Reactivating jihad in Kashmir

By K.N. Pandita

Interception of satellite mobile messages by security forces in Karen had revealed a group of 30 to 40 Pakistani jihadi infiltrators speaking in Pashto, the language spoken by the Pashtuns of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa in the NWFP.

Serious discourse in official and non-official political circles in India ensued about the fallout following US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.

Both Samba and Kathua jihadi attacks of 22 September and the Karen infiltration were claimed by Pak-based jihadi organization al-Badr with operatives in Kashmir and other parts of the country. Previously also from 2000 to 2012, scores of attacks in the country were claimed by this outfit. Union Ministers debating the issue of terrorism in the Parliament, too, referred to Al Badr as frontline jihadi operatives active in Kashmir and the rest of the country.

Al Badr term is drawn from the historical battle, Jang-e Badr, fought in the days of the Prophet of Islam. Jihadis take pride in resurrecting the history and tradition of the ummah. Fourteen century-old terminology and nomenclature have come to be revived. This is testified by extensive use of Arabic names, features and narrative popularized in today’s Wahhabized Kashmir. Age-old parting term “khuda hafiz” is replaced by “Allah hafiz” because “khuda or khudaay”, originates in the Avestic “khotay” meaning the chief. Thus Allah not Khuda is the God of Wahhabis just because it is of Semitic and not of Aryan origin.

Al Badr traces its origin to 1971 when a group of Islamists of same name branching from Jamaat-i-Islami, massacred the Bengalis of the then East Pakistan. Three notorious fanatics, who directed genocide, Ashrafu’z-Zaman, Muhammd Omaru’z- Zaman and Chowdhury Moinu’d-Din, were all from erstwhile East Pakistan.

Al-Badr originally operated as a unit of the much larger and older Kashmiri group, Hizbul Mujahideen, although they later began working under Hizb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, old protégé of ISI. However, in June 1998, HM members, who would later become the leadership core of al-Badr, were persuaded to split away from the group.

The U.S. Department of State recognized the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2005. Government of India proscribed it on April 1, 2002, under the POTA.

In August 1998, following ouster of Taliban, Pak JI associates formed al-Badr to fight jihad against the US in Afghanistan. But soon the associates parted ways. and three organizations came into being, namely Jamiatu’l-Mujahideen, al-Badr Mujahideen and Hizb-i-Islami.

In August 1998, JI formed two groups, al-Badr and Jammu & Kashmir Students Liberation Front. Growing popularity of JKLF, which ISI had begun to suspect of pandering to independent Kashmir necessitated creation of al-Badr.

JI Pakistan remained in close contact with extremist elements in its Kashmir chapter and outside. A faction of these extremists under the command of Ahsan Dar formed the al-Badr but soon to be re-christened as Hizbu’l- Mujahideen

In early 1994 ISI assumed control of Kashmir insurgency. Professional mercenaries were inducted to intensify terror and violence in Kashmir. ISI created several new outfits.  Al-Badr was part of this strategy.

With ISI encouraging al-Badr to operate in Kashmir independent of Hizbul Mujahideen, it formed its command structure as this: Launching Commander – Irfan; Deputy Supreme Commander – Zahid Bhai, Publicity Chief – Jasm Bhat; and Communication in-charge – Abu Muawia.

In 1999, Pakistan-based al-Badr group threatened to target President Bill Clinton if he attacked Osama bin Laden then holed up in Afghanistan. In a written statement, the group claimed that its Commander-in-Chief Safeer Ahmad met bin Laden in Jalalabad. In response to Clinton’s call to restrain Al-Badr, Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, said that the Taliban were obstinate and difficult to convince.

The version of al-Badr specifically slated to stoke armed insurgency in Kashmir was headed by one Arifeen Bhai alias Jannisar alias Luqman. At present Bakht Zamin Khan of Dir is at the head of the outfit.

The strength of al-Badr active in Kashmir is estimated to be 300 – 400, including about 120 foreigners/mercenaries It’s headquarter is in Mansehra and its camp office is in Muzaffarabad.

In Kashmir, al-Badr cadres are active in Srinagar, Anantnag, Baramulla, Budgam, Kupwara and Poonch districts. They operate in small groups of 3-5 and are provided with latest weapons and communication gadgets. They have established contacts with the locals who assist them in stockpiling their arsenal in forest recesses of Kashmir along the LoC and are reported to have made moles in the State Police, administrative cadres and political groups.

Al-Badr had taken active part in Kargil war of 1999 under the tutelage of ISI. Bakht Zamin Khan was based in Skardu during the intrusion monitoring the fighting. The outfit is also part of Muzaffarabad–based United Jihad Council. After Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, it is the only Pakistani terrorist outfit to employ suicide squads.

The primary aim of al-Badr Mujahideen is to liberate the Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir and merge it with Pakistan. In past statements, “Mujahideen also want peace and are ready for ceasefire, but India should first declare J&K a disputed territory and handover the state to the United Nations.”  This is precisely the language spoken by the Hurriyat (G) leader Ali Shah Geelani.

It opposes negotiating with India to put an end to violence in Kashmir, stands for doing away with LoC and calls for strengthening of jihad. It also advocates ‘liberation of Muslims in the rest of India.’ Advocating sovereign Kashmir, al-Badr is critical of moderate Kashmiri organizations such as JKLF. Its current leadership is opposed to the US, Israel and the Saudi monarchy. Perceiving Kashmir as the gateway of India, it wants to liberate and take hold of this gateway.

In some fear stricken areas, they have sought to enforce orthodox Islamist lifestyles. In April 2003, al-Badr ordered women in Rajouri to quit police jobs, wear veils, give up studies after 14 years of age and not venture out without a male escort. Posters in Urdu to this effect were pasted in Thana Mandi and Darhal areas of Rajouri district. Earlier in December 2002 in a major terrorist action against women in Jammu region, three young girls, including two college students, were killed at Hasiot village in Rajouri district. The attack was carried out by three al-Badr activists led by one Zubair Gul.

Al Badr had remained inactive for some time, but has been reactivated when the cadres of HuM went depleting.

During the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, al Badr leadership secured a large arsenal, some of which was transported to various parts of Pakistan; a variety of weaponry is in the group’s possession including light machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, AK-56 assault rifles, and rocket propelled grenades

Al-Badr group has stronger recruitment networks established at Pakistani madrassas, religious schools, rather than mosques. The JI, which wields great influence over al-Badr operations, serves as a conduit for recruitment activity in madrasas. JI has influence in approximately 800 madrasas in Pakistan; it also uses its social service network to recruit for al-Badr, in similar fashion to militant groups in the Middle East. Students are invited to visit training camps during their summer and winter vacations.

In a bid to force cessation of Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir, the terrorist group targets Indian security forces and military installations in and around the region. They are also known, along with Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, for being the only group to use suicide bombings as a tactic against the Indian government. Al-Badr has been involved in score of attacks in various cities of India onwards of 2002.

This history of al-Badr and the like outfits reactivated in recent months is a powerful indicator that Pakistani army, ISI, Pakistan’s jihadi organizations together with Kashmir separatists-secessionists and ambivalent political actors in the State and elsewhere are impatiently waiting for the day of withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan so that they wholeheartedly divert their operations in Kashmir to bring about its secession from India. Will the Sultans of Delhi take it a joke or potent threat to the Indian State?

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