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Kashmir militants are a danger to world peace

Kashmir militants are a danger to world peace

Author: Richard M Bennett
Publication: Rediff.com
Date: August 21, 2006
URL: http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/aug/21guest.htm

The tortured land of Kashmir has been the source of political strife and military conflict between Pakistan and India for the best part of six decades, but only Pakistan can genuinely stand accused of using this as an excuse for both supporting terrorism and exporting it abroad.

Pakistan's infamous Inter-Service Intelligence agency has not only armed and trained generations of Islamic extremists, but is also believed to have directed many of their terrorist attacks both within the disputed territory and in the crowded streets of India's major cities.

The ISI is itself the portage of the CIA and a child of an even larger worldwide political conflict; the Cold War. Created in the US agency's image, it has been regularly used to great effect in this troubled region. China, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, Tibet and Sri Lanka have all seen a considerable amount of intelligence activity and support for terrorist operations by the ISI.

Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion of 1979 became a major theatre of operation. The Al Qaeda and in particular the Taliban benefited hugely from ISI's armed support. Indeed there are many who would argue that despite repeated denials by President Musharraf, the Taliban's current military revival has much to do with the ISI's continued clandestine support.

It is a bitter irony that Pakistan has achieved a position of some importance in the US-led coalition by providing bases and support for the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan, while on the other hand still offering aid to those same terrorists.

Pakistan's perceived long term self-interest is more than sufficient for it to covertly sanction actions that directly led to the deaths of US, UK and NATO soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Whether this is with the full approval of the government in Islamabad or simply that the ISI remains a law unto themselves is a matter open to question.

This despite repeated claims by ministers that the ISI has been cleansed of its more extreme officers and no longer provides support for terrorist or insurgent movements.

There is a widely held belief that Pakistani intelligence remains a virtual State within a State. It not only provides logistic support and training for militants, the ISI also initiates and directs terrorist operations. Whether still in close co-operation with the CIA is yet again open to question.

This casts grave doubt over Pakistan's sudden appearance as a 'good guy' and provider of vital intelligence directly linked to the alleged airline bomb plot currently causing such massive disruption at British airports. It has been suggested that the rationale behind Islamabad's actions is simply that the alleged plotters were not part of one of the ISI's networks and therefore expendable.

It has a considerable diplomatic advantage in helping to deflect continuing international suspicion about the ISI's links with Islamic terrorism and provides a major distraction from the real threat posed to Western countries by these extremists.

Significantly a high percentage of the Pakistani immigrants to Britain have come from Northern Pakistan and Kashmir. The ISI is known to maintain important contacts within the immigrant community and has successfully run a number of intelligence cells in British cities. It would therefore be surprising if the ISI were to expose any terrorist group directly linked to their operations.

If however it was simply a copy-cat group, with the same Islamist ambitions, but no direct links with Al Qaeda or any of the ISI supported Kashmir groups, then they could indeed be handed to MI5 with impunity.

It has been suggested by some Pakistani intelligence sources that those presently detained in the UK on suspicion of terrorist activity are merely amateurs with little skill or sufficient know-how to have actually carried out the alleged plan to destroy a number of US-bound airliners.

That of course would fit in nicely with the idea that they were seen as no more than a nuisance by ISI.

This 'friendly action' allowed the government in Islamabad to gain significant international approval of what was taken as a sign of a greater determination to improve counter-terrorism co-operation.

Pakistan undoubtedly deserves to be placed high on the list of those guilty of State sponsorship of terrorism along with Syria and Iran. Indeed, Pakistan makes use of the Kashmir militants in much the same way as Iran uses the Hezbollah: as a useful political bargaining chip and to fight a proxy-war against a more powerful neighbour.

In the aftermath of 9/11 Musharraf vowed to rid his country of Islamic extremists who for years had relied on clandestine financial and military support from the army. This statement undoubtedly shook the Islamist networks badly and soon over 2,000 militants were detained, including several prominent hard-line clerics and militant leaders.

While delighting Washington and calming India's anger at what they had for years claimed to be the Pakistani State's secret sponsorship of the extreme Islamist campaign in Kashmir, the militant organizations were not to worry for too long about Musharraf's true intentions.

Promises of a crackdown on Islamist groups and the support for their beliefs inside the Army and ISI have simply not been kept. Most of the militants were soon released without charge and significantly among them were the heads of groups listed as terrorist organisations by both Britain and the US.

Islamic militants and anti-American officers are still in senior positions within the intelligence and security community, while raising funds to send young Muslim fighters to attack India still takes place openly throughout Pakistan.

The ISI, IB, police and the Army are simply not being ordered to take serious action to prevent the supply of arms, terrorist training or the penetration of the border areas by militant groups.

The ISI has invested a massive amount of effort and prestige in supporting Kashmir militant organizations over many decades.

A Lashkar-e-Tayiba fundraiser in 2002 told The Guardian newspaper: 'Training is under way in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and we are not under pressure from any government agency to stop,' adding, 'When this training is going on do you think these agencies are not aware? Of course they are.'

'Every jihadi has links with ISI,' a Pakistan military source reportedly told the same newspaper. 'You cannot be a jihadi without having links with the ISI.'

Many Army officers, even some of those in senior positions, are still deeply sympathetic to the Kashmir militants and their cause. Some openly claim the conflict in Kashmir is a legitimate jihad. This view is almost certainly well reflected in the intelligence and security services.

General Musharraf is faced by a considerable dilemma. He needs to balance maintaining US and Western support for his regime, by playing a useful part in the War on Terrorism, against the instinctive support that his military, intelligence and civilian population have for Islamist ideals.

Musharraf is unlikely to be able to offer Pakistan a diplomatic solution for Kashmir, let alone a political victory. The only alternatives he appears to be willing to consider are to maintain a guerrilla war in Kashmir and the covert use of terrorism against India.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated recently: "Unless Pakistan takes concrete steps to implement the assurances it has given to prevent cross-border terrorism against India from any territory within its control, public opinion in India, which has supported the peace process, will be undermined".

India's patience must be wearing paper thin with the ongoing conflict in Kashmir and indeed with continuing Islamist terrorist attacks throughout the country and Pakistan's military and ISI support for the militants.

The assurances of a lame-duck President in Islamabad who has time and again proved incapable of keeping his promises to crack down on Islamic militancy particularly infuriate the Indian government.

The Islamic militants in Kashmir, like the Hezbollah in Lebanon, are an undoubted danger to world peace. It is not only India and Israel that may well be forced to take decisive military action against these terrorists and the nations that support them.

The US, UK and United Nations must also stand up to Islamist extremism and be prepared to take whatever action needed to protect the free world against the racial hatred and religious intolerance rife in Iran and Pakistan in particular.

If they fail to do so then both the Middle East and South Asia will be at even greater risk of future conflicts.

Any one of which could end up with the nightmare use of nuclear weapons.

Richard M Bennett is a well-known intelligence and military analyst based in the United Kingdom.

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