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Why are the jihadis targeting children?
April 26, 2004
Part I: Beware of Musharraf!
Killing and Coercion in Elections
In much of Kashmir now, if you are an openly pro-India person or politician, your life is under constant threat. Currently, the main focus of Pakistani-backed terrorists seems to be the removal of all support for the election. They tried the same strategy unsuccessfully in the assembly election of 2002, when Pakistan killed 800 civilians in J&K. In that year, 41 political workers were killed in J&K just during September, with about 99 pro-India political workers meeting their deaths during the whole year. As Praveen Swami and other analysts tell us – expect the same kinds of killings as we saw in 2002 – that year our armies were facing off each other and this year some of us are kissing Pakistani flags.
The regularity with which these headlines keep coming could put us to sleep, had they not been so lethal for our people.
So just in the last week, we saw:
► April 11: Terrorists kill PDP activist, attack Cong rally in J&K -- Hindustan Times
► April 14: Another attack on J&K minister's rally; 1 killed -- Hindustan Times
► April 17: One soldier was killed and two others injured in the foiled fidayeen attack at the Government Middle School, Kreeri near Pattan, which is being used as a polling station for the April 20 polls, official sources said.' -- Daily Excelsior
► April 19: Three CPI(M) activists, campaigning for party candidate Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, were on Monday injured when terrorists attacked them with a grenade in Anantnag district -- Hindustan Times
► April 19: Three blasts took place in Kashmir valley and six persons, including two police personnel, sustained injuries on the eve of the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections today. -- Daily Excelsior
► April 20: Terrorists attack 11 booths in Baramulla; 2 killed, many injured -- Hindustan Times
► April 20: Couple shot dead, children injured by terrorists in Srinagar -- Hindustan Times
► April 23: Four Border Security Force jawans have been injured in a militant attack on the Pradesh Congress Committee office in Lal Chowk, Srinagar -- rediff.com
► April 25: Militants (terrorists) attack Srinagar police station -- NDTV.com
Of course, then we had this delightfully subtle gesture sent to us by Pakistanis desperate to stop the elections in J&K:
'Terrorists chop off the ears of two village elders in Jammu and Kashmir to warn people against voting in the general election…terrorists abducted village elders Hajji Amma Kala and Missruddin from Kalwa village late Tuesday evening and chopped off their ears after severely beating them. The terrorists then took the elders back to Kalwa and showed their chopped ears to terrified residents, warning they could face a worse fate if they participated in polls to the Udhampur Lok Sabha seat to be held May 10, police officials said. The guerrillas also took away with them election material of different political parties, including posters' -- April 21, HT
Leaders have not been spared either. On February 28, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was attacked with rifle grenades at a rally – he escaped unhurt, but a young girl was needlessly killed. Expressing no sorrow at the girl's death, Syed Mustafa, the Budgam commander of the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, proudly proclaimed responsibility: 'We have eliminated several PDP activists. Now Mufti is our target. He escaped yesterday but we will not spare him.'
Such threats cannot be taken lightly. On March 29, PDP President Mehbooba Mufti escaped a terrorist attack as she toured Anantnag. On April 19, ex-CM Farooq Abdullah survived a grenade attack in Badgam district. The attack on Mukhtar Bhat, vice-president of the youth Janata Dal in Srinagar, was even more brazen. According to HT, he was dragged out of his home and shot to death, on March 19.
The on-going peace talks have not stopped the spree of killing off politicians who believe in the electoral process. In fact, on each day of the historic talks in February, Pakistan executed a senior political activist in Kashmir. These killings are not random acts, since killing a politician usually implies enough planning neutralize the ever-present security guards. As Alert net reported:
'Suspected Muslim rebels shot dead a second activist from Indian Kashmir's ruling party, police said on Tuesday, as Indian and Pakistani officials met to thrash out an agenda for a peace process. The People's Democratic Party official, Ali Mohammad Bhat, was killed in an attack by three gunmen at his home just west of the main city of Srinagar, late on Monday, hours after another PDP activist and two policemen were killed in Srinagar -- February 17, 2004
Continuing in the same vein, on April 8 a shadow group of the Lashkar-e-Tayi9ba set off a blast right in the midst of a large civilian crowd at one of Mehbooba's election meetings, killing at least 11 people and injuring 50 odd. Please note -- this came a day after Indian cricketers helped facilitate the free treatment of a number of Pakistani children in India -- a nice quid pro quo.
