Militant dominated districts in Kashmir and terrorist training camps in Pakistan

Maqbool Bhat: The First Martyr

Maqbool Bhat was born into a peasant family in Jammu and Kashmir’s Trehgam village in 1938. It has been reported certain events seemed to have spurred a young Bhat onto the path he was to later take in life. In 1945-46, the jagirdar or feudal lord issued an order to raid his village as the peasants had failed to pay their dues following a dismal harvest. The villagers pleaded with the jagirdar to spare them but he was unrelenting. When all else failed and the jagirdar was about to leave after ordering his men to forcefully collect grains, the village children were told to lie down in front of his motorcar. The villagers begged the jagirdar either to “stop the further collection of grains or crush the starved and naked children under his car.” Bhat had happened to be one of those children.

While Bhat was doing his BA, he became the head of the student wing of the Plebiscite Front, a separatist group seeking an independent Kashmir. On April 29, 1958, Sheikh Abdullah was arrested again and there was a crackdown on separatist groups in Kashmir. Maqbool, to evade arrest, ran across the border to Pakistan, where he would get an MA degree, marry twice and enter politics.

On April 25, 1965, Bhat and his brothers in arms founded the Jammu Kashmir Plebiscite Front (JKPF) in PoK, with Bhat officiating as its public secretary. JKPF was the first pro-Kashmir political outfit which carried weightage in PoK, and with time, several pro-independence groups sprung out of it. But he soon became aware that mere political separatism had its limitations. So in 1977, he, along with Amanullah Khan, founded the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). This organisation aimed to lead an armed struggle from the front.

In a bid to internationalise the Kashmir conflict, he masterminded the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane on January 30, 1971. Flight 101 ‘Ganga,’  (which was  flying from Srinagar to Jammu) was hijacked to Lahore, its passengers and crew released, and then subsequently blown up. This incident led New Delhi to promptly issue a ban on all Pakistani flights operating within the Indian airspace. The move later on directly impeded Pakistan’s efforts during the 1971 war when Pakistani military was unable to fly its troops into East Pakistan. At the end of the war, Pakistan lay split in half, and the new nation state of Bangladesh came into being. [1]

Maqbool moved back to J&K in 1976 and within a few weeks he was captured by the Indian forces. In 1978, the Supreme Court restored a death sentence previously declared against him and he was moved to Tihar Jail.

In early February 1984, the Assistant Commissioner of the Indian Consulate in Birmingham, England, Ravinder Mhatre, was kidnapped and a demand of one million pounds and the release of Maqbool Bhat along with nine other Kashmiris within 24 hours was placed. This demand was not met as there was simply not enough time to react and Mhatre was assassinated. As a reaction, India hanged Maqbool.

“The reaction in Kashmir was immediate. In Butt’s (Bhat’s) home village, Trehgam in Kupwara district, shopkeepers downed shutters for a fortnight. In Anantnag, ‘a group of youngsters, tears welling from their eyes, went round schools, banks and government offices, requesting the authorities to close down’, said India Today. Downtown Srinagar was deserted. ‘The convoluted phraseology of the years of the plebiscite movement was back again in the tea-shops, the coffeehouses and the street squares.’ The Indian government and Farooq, said Lone, had made Butt ‘the first martyr on the question of Kashmir’s accession.’ Overnight, a police officer told India Today, guerrillas who were ‘not even known to their neighbours’ became household names in the valley.[2]

The separatists in the Valley needed a hero and a martyr to eulogize and to inspire the people to rally against India and they got one in Maqbool Bhat. The guerrillas, henceforth, became heroes and martyrs of the Kashmiri cause.

The ISI & the Pakistan Army

Militants, the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Pakistan Army have an intrinsic connection. The ISI consists primarily of serving military officers drawn on secondment from the three service branches of the Pakistan Armed Forces (Army, Air Force, and Navy) and hence the name “Inter-Services.” However, the agency also recruits many civilians. The ISI is the premier intelligence agency of Pakistan, operationally responsible for gathering, processing, and analyzing national security information from around the world.

Pakistan, like many other nations, has been seeking control in the power structures of its neighbour, one of them being Afghanistan. The ISI had been covertly running military intelligence programmes in Afghanistan before it was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979. Since then it has been creating and providing support to the different militant groups it spawns, in conjunction with the Pakistan Army. After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, the ISI helped create and arm the Taliban till 9/11, when they withdrew support from the Taliban. But this was just the narrative fed to the public and the Taliban continued to be harboured within Pakistan.

