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    South Asia
     Jul 13, 2010
Al-Qaeda aims to cash in on Kashmir
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan-sponsored proxy operations that were largely abandoned several years ago have been revived at both the political level and on the armed insurgency front in Indian-administered Kashmir.

For al-Qaeda, watching from Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, this provides an opportunity for which it has waited a long time - to hijack Pakistan's "bleed India" operations for its own cause, that is, to pull India into the region's war theater.

The struggle for the right of self-determination in Indian-administered Kashmir, which died down following Pakistan's crackdown on Kashmiri militant groups under American pressure


from 2002 onwards, has flared again.

Over the past four weeks, more than 15 people have died in clashes between the local Muslim Kashmiri population and police and paramilitary soldiers, mostly in Srinagar, the summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Last week, for the first time ever, the army was sent into Srinagar.

Sources who spoke to Asia Times Online say that two militant organizations - al-Badr led by Bakht Zameen Khan and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, whose resources were largely depleted up until 2008 - are involved in the unrest. They have sent people across the Line of Control that separates the Pakistan-administered and Indian-administered Kashmirs.

This marks the second Kashmiri intifada - the first began in 1989 and resulted in more than a decade of some of the worst violence South Asia has seen and on several occasions brought India and Pakistan to the point of war - fighting did break out briefly at Kargil in 1999.

Speaking to Asia Times Online, a senior Western diplomat commented, "A water dispute is the main bone of contention between the two countries. Although we have found that Pakistan's water problem is the result of internal mismanagement and has nothing to do with Indian intrigues as projected by Pakistan, jihadis are now exploiting the issue for recruitment and wrongfully projecting that if India is not controlled, the whole of Pakistan will be turned into a desert."

The dispute centers on the Neelum River that flows from Indian-administered Kashmir into Pakistan. Under pressure from the US to reduce tensions because their rivalry spills over into Afghanistan and complicates efforts to bring peace there, India and Pakistan are scheduled this week to discuss the appointment of a panel of neutral experts. They will consider India's plans to dam the river for a 330-megawatt hydro-electric power project.

Al-Qaeda watches on
By the standards of the long-running conflict in Kashmir, the latest flare-up is relatively low key, involving mostly street protests, in contrast to the bloody militant attacks of previous years.

For al-Qaeda, though, this is a big moment in terms of its Ghazwai-e-Hind, the Prophet Mohammad's promised end-of-time battle for the conquest of India.

Al-Qaeda decided to start its Ghazwa-e-Hind operations by claiming responsibility for an attack on February 13 this year in which a bomb exploded at the German Bakery in the city of Pune, Maharashtra state, killing 17 people and injuring at least 60.

However, at the 11th hour the decision was shelved and responsibility was claimed by a pseudo organization called Laskhar-e-Taiba al-Alami. Later, al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (now killed) announced in a video message that the attack had been carried out by commander Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade, which is assigned for al-Qaeda's India operations. A few days after the Pune attack, Kashmiri sent an exclusive e-mail message to Asia Times Online warning that more attacks would be carried out in India. (See Al-Qaeda chief delivers a warning February 13, 2010.)

According to well-placed sources in al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda sees the unrest in Kashmir as a "god-gifted" opportunity to steal the Kashmiri insurgency from its Pakistani handlers and use it for its Ghazwa-e-Hind operations. These sources say the next operation will be in the Indian capital New Delhi in October during the Commonwealth Games.

"Al-Qaeda will take responsibility for these attacks and Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri [al-Qaeda's number two] will release a video message on the subject," one source said.

The networks of the Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (HuJI - Movement of Islamic Holy War) will provide logistical support. The al-Qaeda-linked HuJI's original mission was to set up Islamic rule in Bangladesh, but its ambitions and geographical spread now cover much of South Asia.

Inside India, according to the sources, the state of Uttar Pradesh will be al-Qaeda's rendezvous point. Here it will work with groups such as breakaway factions of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). SIMI was formed in the state in the late 1970s for the "liberation of India" from Western materialistic cultural influence and to convert the Muslim society to live according to Muslim codes of conduct.

Asia Times Online understands that al-Qaeda's aim is to start a pattern of terror attacks that will initiate a low-intensity insurgency in India's heartlands, including the Kashmir struggle, rather than stand-alone terror attacks.

In the bigger picture, according to the sources, the goal is to sabotage all US efforts to create peace in the region (especially Afghanistan) and draw India and Pakistan into a crisis situation.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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