[Reader-list] Kashmir - Guerrillas in the Mist

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Wed Dec 12 22:37:57 IST 2001

December 10, 2001

Guerrillas in the Mist
by Will Bourne

As the war in Afghanistan enters its mopping-up phase, the U.S. faces a
tricky task of regional diplomacy. No tinderbox has
  more deadly potential than the valley of Kashmir, where Pakistan and
India have fought for half a century. Now, with nuclear
  arms on both sides and Islamic fundamentalists waging holy war in the
middle, the U.S. finds itself thrust into a new
  relationship with Pakistan. Our man writes:

  They say it's been a dry year in Srinagar, but it looks to have been
far longer than that. Despite a steady rain during my six
  days in Kashmir, the rivers stayed flat and slow. Fingers of water
lying about the town--which must once have been sweet,
  circulating extensions of the fabled Dal Lake--are now just bogs,
enameled with millweed, studded with trash and scuppered
  boats. The polo ground is threadbare. A thousand houseboats, tethered
to the floating garden just off the shorefront, are empty,
  overtaken by lotus. The lake has shrunk to half its size of just 50
years ago; the money intended for dredging rarely finds its
  way to the water itself. The valley of Kashmir, with Srinagar at its
emotional heart, is 85 miles long, slung between two
  lowish ridgelines in the Himalayas; it is divided into irregular parts
by the so-called Line of Control, the boundary set in
  1949 by the U.N. after India and Pakistan fought an undeclared but
bloody war over the "disputed territory" following
  partition in 1947. The valley has seen periodic warfare--and ceaseless
tension--since that time. But a rigged election touched
  off a popular uprising on the Indian side in 1989 that continues to
this day, grinding on as low-grade guerrilla war. As many
  as 40,000 lives have since been lost, some by the Indian army and
paramilitary forces keeping a chokehold on the almost
  exclusively Muslim valley, many more by the amorphous militants who are
fighting for various, often conflicting causes:
  independence, accession to Pakistan, or just the right to the political
voice denied them, they say, since partition.

  Death barely makes the papers here. I arrived a few weeks after suicide
bombers had killed 38 people at the assembly
  building in Srinagar. Dozens of others fell during my stay--mostly
unidentified militants, which has proved an endlessly
  useful category for the disposing of the dead. A place of legendary
culture and beauty, this city of 725,000 is now a burnt-out
  case, a swamp of spies and counterspies. Indian troops are everywhere,
some emplacements so ancient that the very sandbags
  are being reclaimed by the soil. Homemade-looking black SWAT vans are
forever swinging around corners, carrying
  black-suited guys with machine guns. The gorgeous bottomland of the
valley to the west, full of maples and poplars, apple
  orchards and silkworm farms, is a veritable garrison; even the most
inconsequential bridge is guarded by eight or ten
  soldiers. Stop-and-search is constant. It seems a miserable life.
Everyone is used to it.

  In a wretched squall my driver and I retrieved the man who would guide
us to Abdul Majid Dar, one of the senior-most
  figures of Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest of Kashmir's many militant
groups. The three of us navigated the lanes of a
  neighborhood north of the town center and stopped at an eight-foot iron
gate. In a low room furnished with a sheet of
  industrial carpet and a few pillows, I was confronted by a man who
looked nothing like my mental image of a mujahid:
  Sitting against a powder-blue wall, poncho tucked tidily around his
bare feet, he wore no skullcap but had a neat beard gone
  largely gray. His eyes were big, melancholic, like a Guernsey cow's. He
looked tired beyond words.

  Until two weeks ago Dar was Hizbul Mujahideen's "operations chief";
now, he said opaquely, he is awaiting a "new
  assignment." I wanted to talk with him about Pakistan--our ally in the
war against terror--and its supposed role in the valley's
  unending terror. Many have charged that Kashmiri militancy is being
perpetuated not by the exhausted and demoralized
  locals, but by a steady supply of men and money coming in over the Line
of Control from Pakistan. It is a charge Pakistan
  denies: "We do not work with these groups, and we have got nothing to
do with them," a Pakistani general told the New York
  Times recently, referring to Kashmiri militant organizations.

