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Pakistani militants undaunted

Musharraf's Army quietly sympathizes with Pakistani jihadis who claim Kashmir.

By Elizabeth RubinSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / January 9, 2002



PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

The Jamaat-I-Islami calls its quiet compound on the Grand Trunk Road in Peshawar the Center of Islam. The party is the ideological nucleus for all the jihadi groups fighting to wrest the majority-Muslim state of Kashmir from Indian control.

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On the walls of the guest house is painted a scene of Muslim fighters on horseback, men with camels walking out of the mountains, over the words: "Muslims of the subcontinent want to fulfill the ideology which says Pakistan is for the Muslims, India is for the Hindus; it will not be fulfilled without Kashmir; and thus we need an Islamic revolution."

Despite the fact that Jamaat-I-Islami leader Qazi Hussain Ahmad has been arrested and despite Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's crackdown on jihadi leaders and fighters in the weeks since the Indian Parliament was attacked by unknown gunmen on Dec. 13, life goes on as usual at the Center of Islam. Fighters from all the provinces of Pakistan, as well as from the disputed region of Kashmir are coming and going, taking respites from their fight in Kashmir at the placid guest house. They are men like Abdullah, serious and purposeful, in his tweed blazer, shalwar kameez, and hiking boots.

One early morning about 10 years ago, Abdullah was on his way to prayers at his neighborhood mosque in Kashmir when he saw the Indian Army surround the mosque and open fire. A few weeks earlier he'd seen his schoolteacher dead on the road, killed by the Indian Army. He was 14 and enraged. He joined the demonstrations outside the UN offices and was stunned by the seeming indifference of the UN. "So I left behind my pen and took a gun, and until now, my parents don't know whether I'm alive or dead," says Abdullah, a 25-year-old Kashmiri jihadi.

It's been so long now, he can't even remember his parents so well, he says. He has no family of his own. He sees all the women of Kashmir as his mothers, all the girls as his sisters. For the past 11 years Abdullah has fought, slept, eaten, and prayed with his brothers in the armed wing of the Jamaat-I-Islami. President Muharraf's recent actions against them, Abdullah says, will do nothing to stop him. "We did not start our jihad for the Musharraf government, and we are not obeying his orders," he says.

He's just crossed the border from three months in the mountains of what Pakistanis call "Indian-held Kashmir" and Indians call "Jammu Kashmir." And whenever his amir (commander) called him back, he'd go by night and cross over the border. "Our stand is clear. There's no compromise," he says. "We demand the Indian Army to quit Kashmir and let us decide our fate according to the 1948 UN resolution, which says that Kashmiris have the right to a plebiscite."

For Abdullah, jihad is very specific - to liberate Kashmir. He's not interested in Afghanistan. But behind him sit the spiritual and religious fathers for whom Kashmir is the latest chapter in the struggle of the Muslim world against Western imperialism - and these days, America. "Rulers may say anything, but listen to the Khateeb [the speaker at Friday prayers]," says an elderly ideological leader who's been popular among the Islamist groups since the days of the jihad against the Russians and asked not to be named. "If all the ulema [Islamic clerics] say, 'don't use American goods,' it can be easily implemented. And ultimately it may go there."

To the Islamic leaders here, Musharraf has become a puppet of the West. For years, it's been an open secret that the Pakistani Army was supporting and aiding the jihadi groups. Today, the official Army line is that it will obey the president's orders, and it is doing so. But a key unanswered question here is how long the Army will continue to do so.

"Our jihadi people are still working with the Army officers who've told us they are unhappy about the president's decision on Afghanistan and our Islamic groups," says a professor of one Islamic party here whose leader was arrested. "Junior officers and soldiers in the mountains are arriving in tears. They say, 'We are with you, because you are the people. Now your people are under threat, and it's painful for us.' But it's not the right time for us to start street violence. Our enemies will only use it against us."

Having supported and financed the Afghan jihad against the Russians, and then the Taliban regime, the Pakistani government and leaders paved the way for what many have called the Talibanization of Pakistan. One of those men is retired Gen. Anwar Sher, who unofficially represented the Afghan jihadi groups for the Pakistani Army, and was a strategic adviser to the Taliban in the early days of their emergence.

While he sees Musharraf's moves as necessary to curb the internal extremism, he warns that no one can control the madrassahs or the jihadi groups unless the Kashmir issue is resolved, and more generally the issue of America's "bulldozer" approach to diplomacy.

"The average Pakistani - in fact any Pakistani - cannot think of Pakistan as complete without Kashmir. It is an unfinished agenda of the partition. The Kashmiris and Pakistanis are so frustrated with the obduracy of India and the negligence of the major powers that they feel they have to do it alone, at any risk, at any cost," he says. "No government can survive if they do not heed the general sentiments of the public, whether it is a military or civilian government."

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