Pakistan's Role in the Kashmir Insurgency


Sep 1, 2001

This commentary originally appeared in Jane's Intelligence Review on September 1, 2001.

Reproduced with permission from Jane's Information Group.

Peter Chalk investigates the extent of Pakistan's support for groups in Kashmir and how this assistance has impacted on the course and development of the conflict.

Over the past two years, increased attention has focused on Pakistan as a significant force behind the growth of Islamic radicalism and extremism in Kashmir. The US State Department's most recent report on Patterns of Global Terrorism, released in April 2001, specifically identifies Islamabad as the chief sponsor of militant groups fighting in the disputed Indo-Pakistani region. The same conclusion was reached in an earlier report by the National Commission on Terrorism and reflects current thinking in most US and Western policy-making and intelligence circles.

Reasons for Pakistani backing

There are currently five main groups fighting in Kashmir, all of which benefit from Pakistani support:

- Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM);

- Laskhar-e-Tayyiba (LeT);

- al Badr;

- Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM); and

- Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM).

Islamabad's backing for these groups revolves around the perennial conflict with India - a militarily, economically and demographically superior state viewed as posing a fundamental threat to Pakistan's long-term viability and integrity.

Sponsoring militancy in Kashmir is regarded as a relatively cheap and effective way of offsetting existing power symmetries (essentially through the philosophy of a 'war of a thousand cuts') while simultaneously creating a bulwark of instability along the country's vulnerable southern flank. Both are considered vital to ensuring that Pakistan has sufficient strategic depth to undertake a protracted conventional war on the sub-continent, should this ever become necessary.

Religious imperatives also come into play, particularly on the part of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, which enjoys a high degree of autonomy and executive space within Pakistan. The agency has specifically sought to replicate and transplant the success of the anti-Soviet Afghan campaign in Kashmir, exhorting foreign militants to participate in the conflict as part of the wider moral duty owed to the jihad. The medium to long-term aim, according to intelligence sources in New Delhi and Srinagar, is to trigger a generalised Islamic revolution across the northeast and eventually India as a whole.

The nature of the support

Pakistani assistance to Kashmiri insurgents covers the ambit of training, logistical, financial and doctrinal support.

At least 91 insurgent training camps have been identified in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), the bulk of which lie contiguous to the Indian districts of Kupwara, Baramulla, Poonch, Rajauri and Jammu. Basic courses run for between three and four months, focusing on weapons handling, demolitions and urban sabotage. Training for the more able recruits lasts somewhat longer and typically emphasises additional, specialised skills in areas such as heavy arms, reconnaissance and sniper assaults.

Responsibility for managing these courses falls to the ISI's Operations Branch and tends to be conducted through two sub-divisions: Joint Intelligence Miscellaneous (JIM) and Joint Intelligence North (JIN). Islamist-oriented military officers are also believed to periodically 'moonlight' from their regular duties to supplement ISI instructors and help provide critical training in the fundamentals of guerrilla/jungle warfare and escape and evasion techniques.

Most of the camps are located near major military establishments (within 1-15km), which Indian intelligence maintains provide the bulk of military-related resources, including light weapons (assault rifles, carbines, pistols, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades/boosters), ammunition, explosives, binoculars and night vision devices, communications equipment and uniforms.

Financing the militants

Apart from military backing, Pakistan plays an important role in financing Kashmiri insurgents. According to India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), annual ISI expenditure to the main militant organisations runs to between US$125 and $250 million a year. These funds are used to cover salaries for fighters (which run from 5,000 to 10,000 rupees a month), support to next of kin, cash incentives for high-risk operations and retainers for guides, porters and informers.

In addition, the ISI helps to fund militant proxies through the circulation of counterfeit currency and by laundering profits derived from the heroin trade. The agency also handles foreign contributions and donations (most of which come from Saudi Arabia), funnelling these to Pakistani bank accounts that are opened under the auspices of insurgent political, religious or charitable fronts. Many of these payments are co-ordinated through Rahimyar Khan, a small town in the deserts of southern Punjab where every year thousands of wealthy Arabs come to hunt the region's wildlife.

