- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

SRINIGAR, India Shakeel was just 16 when with about a dozen boys his age he walked over to the other side.
"A group of young men were passing by our small fruit shop and I was impressed to see them. They looked very smart with their AK-47s. They said they were not afraid of anyone except Allah. I was so impressed by them that I felt proud to say 'yes' when those brothers gave me 'the call.'"
In the last 15 years, thousands of young men like Shakeel in Indian Kashmir have crossed the Line of Control that divides disputed Kashmir to be trained in guns and explosives in Pakistan. Then they are sent back to India with orders to target Indian forces to free Muslim-majority Kashmir from Hindu-majority India.
In Pakistan-administered Kashmir while in training, Shakeel lost an eye to shrapnel and was considered unfit to take part in jihad, or holy war. He was given some money by his Pakistan-based Islamic militant group and sent back to his village in India-administered Kashmir.
Nine years later, he is still bothered by the Indian forces, as well as by the Islamic militants. Indian army personnel in the area believe he is an agent of the militants, and the latter suspect him of being an informer on the payroll of the Indian forces.
Recently, militants picked up Shakeel and threatened to kill him if he did not distance himself from the Indian forces.
"I am caught in a dilemma. I do not know how long I have to live with this forced identity of a double agent," said Shakeel, 26, who runs a small fruit shop near an army base 50 miles from Srinagar.
"Once as ordered by our command, I supported the accession of all of Kashmir to Pakistan. But now I do not want my village to join Pakistan, where even Muslims fight among themselves, violence is a commonplace and corruption is rampant. We the Kashmiris are more clean and even better as Muslims. We rather support the independence of all Kashmir."
In fact, most Kashmiris share Shakeel's sentiments. They want Pakistani and Indian Kashmir to be unified into a single sovereign nation free from India and Pakistan.
In the first stage of the armed struggle during the late 1980s, the guerrillas were almost entirely indigenous Kashmiris fighting under the banner of secular independence movements. But by the mid-1990s, the Indian Army had crippled those groups. Some were reportedly eliminated by Pakistani agents because they did not support Kashmir's accession to Pakistan.
In their place arose a new crop of combatants, covertly supported by Pakistan, who embraced Islamic fundamentalism and global jihad and sought to annex Indian Kashmir to Pakistan.
In Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir where he is based, Syed Salahuddin, chief of the United Jihad Council (UJC) a conglomerate of militant groups fighting in Kashmir recently said only armed struggle could settle the conflict.
Mohammed Hamza, a spokesman for Al-Badr Mujahideen, a member of the UJC, said: "Kashmir cannot be solved through talks. Only jihad will settle Kashmir, and we will prove it."
The scars of the last 13 years of fighting run deep in Kashmiri society. Since the insurgency began, some 30,000 lives have been cut short and thousands of families have lost husbands, sons and fathers. Thousands of Hindus and also some Muslims have left the Kashmir Valley, fearing persecution by militants.
In addition to attacking security forces, militants also target civilians who do not support their jihad.
How volatile Kashmir has become was made clear by a recent intelligence report prepared by the Srinagar unit of the Border Security Force (BSF). In 100 days ended Aug. 10, there were 103 attacks by militants in Kashmir. The report attributed all of them to pro-Pakistan Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed fighters.
India has been charging that Pakistan sponsors cross-border terrorism into India and that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf does nothing to restrain the militants. Pakistan denies this, saying it only gives the militants moral and political support.
The Indian army and other intelligence officials insist that al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and other jihadist groups have operational ties. At the peak of this spring's India-Pakistan border tension, India seriously feared that a hidden army of jihadi extremists working behind the lines in Kashmir would hamper its fighting ability in the event of war.
Tirtha Acharya, a deputy commander with the BSF in Srinagar, said that unless Pakistan sincerely takes steps to rein in the Pakistan-based jihadis, it is impossible for India to seal the 1,800-mile-long India-Pakistan border.
"Even one month after President Musharraf promised to take necessary steps, Islamic militants are still infiltrating into India regularly. And, almost every day there is a confrontation between security forces and the militants," Mr. Acharya said.
Fearing attack by pro-Pakistan militants, most Kashmiris do not say openly they believe that armed struggle cannot "liberate Kashmir from India" and that a tripartite dialogue among India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leaders is the only way to settle the dispute.
"We Kashmiris are pawns in a game of chess between two countries. Nobody cares for our lives and rights. India and Pakistan need the land of Kashmir, not the Kashmiris," opined Nissar Wani, 65, a retired government schoolteacher in Srinagar.
For centuries, Kashmir was known as "the Eden of the East" and "the Switzerland of Asia."
Today, 55 years after it was the cause of the first war between India and Pakistan, the Himalayan state remains a bone of contention between the two nuclear-armed powers. But though the Kashmir dispute has persisted since 1947, the state itself remained the favorite destination of Indian tourists until 1989, when terrorist attacks began.
Tourism is still the mainstay for most Kashmiris in the valley. But because of the insurgency, tourism and allied industries are in shambles.
In 1995, when pro-Pakistan jihadis had just succeeded in eliminating the pro-independence militants, six Western tourists were kidnapped in Kashmir. One of them, an American, escaped; another, a Norwegian, was beheaded. The fate of the other four an American, a German and two Britons is still unknown, though all are believed to have been killed by the Islamic militants.
Kashmiris in the tourism industry curse the insurgents for killing their business and snatching their livelihood, but they cannot speak up for fear of being targeted by militants.
"From 1989, as soon as the militancy surfaced in this valley, we started losing tourists," complained Ghulam Rasool, 65, sitting on his houseboat on Srinagar's picturesque Lake Dal.
"For 13 long years, we have been in the doldrums. Our own Kashmiri militants were never against foreign or Indian tourists, but Pakistani militants do not like the presence of tourists in the valley."
In 1988, each room on Mr. Rasool's houseboat was rented to tourists at 800 to 1,200 rupees roughly $16 to $24 per day and almost all remained occupied during the peak season. Fourteen years later, chance tourists can get a room for 200 rupees $4 a day.
"Pakistan wants Kashmir as its own, and Pakistani jihadis are fighting for it," said Altaf Khan, who operates a boat on Lake Dal. "Most Kashmiris prefer an independent Kashmir. And India can never give up Kashmir, its proud possession.
"The fate of Kashmir will not be resolved easily, and tension in Kashmir will not subside soon. This means militancy will continue, and we have to keep on starving," Mr. Khan concluded.

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