convinced that Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind it.

Women in Srinagar houses
The attacks have led to fears for the future of the peace process

Sarfraz Mir - a doctor - described what happened as "an abominable act". But he cautioned that action against Lashkar by the Pakistani authorities without any evidence would also be an outrage.

"I just can pray that both governments can stop the blame game and continue talking to each other and find solutions to the issues between them once and for all," he said.

A teacher, Nazneen, described the attacks as "shocking".

"We condemn such attacks - innocent people died. But Indian accusations that Lashkar-e-Taiba was involved are not convincing," she said.

"We wonder as to how they reached hotels and how they brought weapons inside the hotel in the face of heavy security? Where were the Indian intelligence agencies?

"If anything happens anywhere in the world Muslims are always blamed."

Many like Nazneen feel that the Pakistani government should have not acted against Lashkar under pressure from the Indian or American governments.

They feel that it is giving the impression that it too acknowledges that Lashkar was involved in the attacks.

"If the government wanted to crack down against the militants groups it should have done so before," Nazneen said.

Businessman Shajah Ahmed argues that the Indian government has provided no evidence for its claims over Mumbai.

Indian commando in Mumbai
The Mumbai attacks have propelled Kashmir to the centre of attention

"Lashkar's role in Kashmir is commendable; their Pakistani fighters gave their lives for the people of Kashmir; they fought alongside Kashmiri brothers", he said.

"But war and guns are no solution to the issues we face here and India and Pakistan should resolve the Kashmir issue through peaceful means," he added.

Like other members of the public, journalist Malick Tahir unstintingly condemns what happened in Mumbai.

"We don't know who the attackers were and what were their motives but one thing is clear - they are friends to none - India ,Pakistan or Kashmiris," he said.

"We pray that sense prevails between India and Pakistan and they don't let the attackers hijack the entire peace process.

"It would be a victory for the 95% of people who want peace in the region."

Abdul Waseen, who runs a private school in the Neelum Valley border district, said that if there was any evidence involving Lashkar-e-Taiba they should be banned and their people arrested.

"But in the longer term this is not the way to deal with militancy in Pakistan. For these people their livelihood depends on militancy," he said.

"They should be provided with alternate employment or other means of rehabilitation. This is a difficult task but this is the only solution - otherwise they will keep returning to militancy."

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