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December 31, 1999
Who are the Harkat-ul-Ansar?
This organisation was formed in Karachi in 1980 primarily to send volunteers to Afghanistan to help Afghan rebels fight against Soviet forces there. The headquarters of the organisation was set up at Raiwind in Punjab where it holds its annual conference. By and large it is a Sunni organisation theologically close to the Deoband school of thought and draws its inspiration and volunteers from Tabliqi Jamait, which carried on missionary and charitable work on the surface. Its original name was Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
Pakistan's Lt Gen Javed Nasir was closely associated with Tabliqi Jamait while in service. He was the director general of the ISI in 1993 and was removed from the post because the US administration made it one of its conditions for removing Pakistan from the watch list of state sponsors of international terrorism.
The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen decided to convert itself into an international network of fighters for defending the rights of Muslims after April 1992. It designated US and Israel as the main enemies of Islam. The new name selected in 1993 was Harkat-ul-Ansar. A separate group operating from Afghanistan under the name of Harkat-ul-Jihad Al-Islami was merged with it.
Afghan veterans had been sent by HUM and HUJI from Pakistan to Kashmir in 1991 and 1992. After they had functioned rather perfunctorily, the ISI decided that they better merge. They wanted better control and direction.
On December 23, 1993, the new organisation appeared in Kashmir. Here also, it was formed from the existing cadres of HUM and HUJI. Maulana Abu Tayub was named the chief, Sajjad Khan Afghani and Amjad Bilal were named the chief commander and deputy chief commander respectively.
The first reports estimated that within a few months HUA had a few thousand trained and equipped militants in the Kashmir valley and the Doda district of Jammu. A few thousands were waiting in transit camps across the LOC.
The most daring of their early operations was the abduction from the Verinag (south Kashmir) environs of Major Bhupinder Singh of the Border Roads Organisation and his jeep driver, Ashfaq. The driver was released soon. The dead body of the Major was recovered from the roadside nearby, a day later, on January 20, 1994.
In Illahi Bagh, Srinagar, an encounter lasting over 30 hours took place on January 16, 1994, with the BSF. Army help was requisitioned. BSF Inspector Hardev Singh was killed. So were four militants.
Increased vigilance on the part of the security forces enabled them to arrest HUA chief commander Sajjad Afghani from the Chattargul area of Anantnag district on February 11, 1994. With him was also arrested Mohammed Masood Azhar -- a Pak national, who is the general secretary of the Harkat-ul-Ansar.
Amjad Bilal was appointed to take Sajjad Afghani's place as chief commander but within a week another activist was made the new commander.
In August, 1994, the Harkat announced that the pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave would not be allowed to take place. This is an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a holy cave beyond Pahalgam in south-east Kashmir. However, the administration was able to conduct the yatra without any mishap. Over 45,000 pilgrims visited the holy cave. The administration mobilised various resources and frustrated attempts to disrupt the pilgrimage. This assertion of authority disheartened the militants in general and the Harkat in particular.
Jamal-ud-Din Afghani -- an Afghan national and a veteran of the Afghan war -- had been the Harkat's military advisor since its inception. He was arrested by the BSF in the winter of 1993-94.
Tourist traffic to Kashmir seemed to be reviving in a trickle after four years of almost total stoppage. Another outfit, Allah Tigers, had formally banned entry of foreign tourists into Kashmir since their "safety cannot be guaranteed." Foreigners had taken for granted that militants, being anti-Indian, they would not harm foreigners.
They were taking the risk of going out into wooded areas, especially in the mountains, for trekking and for holidays. In June, 1994, a group of British tourists had gone trekking in Aru-Liddarwat area beyond Pahalgam. Two of them David Mckay and a 14-year old boy, Kim Housego, were taken hostage by armed militants near Aru. The Harkat claimed their abduction and wanted the release of some of their colleagues in exchange for their release. There was criticism all over against the abduction of foreign tourists and appeals were made to the Harkat leadership in Kashmir and also in Pakistan. After 17 days in captivity, the two tourists were set free (on June 23, 1994) in south Kashmir by eight Harkat members in the presence of newsmen. Harkat leader Zaheer Abbas who released them said "We did not take them hostages. They had trespassed into our security area and were taken into custody. They were set free after interrogation, when we were satisfied that they were not spying."
Excerpted from Kashmir Underground by Sati Sahni, 1999, Har-Anand Publications, 520 pages, Rs 595, with the publisher's permission.
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