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By Sanchita Bhattacharya
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

In the most recent of its Jihadi proclamations, the Muttahida (United) Jehad Council (MJC) 'chairman' Mohammed Yusuf Shah alias Salahuddin Shah, also the 'supreme commander' of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), while attending a rally at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) declared, on July 14, 2014: "If al Qaeda, Taliban or any other organisation or country extends a helping hand to the oppressed Kashmiris, we will welcome it... We do not have any say at any international forum. In such a situation, we are left with no choice but to greet anyone and everyone that can help us overthrow our enemy.

Significantly, many of the constituents of the Council, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) have already established strong links with the al Qaeda and the Taliban. Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy at Brookings Institution, notes that LeT, in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, matured “from a Punjabi-based Pakistani terror group targeting India exclusively, to a member of the global Islamic jihad targeting the enemies of al Qaeda: the Crusader West, Zionist Israel, and Hindu India”. Media reports, meanwhile, indicate that hundreds of Pakistani militants from groups like LeT and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) are fighting for the Islamic State (IS, formerly Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, ISIS). Pakistani security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana, talking about the strong linkages among all these groups notes, on July 13, 2014, "As Pakistani militants and religious organisations do not operate in isolation, it is natural for them to draw inspiration from ISIS.

Meanwhile, he asked India to grant Kashmiris ‘their birthright’ to freedom or else, he warned, it would disintegrate as a result of jihad. He also warned against any peace initiatives with regard to Kashmir declaring, "We will never accept any such decision." Significantly, referring to the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's suggestion that India-Pakistan supervise the autonomous or self-governed states of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Yusuf Shah on October 29, 2006, had stated, "Freedom is our goal and we will not accept anything under the Indian Constitution." He described Musharraf's proposals as "a document of slavery." He, however, had added that "options like joint control can only be acceptable if they are a stepping stone for the right to self-determination.”

Yusuf Shah's position has, however, varied widely over time. In 2011, strongly emphasizing MJC's pro-Pakistan outlook, Yusuf Shah stated, "The MJC is all for merger with Pakistan. I firmly believe that it is in the interest of the sub-continent that Kashmir goes to Pakistan. I feel that a majority of the people support this stand. However, if people are given the right to self-determination in which they opt for independence, India or Pakistan, we will back them. The MJC will endorse the people’s decision. But it is equally true that Kashmiris in all the agitations of the past four years have raised pro-Pakistan slogans".

MJC comprises of 16 terrorist groups, operating in India from bases in PoK. It was formed in November 1990 to bring all the outfits involved in terrorist violence in J&K onto a single platform, and is headquartered at Muzaffarabad in PoK. At the time of its inception, all the terrorist outfits operating in J&K were required to register with the MJC. The Council aims at joining forces and resources to augment operations in J&K, and acts as the primary public voice of the terrorist outfits currently active there. The present members of the Council are: HM, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Tehrik-e-Jehad, Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen, Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, Al Jehad, Al Umar Mujahideen, Jammu Kashmir Islamic Front, Muslim Janbaz Force, Hizbullah, Al Fatah, Hizb-ul-Momineen, LeT, JeM, and Al-Badr Mujahideen. However, many of the groups under the Council’s umbrella follow their own strategies and fight among and within themselves for resources and the patronage of the Pakistani Government, specifically, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

MJC shifted its base from Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan to Muzzafarabad in PoK, in order to assert its pretence of its 'autonomy', and has been 'reorganized': component terrorist groups have been instructed by ISI to drop the expressions jehad, lashkar, jaish or mujahiddeen in their names in order to project a 'secular political' rather than Islamist image, though this directive has been uniformly ignored. The ISI has been funding the Council since 1994 and the various constituents of MJC have shared with the Pakistani Army, and especially with ISI, real decision-making authority and management of terrorism and subversion in J&K.

Various terrorist formations working under the Council fund themselves separately as well as collectively.  Interestingly, on March 11, 2014, India's Enforcement Directorate (ED) registered a money laundering case against 10 persons, including Yusuf Shah, for alleged cross-border funding of terror activities in the country. The ED was prompted to register the case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (Act) against these persons after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a charge sheet in case number 'RC-11/2011/NIA/DLI’ on November 30, 2013.  The case was earlier registered by NIA on October 25, 2011, alleging regular and systematic funding of HM for carrying out terrorist activities. Investigations established that, under the cover of Jammu and Kashmir Affectees Relief Trust (JKART), HM operatives based in Pakistan used to provide funds through different channels for terrorist activities in India. Following the registration of the case, the NIA put Yusuf Shah on its wanted list.