  But most Kashmiris say otherwise. "Pakistan is part of the conflict.
Who can deny it?" Dar says over cups of cardamom tea
  served in little fluted cups. He himself spent "five, six years in
Pakistan," he says, but is quick to insist that the country does
  not have a "dominant role" here. But then Dar's reticence is not
surprising. The Islamic tradition in Kashmir is predominantly
  Sufi, an ecstatic, inward, nondogmatic movement that has never been
much interested in pan-Islamic jihad. Independence is
  an infinitely more popular cause, however improbable, than acceding to

  Liyaqat Ali Khan was more forthcoming. I met the fresh-scrubbed
president of the Jammu Kashmir People's Conference, one
  of many homespun political groups trying to solve this conundrum, in
yet another cold cube of cement--this one guarded by
  the Indian army. With his chubby, guileless face, Khan makes a pretty
unlikely warrior. Yet he said that in 1990 or 1991, he
  "went across to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and then to one of the
hundreds of training camps in Afghanistan." There he
  mastered the use of Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades, and other
small arms. His expenses, he said, were paid by the
  "ISI guys" [Pakistan's intelligence service] training him. And then he
was sent back to Kashmir and over the Line of Control
  to the Indian side, where he glumly acknowledged having been "involved
in three or four encounters."

  Khan spent five years in the militant movement; he says he lost his
faith when it became clear that the campaign was doing
  little more than pitting one Kashmiri militia against another.

  Next stop: the end of a long, moldering hallway in a government
building in Srinagar, defended by a Kalashnikov propped
  against the wall of the antechamber. There, a senior functionary well
schooled in India's counterinsurgency efforts told me he
  is up against "a hostile country. Obviously Pakistan. They are trained,
they are equipped, all sorts of logistical support are
  given to them. We have seized not less than 20,000 AK-47s in the last
ten years. Along with other equipment and explosives,
  that's enough to arm five infantry divisions of any regular army." He
claimed that Pakistan's direct sponsorship of terrorism in
  Kashmir is not a question, citing "confessional statements, foreign
dead, Pakistan army and ISI documents, and the recovery
  of arms and ammo bearing Pakistani and Chinese markings."

  It would be easier to discount this as Indian propaganda (of which
there is no shortage) were not just about everyone in
  Srinagar saying the same thing. Even a Kashmiri ideologue like Azam
Inquillabi, a wispy mandarin who gave up militancy
  for politics years ago (and who congratulates himself on his "visionary
view of the world"), allows that Pakistani money has
  corrupted the liberation movement he helped begin. Asked about the
integrity of the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom)
  Conference, a powerful umbrella group for Kashmiri political
organizations (and unofficially for the militants as well), he
  replied with typical indirection, "Ask yourself, Why are we--the people
who founded this party--having to remove ourselves
  from it now?"

  Money is clearly a big part of the game here. One senior Kashmiri
journalist described a system of payoffs to the families of
  militants who fall to Indian forces: "For every Kashmiri killed,
100,000 rupees come from Hurriyat. On average, until two
  years ago, there were maybe ten killed per day." That made for about $
20,000 daily flowing in from "Kashmiri groups based
  in the U.S. and Europe, Saudi Arabia, militants crossing from
Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, even the Pakistan High
  Commission in Delhi." Ostensibly that cash was for the families of
slain mujahideen, but no one I spoke to had heard of any
  of it making it that far down the food chain.

  The hotels strung out along the edge of Dal Lake are packed not with
tourists, as they once were, but with some 1,500 or more
  local militants who have surrendered to Indian forces. These boys and
men are given shelter, a meager allowance, and, most
  important, protection against reprisals, in exchange for their not
going more than a stone's throw from where they're
  warehoused. In one of the degenerate buildings--a sandbagged gunner on
the balcony, its front yard a midden of garbage and
  cats--I met a legless man of perhaps 60, apparently condemned to wallow
on the room's only bed, cared for by an
  indeterminate number of roommates who make tea on a gas ring on the
floor. I was just beginning to interview him when
  security forces barged in and demanded to know what was going on. It
was a quick discussion.

  It is certainly no secret that the Indians have resorted to appalling
tactics in Kashmir. "I won't say there have not been
  excesses," said the senior functionary when I asked about a story I'd
heard of a militant commander being captured by the
  Special Task Force, his body later recovered with a bullet in his head
and one hand missing. "But when we are fighting a
  war, or a situation like war, definitely some niceties have to be given
the go-by."

  As for Dar, even he is now "open to a political settlement," ready to
see it all end. As I got up to leave him, I asked the "big
  fighter," as he's known in the town, whether he'd ever killed anyone.
"No, no," he replied with an involuntary smile. "That is
  not my job. Thanks be to God." He gave me a little hug and was gone.

belonging to the Special Boat
  Security Force, patrol on Dal Lake in the war-torn province.; B/W
  The Srinagar Mosque rises from the banks of Dal Lake.

Copyright 2001 Time Inc.

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