[Reader-list] The Kashmiri militant with his mind now on marriage

Pawan Durani pawan.durani at gmail.com
Sun Jun 6 17:14:20 IST 2010

The Kashmiri militant with his mind now on marriage

Tom Hussain, Foreign Correspondent

Last Updated: January 11. 2010 11:02PM UAE / January 11. 2010 7:02PM GMT

GUJRANWALA, PAKISTAN // A small-framed, bearded man in his thirties
named Zubair walked into a computer repair shop in the Civil Lines
suburb of Gujranwala, his eyes widening quizzically as he registered
the playful taunts of his elder brother.

“He’s got better things to do nowadays. Since he got married, it’s
been hard to prise him away from his wife. The business is in
trouble,” said Badr, directing his banter at the newlywed.

Zubair smiled shyly and joined the small group of people huddled in
conversation between stacks of ageing PCs.

Assured by the right social introductions and the promise that his
full identity would not be revealed, he introduced himself as the sole
survivor of a squad of eight militants who had in October 1993 been
besieged by Indian forces at the Muslim shrine of Hazratbal in the
disputed territory of Kashmir.

Over cups of overly sweet milky tea, Zubair described how he had
sneaked past a cordon of Indian troops and made it across the Line of
Control, the heavily fortified de facto Kashmir border, back into
Pakistani-administered territory.

“I was so close I could see the expressions on their faces. It’s a
miracle that they didn’t see me. It was as if I was invisible to
them,” he said.

However, his return was viewed with suspicion by the Pakistani
military’s intelligence agencies, which from 1988 to 2002 deployed
militants such as Zubair as strategic pawns in a barely covert
guerrilla war against their conventionally more powerful neighbour.

“They couldn’t believe he had survived unless he had been captured and
turned by the Indians,” said Salman, a school friend. “They detained
and interrogated him for weeks before being convinced his return was a
twist of fate.”

Interjecting, Badr said the brothers, both activists of the
Jama’at-i-Islami, a mainstream religious political party, had
continued to participate in the violence, operating guerrilla training
camps and getting them into Indian Kashmir until 2002, when the
Pakistani military pulled the plug.

They were unhappy about the policy U-turn, conducted under immense
pressure from the United States, after an abortive attack on the
Indian parliament by the Jaish-i-Mohammed militant group in December
2001 brought the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals to the brink of
all-out war.

“When the war reached the crucial point, the army showed it lacked the
stomach for a final showdown,” grumbled Zubair.

“Frankly, it was a dishonourable display of behaviour, and we have
lost all respect for them.”

Since then, like the thousands of other militants recruited from
eastern districts of Punjab that border Indian Kashmir, Zubair has
given up the gun and rejoined mainstream Pakistani society.

And while embittered by the army’s change of tack and he was clearly
enjoying the resumption of civilian life – especially one in which the
romance of the early stages of an arranged marriage was taking
priority over his mundane job of assembling computers from used parts
and cheap Chinese casings.

Across town, in the sizeable garden of his home in Rahwali Cantonment,
an army-administered upmarket suburb, another veteran militant was
preparing to make the jump, as Winston Churchill once said, from
“war-war” to “jaw-jaw”.

Posters on the street-facing wall of the house announced the
candidature of Shoaib, formerly a ranking recruiter for the
Lashkar-i-Taiba (LiT) militant group, in forthcoming municipal
elections. An index of his ambition was that the dates for the
elections are still to be announced.

He downplayed the posters with false humility and related how he now
had the time for a new career in politics because the intelligence
agencies had shut down the training camp in the nearby village of
Gondalanwala that he had supervised.

A subsequent visit to the village revealed a functioning office of the
Jama’at-ud-Dawah, the charitable front of LiT, banned by the United
Nations Security Council after its leaders were implicated as the
alleged masterminds of the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.

The activists who manned the office had been deprived of their weapons
and intelligence agency-supplied four-wheel drive vehicles, and were
sullen and suspicious at the appearance of the strangers taking an
interest in the walls they had daubed with jihadist rhetoric.

Shoaib, who claimed to know more about the Mumbai attacks than he was
prepared to talk about, said the “operation went beyond the interests
of the army”, which had responded angrily after bearing the brunt of
the diplomatic storm that ensued.

“The agencies were furious and ruthless, and did not spare anybody.
Suddenly, we had become the enemy. Hundreds were arrested,” he said.

Forcibly retired from militancy, his thoughts turned to the thousands
of volunteers drawn from Gujranwala and across Punjab province, most
of them children of impoverished families inducted, indoctrinated and
prepared for militant training at schools run by the Jama’at.

“You have trained more than five lakh [500,000] boys for jihad in
Kashmir,” he said, exaggerating.

“It’s not a good idea to suddenly leave them with nothing to do,
because they include a lot of strange characters, like former
criminals, who would be susceptible to other, more dangerous ideas.”

Like politics, perhaps.

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