A NATO study conducted in 2012 based on interrogations of 4,000 captured Al Qaeda and Taliban militants revealed that the ISI offered safe havens to the Taliban, tracked their movements, and arrested anyone who appeared to be uncooperative. It is widely believed that the Al- Qaeda still operates camps in western Pakistan where foreign militants continue to be trained in terror operations.[3]

The Core of Militant Organizations

At the core of every militant organization that emanates from Pakistan is a conservative, hardline and extreme interpretation of Islamic philosophy, mainly Deoband, Ahle-Hadith and Jamaat-e-Islami, which is the driving force of all militants. They are all different movements of the Sunni sect of Islam (the sect followed by 87%-90% Muslims of the world) that have their origins in north India and they all bear similarity with Wahhabism (an Islamic movement from Saudi Arabia) and each other. The militant groups are distinguished from each other by the school of Islamic philosophy that they follow. At the heart of every militant group is an Islamic preacher who motivates them and guides them in their jihad. This preacher almost never actively participates in militant activities.

Some of the beliefs that these groups hold, and that may or may not be shared among them, are:

  • Women should not be educated and should be subjugated to the men in the family.
  • Song and dance and films and other forms of entertainment should be banned.
  • Clothes should conform to Islamic standards that include beards for men and burkhas for women.
  • Sharia should be instituted. Sharia is Islamic law, where the penalty for theft is the cutting off of hands, stoning for adultery and taking the life of the person abandoning Islam.
  • Economic markets based on capitalism and banking systems based on the giving and taking of interest should be shut down.

According to survey findings[4],most Muslims believe Sharia is the revealed word of God rather than a body of law developed by men based on the word of God. Muslims also tend to believe Sharia has only one, true understanding, but this opinion is far from universal; in some countries, substantial minorities of Muslims believe Sharia should be open to multiple interpretations.


The Deobandi interpretation holds that a Muslim’s first loyalty is to his religion and only then to the country of which he is a citizen or a resident; secondly, that Muslims recognise only the religious frontiers of their Ummah (community of Muslims) and not the national frontiers; thirdly, that they have a sacred right and obligation to go to any country to wage jihad to protect the Muslims of that country. The Deobandi movement in Sunni Islam, was founded in response to British colonial rule in India and later hardened in Pakistan into bitter opposition to what its members views as the country’s neo-colonial elite. The Islamic Deobandi militants share the Taliban’s restrictive view of women, and regard Pakistan’s minority Shia as non-Muslim. They seek a pure leader, or Amir, to recreate Pakistani society according to the egalitarian model of Islam’s early days under the Prophet Mohammed. President Musharraf himself, is a Deobandi, actually born in the city in India, from where the school took its name. The Taliban and Jaish-e-Mohammad (responsible for the 2001 Parliament attacks and the 2019 Pulwama attack) are a Deoband militant organization.


Ahle-Hadith, meaning the people of Hadith, is a religious movement that emerged in northern India in the mid-nineteenth century. Hadith refers to what Muslims believe to be a record of the words, actions, and the silent approval of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. They regard the Quran, sunnah (traditions and practices of the Prophet Mohammad), and hadith as the sole sources of religious authority and oppose everything introduced in Islam after the earliest times.  Ahle-Hadith followers believe that the zahir (literal, apparent) meaning of the Quran and the hadith has sole authority in matters of faith and that the use of rational disputation is forbidden even if it verifies the truth. Like other Islamic movements, the Ahle Hadith are distinguished by certain common features and beliefs. The men tend to have a particular style of untrimmed beards and wear trousers that end a few inches above the ankle. The Lashkar-e-Taiba (responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks) is an Ahle-Hadith militant organization.

Fresh recruits are first indoctrinated in the Islamic philosophy, which continues after their military training starts. There are six stages to a jihadi’s training, with the final two stages teaching how to craft explosives and making them familiar with military weapons like tanks, canons and heavy weapons reserved depending on resources and necessity of certain operations.

Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)

LeT (or Army of the Righteous) is the most well-known Ahl-e-Hadith terror group operating in Pakistan and Kashmir.  Founded in the Kunar province of Afghanistan, it is the militant wing of a religious organization, Markaz Dawa-ul-Irshad which was formed in the 1980s by Hafiz Muhammad  Saeed, Zafar Iqbal, and Abdullah Azzam.  LeT, which began its terror activities in Kashmir in the early 1990s, consists of thousands of members from Pakistan, PoK, Indian-administered J&K, and also fighters who had taken part in the Afghan war. It runs 2,200 offices nationwide and roughly 24 camps which train fighters to infiltrate and launch attacks across the Line of Control (LoC) into Kashmir.  “Jihad also includes the right to avenge the loss of any land once under Muslim rule, including countries such as Spain. Therefore,  Hafiz Saeed not only wants to unite Kashmir with Pakistan, but he also wants to see Pakistan become part of a Global Islamic State”[5]

Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar was the driving force of his organization and was a “close partner” of Osama bin Laden in the late 1980s, a time when bin Laden saw Kashmir as a potential theatre for Al Qaeda operations. Thirty six of Saeed’s family members were killed in the India-Pakistan Partition riots of 1947. He’s called hafiz because he memorized the Quran by heart during his childhood, a time during which he was already enthusiastic about the verses on jihad. A major early influence on his life and ideology was his maternal uncle, and later father-in-law, Hafiz Abdullah Bahawalpuri, who was a famed theologian belonging to the Ahle Hadith, who held that democracy was incompatible with Islam (which alienated him from Maulana Maududi’s Jamaat-e-Islami) and argued “that only in jihad does one offer one’s life in the way of Allah, which elevates it to a higher plane than merely fulfilling other religious responsibilities such as saying prayers and paying zakat, also entailing sacrifices and adjustments, but not at the scale evident in jihad.” He “considered shahadat (martyrdom) to be the crux of jihad.”

Hafiz Saeed has networked with successive Pakistan Governments and has been a guest at many Army functions through the years. Saeed founded an Islamic Seminary in 1990 for which he got $2,00,000 from bin Laden as seed money. Pakistan’s Punjab Government, under the Sharif Brothers, gifted him 200 acres at Murikde near Lahore.

The Lashkar specifically considers Christians, Jews and Hindus as its enemies. However, India remains its prime area of focus with regards to jihad. Its prime aim is to “bring back the era of Mughal rule. We can once again subjugate the Hindus  like our forefathers.”[6]

In 1999, following the Kargil War, Saeed had declared “today I announce the break-up of India, Inshallah (God willing). We will not rest until the whole of India is dissolved into Pakistan.”[7]

A major source of Saeed’s funds include Saudi Arabia, the UAE (which has a sizable Pakistani diaspora) and Kuwait. Domestically, Lashkar raises millions through the sale of hides collected from Eid sacrifices. They also run collection boxes in shops across Pakistan.

Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM)

JeM was formed by Maulana Masood Azhar in January 2000 and consists of several hundred heavily armed fighters. Azhar used to be an influential leader of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). Azhar formed JeM to bring fresh life into jihad by consciously avoiding the schisms that plagued other jihadi groups. JeM espouses a pan-Islamic ideology that is primarily anti-West and anti-Jew and its main objective is to unite Indian-administered Kashmir with Pakistan and to be able to govern Pakistan under Sharia law.

Members of the JeM were believed to be behind the attack on the Kashmir Legislative Assembly on October 1, 2001. Both JeM and the LeT have been accused of having masterminded the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, which left nine dead. JeM was also listed as being one of the militant groups responsible for the assassination attempt on President Musharraf in late 2003 after officials tracked down phone numbers saved on the suicide bomber’s cell phone. One of its leaders, Omar Saeed Sheikh, was sentenced to death for the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2001. JeM’s posse of fighters includes not only Pakistanis and Kashmiris, but also Afghans and Arab veterans from the Afghan war. Maulana Azhar was reportedly extended funds by the ISI, the Taliban, and several other Sunni groups based in Pakistan when he set up JeM.[8]

Azhar was born in Bahawalpur, Punjab, in 1968. His father, Allah Bakhsh Shabbir, was the headmaster of a government-run school. Azhar studied at the Jamia Uloom ul Islamia Banuri Town in Karachi.

A great motivator but physically unfit, Azhar learned to use Kalashnikov and Zokai machine guns in Afghanistan but failed the arduous 40-day military training. That, and his subsequent injury in the Soviet-Afghan war led to his appointment as the head of Harkat’s department of motivation.[9]

Azhar was caught in Kashmir, where he had gone to address militants in February 1994. Azhar was released in 1999, when the Air India flight IC-814 was hijacked and the hijackers demanded Azhar and two other terrorists be released.

In 2000, Afaq Ahmad, a shy 17-year-old and a Class 12 dropout from downtown Srinagar, blew himself up when he drove an explosives-laden car into the Badami Bagh gate of the 15 Corps HQ. The Valley came face to face with the first instance of a suicide bomber, a technique which not only announced a change in tack in  militancy in the Valley but also the arrival of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, formed by Azhar weeks after his release.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are responsible for 90% of the cross border attacks on India.