The 2005 MJC ‘Code of Conduct’defines 14 points, including a strict prohibition against armed action in public places, including schools, religious places, hospitals, markets, civilian settlements, etc. This code has been systematically, routinely and intentionally violated by all the constituent groups of the MJC. According to some letters accessed by the media in November 2011, terrorists had been asked by MJC to specifically target places of worship and civilian VIPs. One of these letters cautions, further, that the terror group must not claim responsibility for such attacks.

Among the numerous operations of this nature was the November 10, 2006, attack in which six persons, including four girls, were killed, and over 50 were wounded, when HM terrorists hurled a grenade outside a mosque at Tahab village in the Pulwama District.

The most dramatic of the attacks India has ever faced, the November 26, 2008, Mumbai attacks (also known as 26/11) which killed a total of 195 people, including 166 civilians was carried out by the LeT, one of the major constituents of MJC,  with direct complicity of the ISI. 

HM was also found involved in the Delhi High Court blast of September 7, 2011, in which 15 persons were killed and another 87 were injured. NIA charge sheeted six HM cadre from J&K - Wasim Akram Malik, Amir Abbas Dev, Abid Hussain Bhawani, Amir Ali Kamal, Junaid Akram Malik and Shakir Hussain Sheikh in the case.

Earlier, on November 24, 2002, two terrorists of the LeT, carried out suicide attack on the Raghunath and Panjbakhtar temples in Jammu, killing 13 persons and injuring 45 others.

The ‘Code of Conduct’ and various other MJC directives principally emphasize the targeting of India’s defense and security establishments, as well as economic assets. Various terrorist formations have executed several such attacks. HM, for instance, claimed responsibility for the March 12, 2013, attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp in Srinagar, which left five CRPF personnel dead and seven injured. Two terrorists, who were part of a fidayeen (suicide) squad that carried out the attack, were also killed in the gun battle. On January 29, 2012, HM claimed responsibility for the attack on then Lieutenant General Bikram Singh in 2001. Singh eventually became the Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army in 2012.

In pursuit of its agenda, MJC continues to infiltrate more and more militants from across the border into Indian territory, with the help of the Pakistani Army. According to seized MJC letters, about five entry points or “launching camps” are identified, from where terrorists are infiltrated into Indian territory – Forward Kahuta (Haveli District of PoK), Nakiyal (Kotli District of PoK), Khoi Ratta (Kotli District), and Samahni (Bhimber District, PoK). These routes are among many other prominent routes used. Another seized letter indicates that the Pakistani Army provides covering fire only if a terrorist unit is surrounded by the Indian Army and there is exchange of fire. Several incidents of cease-fire violations from across the border seem to bear this out. According to partial data collected by South Asia Terrorism Portal, there have been 411 Cease-Fire Agreement violations in J&K since 2009, 312 at the Line of Control (LoC) and 99 at International Border (IB).

MJC has survived for more than 20 years, under the aegis of ISI and the 'leadership in exile' of Yusuf Shah. Yusuf Shah has been facilitated in holding public rallies across PoK and Pakistan to incite anti-India sentiments among the people. On October 27, 2013, in a public rally at Muzaffarabad, Yusuf Shah declared, “Diplomacy, talks and negotiations spanned over several decades have not worked… The only way to liberate Kashmir is jihad and armed struggle because India does not understand the language of dialogue.”

With the latest call for support from international terrorist groupings, the MJC under Yusuf Shah may seek to escalate terrorism and harden its ideology further under the influence of increasingly radicalized formations such as al Qaeda, the Taliban and, potentially, the Islamic State. It is significant that anti-Israel demonstrations in Kashmir on July 29, 2014, saw a peppering of IS and al Qaeda flags among the protestors. ISI has long tightly controlled and strategically calibrated terrorism in J&K, even as it had used 'loyal' terrorist assets to extend influence into Afghanistan and for domestic political management. The trajectory of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) over the past years, and the endemic terrorist violence across Pakistan since 2007 [after the disastrous Lal Masjid Operation by the Pakistan Army underline the dangers of a loss of control, and the emergence of a terrorist agenda beyond and independent of the state institutions that currently exercise diminishing sway. The ISI continues to instrumentalize terrorism, purportedly to further Pakistan's strategic objectives; but as international jihadi groups acquire independent goals and agendas, the threat to the region, including, at once, both J&K and Pakistan itself, is steadily augmenting.

[Source: SATP]

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