Killing is, however, not the only form of coercion being practiced. In 2002, in Mendhar and Surankote, Pakistani terrorists forced certain communities not to vote -- not in an effort to kill off the election process, but to help elect certain (pro-Pakistani) candidates. This time, at least one Pakistani has gone even further -- Zulfikar Ali Rahat, a Pakistani citizen, posing as a Karnataka college professor, reportedly filed his papers for the Jammu-Poonch Lok Sabha seat to run as a candidate for the Samajwadi Janata Party. It is also well known that 'posters were put up in several parts of southern Kashmir by the Hizb-ul-Mujaheddin (HM), for example, asking voters to oppose the National Conference.' This time too voters, in Budgam, for example, have already been threatened to boycott the Lok Sabha polls. The effort is on to skew the elections towards pro-Pakistani elements, by hook or crook.
A couple of days ago, the Jaish-e-Mohammed issued a 'code of conduct' to be followed by Kashmir's civilians -- the choice is between death and ignoring the polls. Worth repeating here, is the intention behind much of this as proclaimed by the very terrorists accepting responsibility for these attacks: 'We have received directions from JeM high command to target all pro-India people in the valley.' Nothing could be clearer than that, could it?
The only question that remains is -- who exactly is high command??
It's actually not very difficult to figure that out. Even though many opinion makers tell us that the Pakistani army has lost control over the terrorists committing mayhem in Kashmir, the facts on the ground are really quite different. If we ignore temporarily the loud declarations of some of the Indian opinion makers, who've never visited a terror camp in PoK or done lunch with an ISI general, and turn instead to Pakistani journalists who actually have -- maybe we'll get a clearer picture. Well known Pakistani journalist, Saleem Shehzad told us a few weeks ago, about the direct and close control of the ISI and Pakistani army over these terrorists:
'First-hand observations by this correspondent in Azad Kashmir camps confirm that the jihadi outfits are in fact paramilitary troops. Each unit has a commander who reports to an army officer. Each jihadi commander is given funds and the brief to devise a strategy for his unit's combat operations. The commanders have laptop computers in which they store their data, from which they generate summaries of their operations for their military officers. The summaries include targets, operations and results. The jihadi commanders and army field officers always coordinate their efforts. Pro-jihadi clerics, like Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, are used to deliver sermons, and they are not allowed to utter a single word more than the topic on which they have been told to speak.'
The level of direct control of the ISI which persists till today, allows them to fine-tune the killings as and when required. In fact, wireless control stations from Pakistan have for the last several weeks [Hindu, April 7], been passing on the message to field units (reads terrorist groups) that 'the enemy is preparing for the elections, and you have to do something… the need (is) to pressure political workers, and to target campaign processions and political rallies.' So, the election killings are being well-co-ordinated.
► Peace Dividend #3 -- Targeted killings of pro-Indian civilians and politicians in the Kashmir valley is in full-swing under the steady guidance of the ISI; expect a very bloody Lok Sabha polls, in which many hundreds of civilians die and dozens of politicians lose their lives
Targeted attacks on children
We've already seen that the killing has never really stopped. As K P S Gill tells us 'over the winter months of October 2003 through March 2004, there has been an average of more than 165 terrorism-related fatalities per month in J&K.' Sure does not give me the warm fuzzies, yet. But, the frightening thing is that children have become specific targets of these Pakistani terrorists.
Some of the stories are truly heart-rending. Consider just a three-day period from March 22-24. On March 22, 5-year-old Zahida and her 4-year-old brother were executed by the Lashkar in Doda, just because her parents were hesitant to entertain the Pakistanis. While on March 24, 15-year-old Arifa Begum was blown up in Rajouri. The data on sites like satp.org will show the regularity of such events -- but just the 3-day period that I closely observed was nothing short of gruesome.
Please note -- none of this is incidental violence -- when terrorists behead the 8-year-old daughter of a police officer, as they just did in Baramulla [NewsIndpress.com, April 25], there's nothing incidental about it -- it is part of a planned, targeted operation to intimidate and coerce.
Even more distasteful is the trend that the Hindu tells us about: 'Terrorists are increasingly resorting to recruitment of children belonging to all age groups in the hills of Udhampur and are using them for their operations against the security forces.' Particularly poignant is the rather representative story of Abdul Gafoor.