Ideological indoctrination

Besides acting as a major source of military and financial assistance, Pakistan remains a pivotal centre of ideological indoctrination for the Kashmiri conflict, much of which is co-ordinated through the country's burgeoning network of theological madrasahs. Many of these schools equate the concept of the jihad - which most Islamic scholars interpret as 'striving for justice' - with guerrilla warfare and explicitly exhort their students to fulfil their 'spiritual obligations' by fighting in the name of the pan-Islamic cause.

The total number of existing madrasahs including satellite institutions in Pakistan is estimated at between 40,000 and 50,000. Of these, only about 4,350 are currently registered with the government. The most prominent extremist-oriented schools include the Dar-ul-Uloom Haqani at Akora Khattak; the Markaz-ad-Da'awa-wal-Irshad at Murdike; the Dar-ul-Loom at Pashtoonabad; the Dar ul-Iftah-ul-Irshad at Nazimabad; and the Ahle-Sunnat-wal Jammat at Rawalpindi.

All of these madrasahs are associated with the most extreme sections of the Pakistani politico-religious lobby, such as the Jamiat e Ulema Islam (JUI), and retain close links with openly terroristic organisations. The Markaz-ad-Da'awa-wal-Irshad madrasah, for instance, constitutes the main recruiting base for the LeT, one of the most violent and feared groups presently fighting in Kashmir.

Pakistan's impact

Pakistan has fundamentally altered the dimensions of the conflict in Kashmir. On one level, the provision of arms, training and finance has dramatically heightened the firepower and overall proficiency of the militants on the ground. This has been reflected by:

- the range and type of operations now carried out which include everything from improvised explosive attacks to suicide car bombings and full frontal assaults;

- the quantity of military hardware available to the insurgents; in 2000 alone Indian authorities recovered 482 AK47 assault rifles, 53 rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), 16 sniper rifles, 59 rocket launchers, 4,807 hand grenades, 292 anti-personnel mines, 555 rockets, 1,508kg of RDX explosive, 460 wireless sets and 20 night-vision binoculars; and

- the number of militant-inflicted casualties, which increased from an annual average of 608 deaths during the first five years of the insurgency to over 760 fatalities a year between 1996 and 2000.

More intrinsically, the nature of the Kashmir conflict has been transformed from what was originally a secular, locally- based struggle (conducted via the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front - JKLF) to one that is now largely carried out by foreign militants and rationalised in pan-Islamic religious terms.

With the exception of HM, all of the main organisations currently active in Kashmir are non-indigenous, composed mostly of Punjabi mercenaries from Pakistan. Indicative of this were the 1,102 foreign insurgents killed in Kashmir between 1998 and the end of January 2001 - 63% more than those slain in the eight years from 1990 to 1997. Most of those who come to fight define their objectives in both local and global terms, with the rhetorical enemy specified as any state perceived to be anti-Islamic.

A case in point is the LeT, whose annual diary specifically asserts its intention to bring the jihad to the USA, Israel, Russia, the UK and France, announcing plans to 'plant Islamic flags in Delhi, Tel Aviv, Washington, Paris and London'.

Risks for Pakistan

While Islamabad may view involvement in Kashmir as a viable way of provoking unrest in India, the policy carries definite risks. In fact, it is no longer apparent that the army or ISI exercise complete control over the proxies they have helped to create, some of which are now openly talking about fomenting a fundamentalist revolution in Pakistan itself.

Should the insurgency in Kashmir end, there is a perceptible risk that groups such as al Badr, LeT and JeM will re-direct their energies and attention to the pursuit of this very objective. Indeed this may now be the main reason why Islamabad continues to infiltrate militants across the disputed line of control: to keep them busy and, therefore, out of Pakistan.

Peter Chalk is an expert on transnational crime and terrorism at the RAND Corporation, Washington, USA.

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