An article yesterday incorrectly said that Pakistan had voluntarily pulled troops away from Kashmir. In fact, Pakistan withdrew some troops from part of the Indian-Pakistani border outside Kashmir. (Published 10/21/1999)
Islamic guerrilla groups fighting in Indian Kashmir have welcomed the "moral, political and diplomatic support" offered by Pakistan's new military ruler for the Kashmiri independence movement, but some are demanding a commitment of weapons and money as they intensify their rebellion.
"Every leader in Pakistan says they will support us diplomatically. We need one that will support us militarily. This is not real support," said Abdullah Muntazir, spokesman for the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, one of about a dozen armed organizations fighting against Indian forces in the disputed Himalayan border region.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup last week, pledged on Sunday his unflinching support for the Kashmiri independence movement.
But in a nationally televised address, Musharraf volunteered to withdraw some troops from the India-Pakistan border and away from Kashmir and said he hoped to resume stalled negotiations with India about the future of the region. He made no mention of the Islamic guerrilla groups.
Musharraf's handling of the explosive Kashmir issue will be closely watched abroad as India's and Pakistan's friends in the West, especially the United States, judge whether the general is sincere in his pledge to try to reduce tensions.
As armed forces chief under now-deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf sent Pakistani troops and paramilitary forces into Indian Kashmir last spring, triggering a 10-week conflict with India in the remote Kargil mountains that ended in July when Sharif withdrew the troops.
The military leadership considered the withdrawal a humiliation, and it was one of the factors that apparently led to Musharraf's decision to topple Sharif on Oct. 12.
Musharraf's more conciliatory tone since assuming power has disappointed the guerrillas, who since the withdrawal from the Kargil region have increased their campaign of violent sabotage in India's Kashmir Valley.
The leaders of a guerrilla coalition here, the United Jihad Council, warned the new military government against being swayed by "internal or foreign intrigues." Muntazir said his organization strongly opposes any negotiations with India, unless the armed Kashmiri groups are allowed to participate.
"If Musharraf thinks dialogue is the solution, he is welcome to try," he said. "But we believe the only solution to Kashmir is jihad," or holy war.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, and both countries claim the region as their own. In 1990, Kashmiri guerrillas began battling security forces in Indian Kashmir, but by 1997 the insurgency had been largely crushed. Following Sharif's decision in July to pull both Pakistani military forces and guerrilla groups back from the conflict, the Pakistan-based guerrillas shifted their campaign to the Kashmir Valley and began recruiting local Kashmiris again.
"This has been a very good year for us. The entire Kashmir Valley has become a battlefield now," Syed Salahuddin, leader of both the Hizbul Mujaheddin guerrilla group and the United Jihad Council, said in a recent interview. "We believe the solution to our problems is the gun, and we will continue to the last drop of Kashmiri blood."
More than 350 people have died in guerrilla attacks in Indian Kashmir since early September, when parliamentary elections were held there over several weekends. One candidate was shot to death, others had their cars blown up by mines and numerous police stations and army patrols were assaulted with grenades or automatic weapons.
Both Muntazir's and Salahuddin's offices keep careful records of each attack--Muntazir's in a leather bound diary, Salahuddin's in a computer. They regard each incident as another step in their strategy to destabilize India, spread conservative Islam, undermine Indian democracy and ultimately free Kashmir and unite it with Pakistan.
"Our rate of actions is 100 times what it was a year ago," said Muntazir, 24, a slender and soft-spoken man, ticking off the number of police stations attacked, Indians wounded and "mujaheddin martyred," or guerrilla fighters killed. "We have no problems with weapons or manpower now, and we have met our infiltration targets. The people are as helpful to us as they were in the early 1990s. It is all due to the help of Allah," the God of Islam.
Despite their lethal agenda, both groups claim that they are sure to avoid attacking civilians. In recent weeks, there have been a series of attacks in Kashmir on movie theaters, video parlors and cable TV offices, which Islamic extremists view as indecent entertainment. But both Muntazir and Salahuddin denied their organizations were responsible.
"This is entirely against our code of conduct," said Salahuddin, 50. "We are a legitimate freedom movement, and we do not want to be stigmatized with the terrorist label."
Yet according to their chilling logic, anyone who participated in India's electoral process, which they view as a fraud, is susceptible to attack. During the campaign in Kashmir, posters were seen warning people against voting or they would face "dire consequences."
Muntazir said last week's military takeover in Pakistan is proof that "Western-imposed democracy is not the answer" for either Pakistan or India. But he added that military rule is "not the answer either. The only solution is the full implementation of Islam."
Muntazir said he did not know anything about attacks on political candidates in Kashmir, but he issued a warning for the future. "We have our own hit list," he said, listing the heads of all security forces in Indian Kashmir.
CAPTION: Syed Salahuddin, leader of guerrilla groups fighting Indian forces in Kashmir, was disappointed by Pakistani government's conciliatory tone on the region.