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Commentary: Pakistan's Kashmir terrorists

By
ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor-at-Large

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- In an attempt to avoid embarrassing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and to pre-empt any Indian campaign to extend the war against terrorism to cover terrorist training camps in Pakistan, the White House announced Thursday that it was blocking the assets of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which it described as "a Kashmiri terrorist organization that has conducted a number of operations against Indian troops and civilian targets in Kashmir since 1993."

That was once over very lightly. If truth be known, the facts behind LET are identical to Osama bin Laden al Qaida's organization. The terrorists are interchangeable: Both groups were trained in al Qaida camps and some of bin Laden's Afghan Arabs have already found refuge among LET's ranks in Kashmir.

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And while the White House's new formulation calls LET "a stateless sponsor of terrorism," the group is in fact Pakistan-based and Pakistan-sanctioned. Not only do Pakistani cadres lead LET's ranks of Pakistanis, Afghans, and Arabs -- Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency oversees its terrorist operations.

LET describes itself as freedom fighters dedicated to "the liberation of Indian-occupied Kashmir." Its political cover is called Marka-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad, a fiercely anti-U.S. pseudo-religious, extremist organization.

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Headquartered in northeastern Kashmir at Muridke, outside Lahore, LET holds annual conclaves attended by serving and retired officers of ISI and the regular army, political leaders and retired scientists of Pakistan's nuclear establishment.

Its last big meeting was held in Muridke April 13 to 15. Present were retired Gen. Hameed Gul, a former head of ISI and currently "strategic adviser" to Pakistan's extremist religious parties; retired Gen. Javed Nasir, another former ISI director general; Dr. Abdul Qadir Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb; and Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, formerly with the Atomic Energy Commission and recently detained at the request of the United States for questioning about his meetings with bin Laden.

The conference passed a resolution calling on its "freedom fighters" to capture Hindu temples, destroy the idols and hoist the flag of Islam on them.

ISI was tasked with ensuring that no journalists gained access to the meeting. But some did. The Pakistani daily The News reported on April 22 that LET "operates six private military training camps in Pakistan and Kashmir where several thousand are given both military and religious education." The newspaper also reported that LET runs 2,200 recruiting offices across Pakistan and some two dozen "launching camps along the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir," which makes it "the biggest jihadi (holy warrior) network in Pakistan."

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No militant training center in Pakistan can operate without the consent of the army, now in power, and ISI, a state within a state whose chief reports only to Musharraf. Yet the government continues to be in a state of deep denial. Presidential spokesman Gen. Rashid Quereshi says, "No group operating in Kashmir has any base in Pakistan."

Musharraf is riding a terrorist tiger and is having trouble dismounting. Last May 18, Najam Sethi, the editor of Friday Times, an authoritative weekly journal, summed up the president's dilemma: "The Musharraf model seeks to covertly ally with the jihadi groups while overtly keeping the mainstream religious parties out of the power loop. This is to enhance and sustain its covert external agenda, while internally maintaining an overtly moderate anti-fundamentalist stance for the comfort of the international community whose economic support is critical to Pakistan's financial viability."

The terrorist attack against the Indian Parliament Dec. 13 was almost certainly the work of Jaish-e-Mohammed (Soldiers of the Prophet), another Pakistan-based terrorist organization. This writer found its slogans painted in towns and villages throughout the Pakistani tribal belt last week, to wit: "Jaish-e-Mohammed and al Qaida are Bubbling Blood Brothers" and "For Commando Training, Contact Jaish-e-Mohammed." The motive for the attack was most probably an attempt to disrupt the budding U.S.-Pakistani alliance and to isolate Musharraf.

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After ditching Taliban, it becomes increasingly harder for Musharraf to crack down on those who would Talibanize Pakistan. In fact, he released from detention the No. 1 religious extremist firebrand, Fazrul Rehman.

Musharraf is now caught between a rock and four hard places: Afghanistan, where the anti-Pakistani, pro-Indian Northern Alliance holds the key government positions in the new coalition under Hamid Karzai; a hostile India on the edge of retaliatory action; a disloyal ISI; and a belligerent extremist clergy.

Despite the appointment of a Musharraf loyalist as the new head of ISI when U.S. bombing started last October, the powerful agency has not been responding to the president's pro-American policies. One regional ISI general even went so far as to rattle tribal chiefs by telling them that Pakistan would be next in America's crosshairs after the defeat of Taliban. The secret organization continues to undermine Musharraf at every turn.

Indeed, the country's principal political leaders in general are fearful of ISI. They draw the initials with their fingers in the air when the subject comes out lest they be heard by ubiquitous bugs. And they whisper nothing short of a top-to-bottom reform of ISI, followed by accountability to a yet-to-be-created national security council of civilian and military leaders, will bring the agency back to its proper place in the body politic.

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The Taliban infrastructure in Pakistan emerged unscathed from the group's defeat in Afghanistan. While ISI is officially cooperating with the United Staes in hunting down the Taliban's deposed leaders, senior Taliban officials are now resting comfortably in their second homes in Quetta and Peshawar, the two frontier towns where they had parked their families when the bombing started. One has even given an interview to a British newspaper. Another has given a "religious lecture" at the madrassa -- the "University for the Education of Truth" -- where he graduated in the town of Khattak. ISI is doubtless aware of these activities. But is Musharraf?

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