'About six months ago, Gafoor's father, Saki Mohammad, was killed by terrorists for his alleged links with the army and his mother Malika, was kidnapped. Nothing has been heard about her since (no prizes for guessing here).
On September 15 last year, Abdul Gafoor, who has passed second standard, was kidnapped by terrorists from his residence at Parankot in Udhampur. Gafoor roamed with the Hizb militants in the thick forests of Pakikot, Narla and Larki in the hilly belt of Udhampur. Gafoor says, "The first two months, I was made to wash utensils and carry the load of the terrorists as they moved from one village to another. Then I was trained in the use of AK-47 rifles and later on to handle explosives".'
Apparently the boy was also being used in dangerous spying activities and as a probable human shield in attacks on army patrol parties. Finally, the young lad managed to escape and was picked up by the police. Unfortunately, Gafoor's grandfather had passed away in the meanwhile and he is now being supported by his only living relative -- an aged grandmother.
But, this is not a singular story -- a couple of months ago, a few young Indian boys managed to escape such indoctrination camps in PoK and crossed back home. Alarmed at the level of such kidnappings of young kids, the army has stepped up recovery and rehabilitation drives. I wish the story would end here -- but there is unfortunately a much more sordid part to this forced kidnapping story that is beginning to emerge.
A number of the foreign and Pakistani terrorists carry AIDS. As the Daily Excelsior tells us, 'a large number of the foreign terrorists are former inmates of Pakistani jails where they were offered a chance to 'redeem' themselves by enrolling for the 'jihad' in Kashmir. Their highly promiscuous behavior to combat stress unfortunately has contributed to the spread of the HIV infection.'
The result is an AIDS epidemic amongst a population that would normally never be at risk. This infection is now being discovered by the army in medical camps they'd organized in far-flung areas of Kashmir. Once again, the exploitation of children is not surprising to find, even though it is nauseating, as the report goes on to tell us:
'There were nine clear cut cases of young girls carrying the HIV virus in the Rajouri district. Discreet inquiries revealed that the foreign terrorists had been exploiting them. There were even a large number of young boys carrying this dreaded infection. It is suspected that in their case forced homosexual contact with the foreign ultras was the causative factor, the defence ministry spokesman said.'
The AIDS epidemic in Kashmir, especially amongst these children and young people is reaching frightening proportions -- a new dimension to the on-going Pakistani peace efforts.
This specific targeting of children has clearly gone up in the recent years, for multiple reasons.
► First, unlike, say a decade ago, when only 5% of the terrorists were Pakistanis, today most of the terrorists, upwards of 70%, are Pakistanis and other foreigners. These terrorists have no sympathies for the local people and are often actually vicious criminals let out of jails in Pakistan, solely for the purpose of killing in India.
► Second, the number of adult Kashmiri terrorists, who have been steadily surrendering themselves and rejoining mainstream life has gone up, thanks to government policies. This means that the only sources of blood fodder left are kids who undergo decades of deep indoctrination or know no other way of life.
► Third, as R Prasannan tells us, after Kargil, the army has got into the business of acquiring much better toys for its infantry -- 'after years of neglect, during which capital purchases meant only big-ticket tanks and artillery guns, the infantryman is getting 'empowered.' Field battle equipment, like the Israeli-designed and Bharat Electronics-assembled battlefield surveillance radar, are also effectively used in non-conventional situations like counter-insurgency. "It can pick up a walking man from 15 km, a group of men from 18 km and a moving helicopter 25 km away," said a battalion commander.' Not surprisingly, the terrorists are going after soft targets like civilians and using shields.
Musharraf and his terrorist cohorts still claim that nothing that is happening in Kashmir can be classified as terrorism. 'In Kashmir there is a freedom struggle going on…We don't think there is any terrorism going on there,' he proclaims. Nice moral clarity, I have to admit. I wonder if he would feel the same way if the nationalistic Sindhis or Balochs targeted the children of Pakistani army generals!!
► Peace Dividend #4 -- Targeted killings of children, use of children as shields and their sexual abuse has increased, thanks to increasing Pakistani content amongst terrorists and improved Indian security tools. All this, of course, is morally defended in the name of a freedom struggle at all levels in Pakistan.
Part III: The threat in the North East
Arindam Banerji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org