- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2005

NEW DELHI — The killing last month of a Hindu militant and the arrests of two others are raising doubts about the government’s assertion that the bloody insurgency in Kashmir is being fought simply in the interests of Islamic militancy.

Indian forces killed Uttam Singh, 23, and three Muslim jihadis on Aug. 19. The night-long gunbattle came during an attempt by a group of militants to kill or abduct an Indian Muslim soldier from his house in the border region of Kashmir. Police later discovered that Mr. Singh, alias Saifullah, was one of two Hindu sector commanders in Hizbul-Kashmir, a rebel group that seeks to include all of Kashmir in Pakistan.

Police said that five years ago, Mr. Singh crossed into Pakistan, where he was trained in the use of arms and explosives. In 2003, he returned to India and was made commander of his group in Kashmir’s southern Doda region, leading about 120 militants, including seven Hindus.

Just three days after his death, police announced the capture in New Delhi of Virender Singh, a 25-year-old Hindu. Police said he was a Hizbul operative in charge of supplying arms and funds to his jihadi colleagues on missions across the country.

On Aug. 24, Hindu Hizbul militant Chattar Singh was arrested in Doda while carrying a pistol and grenades.

A senior officer at the Defense Ministry in New Delhi subsequently acknowledged that four other Hindu militants had been killed fighting alongside the Kashmiri jihadis in the past three years.

However, he would not accept the notion they might have been willing combatants.

“We have information that about a dozen Hindu militants are still active in Kashmir. We believe they were all forced to join militancy at gunpoint,” the officer said.

“Being Hindus, they could never subscribe to the religious or political faith of the jihadis who are fighting for Kashmir’s separation from Hindu-majority India.”

At least 45,000 people have died in a struggle that India’s Hindu political leaders say is purely religious in nature, but that many former and present militant leaders describe as political.

“Fifteen years ago — when we started the movement against Indian occupation in Kashmir — during curfew, our cadres carried rice and vegetables first to the Hindus in Srinagar, before Muslims got them,” said Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, the first militant group to fight New Delhi’s rule in the region.

Some 125,000 people have fled the Kashmir Valley since the insurgency began in 1989, but Mr. Malik said that “more than 6,000 Muslim families, too, ran away from the valley fearing the guns of the militants. Falsely, we were branded communal and anti-Hindu.”

Shakeel Wani, a former Hizbul militant who lost an eye while training at a camp in Pakistan and now sells fruits in Srinagar, said that at least 100 Hindu Kashmiri boys had fought alongside the Muslim jihadis.

“They embraced Islam and touched the Koran before they touched an AK-47 [rifle]. You cannot call them Hindus anymore. Despite being Hindu, on jihadi missions here often they fight more fiercely than their Muslim counterparts, probably to prove their loyalty,” he said.

Suresh Yadav, an Indian Border Security Force battalion commander who served in Kashmir for three years, said poverty — caused in part by the insurgency itself — was the key factor behind young Hindus joining the militants.

“Hindu boys from poverty-stricken families in the border districts have joined the Islamic rebel groups who offer good [pay] packages to them while they fight, and also to their families in case of their deaths,” he said.

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