South Asia

Kashmiri militant groups still recruiting in Pakistan

A militant leader addresses a crowd in Muzaffarabad
Image caption Militant groups continue to recruit openly in Pakistani-administered Kashmir

"There are different types of duties I can now be sent to do," says the man we have come to meet, but whose identity we have to conceal.

"I can be kept here in the reserves, be asked to recruit new members, or they can send me across into Indian-held Kashmir for jihad," he says.

Until the spring, this 25-year-old had been studying engineering; now he is a militant.

As he describes why he left his studies, he quotes from the Koran and repeats justifications for his choice, which have clearly been taught to him.

"While I was at university, I started going to sermons given by preachers and, thank God, I joined a jihadi group," he says.

"I went to a training camp with hundreds of others for three months. Now I'm ready to do whatever they ask me, to win all of Kashmir for Pakistan.

"The Indians are killing our brothers and sisters. If everyone sits around doing nothing, who will bring liberation?

"God willing, our blood will bring change," the young man adds.

He tells me his family are happy about his choice, and that they will be proud if he becomes a martyr and goes to heaven.

But that turns out not to be the case. After much persuasion, he allows us to meet his mother.

'Brainwashed'

"Only over my dead body will my son go for jihad," she says.

She tells us that she thought her son was going for Koranic teaching but that she was horrified to find that he had, in fact, had militant training.

Image caption Some Kashmiris want both Pakistan and India to quit the divided region

"I pray to God to keep him here and not let him go. I won't let him," she adds.

And the man's brother, we find, is furious.

"He is a different person since he went to the training camp; the way he talks and dresses. They have brainwashed him.

"If Pakistan wants to fight India, why doesn't it do it through its army, why does it have to use boys like my brother?" he says.

The implication being that it is the Pakistani state that is behind the radicalisation and preparation of his brother as a militant.

In 1947, India was partitioned. Muslim-majority Indian states formed the new nation of Pakistan. But in the hastiness of the split, the fate of Kashmir, whose population was more than three-quarters Muslim, was never fully resolved.

In the late 1940s, the United Nations had demanded that India allow a vote in Kashmir so people there could decide upon their future. India said it agreed, but the poll was never held.

The territory is now split between the two regional powers. They have fought wars for its overall control, but in the last 20 years, an insurgency has also taken root.

There was a time when it was an open secret that the Pakistani authorities were directly supporting militancy in Kashmir.

But now Pakistan claims those days are over.

"I assure you, as a state, as a government, there is no such policy of training Kashmiri militants to be sent across [to Indian-administered Kashmir]," Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, tells me.

He says that because of the monitoring of his government, militant groups have been brought under control, that they are no longer a threat to India, and that fighters cannot cross into the Indian-run side of Kashmir.

When I tell him about the militant we had met, and the organised training camp he had talked of, Mr Malik admitted there might be "some non-state groups" still operating.

'Supporting militancy'

But most people living in Pakistani-administered Kashmir will say the government is not telling the full story.

"The intelligence agencies in Pakistan are still fully supporting and financing militant groups here and the government is completely aware," says Zahid Habib Sheikh, from the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).

"They will tell you there are no training camps but, of course, there are. This has always been Pakistan's Kashmir strategy, but it is a selfish policy that has only damaged our cause," he adds.

Image caption Despite its problems, Kashmir is known for its natural beauty

Mr Sheikh says he feels Pakistan is supporting militancy here not for the sake of Kashmiris, but to keep India engaged in conflict, and to use the militants as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

"Pakistan has also turned what should be a nationalist cause, about human rights abuses by India, into a religious cause," he says.

The organisation he belongs to re-launched its "Quit Kashmir" campaign earlier this year. It calls for both India and Pakistan to end their involvement in the region.

In what is traditionally protest season in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, where all political groups hold rallies, the march by JKLF was one of the biggest in Muzaffarabad, blocking the centre of the city.

People across Pakistani-administered Kashmir are united in their anger over the recent deaths of over a hundred Kashmiris in the Indian-administered side, killed while protesting against Indian control.

Just as we are leaving Muzaffarabad, after the "Quit Kashmir" rally, we hear crowd noise coming from a marketplace.

There, in the middle of the day, stands a bearded man on a platform, surrounded by armed men in military-type fatigues.

Scores of people have gathered to listen to what he has to say, and respond to his slogans by chanting them back.

He is a senior militant leader, openly urging new recruits to step forward. Undoubtedly more of them will.

UPDATE: Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement after this article's publication saying "When his attention was drawn to a recent BBC report alleging existence of terrorist training camps in AJK [Azad Jammu and Kashmir], the [ministry] spokesman termed the report as baseless and malicious."

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