Hizb-ul-Mujahideen  (HM)

Hizb-ul-Mujahideen was set up in 1989 by Muhammad Ahsan Dar, a former school teacher from Kashmir. Dar’s main aim was to unite Indian-administered Kashmir with Pakistan and  establish an Islamic Caliphate in the region. HM’s activities are funded by the Jamaat-e-Islami (a political group based out of Pakistan) and it also believes in JI’s ideology. This association between the two outfits enabled HM militants to undergo weapons training in Afghan camps until the Taliban ran over the region. HM is at present led by Syed Salahuddin and the group reflects ethnic Kashmiris and Pakistanis of non-Kashmiri origin, who remain affiliated with Jamaat-e-Islami. “Much of the group’s literature and teachings justify a nearly perpetual state of jihad and interpret all Muslim territory as subject  to Muslim re-conquest in the broadest terms”.[10]  According to Pakistani officials, HM is said to  control up to 60% of the mujahideens in Kashmir and has had the Lashkar-e-Taiba as its ally since 1997. Reports suggest that HM often works in tandem with other terror groups. This is because its ethnic Kashmiri members provide local information and knowledge to the large number of Pakistani and foreign militants of other groups. Hizbul-Mujahideen has been organized according to strict military lines. Indian security forces and politicians in Kashmir are its main targets; it is one of the few militant groups to have killed prominent Indian security personnel. It uses two of its sub-wings – Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba and Jamiat-e-Tulaba-e-Arabia -to recruit students from across universities and JI-linked madrassas.  Despite its leading position, splits are rife within HM over differences in tactical and personal ideologies.[11]

Terror Attacks on Muslims

Militant groups across the Islamic world are not content with fighting only the infidels (non-Muslims). Islam finds expression in many sects that vary in their ideology and interpretation of the Quranic texts. Hardliners among the groups like the Wahhabis and Deobandis consider the people who do not follow their interpretation of Islam as infidels too, so they consider other Muslims as their enemies who must be exterminated. Within Pakistan itself, there have been a number of attacks by terrorists belonging to the different organizations that ironically have their genesis in Pakistan.

Renowned Pakistani writer Khaled Ahmed points to the irony: “Within Sunni Islam, the Deobandis and the Barelvis are not found anywhere outside India and Pakistan. The creation of these two sects was one of the masterstrokes of the Raj in its divide-and-rule policy.” He says the Deobandi school took roots in India in 1866 as a reaction to the overthrow of Muslim rule by the British. It was the Deobandi-Wahhabi alliance, says Rehman, which pressured President Gen Zia-ul-Haq to declare the Ahmadis as non-Muslims. At a stroke of the pen, thus, a Muslim sect was clubbed with other religious minorities. Under the Constitution, they can’t call themselves Muslim or even describe their place of worship as a mosque.[12]

On  July 1, 2010, two suicide bombers attacked the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh in Lahore, killing 50 people. The Taliban was blamed for this attack. The Taliban belong to the Deobandi school, that is opposed to the idea of Muslims worshipping at shrines, among other things. It was the Deobandi-Wahhabi alliance, which pressured President Gen Zia-ul-Haq to declare the Ahmadis as non-Muslims in Pakistan. On May 28, 2010, 94 people were killed in attacks on two Ahmadiya mosques. A school in Peshawar was attacked on 16th December, 2014 and at least 135 school children were murdered by the Pakistan Taliban. This happened because the Pakistan Army had been trying to shut down their operations within the country.

Reports reveal there were close to 370 terror attacks in Pakistan in 2019, killing 518 people. The corresponding figures in India are a fraction of what they are in Pakistan. The jihadi apparatus is not only destroying nations of other religions, it is also destroying people who claim fealty to the same lord as theirs.

[1] Radha Kumar, Paradise at War: A Political History of Kashmir

[2] Sumit Mitra, “Jammu & Kashmir: Tremors of Tension”, India Today, 29 February 1984

[3] From the study paper published by The European Foundation for South Asian Studies  (EFSAS), “Pakistan Army and terrorism; An Unholy Alliance”

[4] Muslim Beliefs About Sharia | Pew Research Center

[5] The True Face of Jihadis, by Amir Mir. (From the study paper published by The European Foundation for South Asian Studies  (EFSAS), “Pakistan Army and terrorism; An Unholy Alliance”)

[6]‘Destruction’ of India vision of Hafiz Saeed: expert

[7] Hafiz Saeed, Pakistani Extremist with a $10 Million Price on his Head, Is al Qaeda’s Ally

[8] From the study paper published by The European Foundation for South Asian Studies  (EFSAS), “Pakistan Army and terrorism; An Unholy Alliance”

[9] From teacher to a terrorist mastermind: The astonishing story of JeM chief Masood Azhar – World News

[10] ‘The Ideologies of  South Asian Jihadi Groups’, by Husain Haqqani

[11] From the study paper published by The European Foundation for South Asian Studies  (EFSAS), “Pakistan Army and terrorism; An Unholy Alliance”

[12]Just Who Is Not A Kafir? By Amir Mir for The Outlook


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