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Pak hits soft targets to counter Mufti touch

New Delhi, Dec. 27: The killing of three children in Poonch district by terrorists is being interpreted in official circles here as a shift in Pakistan’s strategy as chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s “healing touch” hits home.

According to intelligence sources, Pakistan, worried about Kashmir’s change of mood ever since Mufti took over, is now advising militants to enforce its writ through terror.

This strategy, however, will be implemented in specific areas, particularly those through which terrorists from across the border enter.

“There will be scattered attacks on soft targets to ensure obedience. We believe Poonch was targeted because infiltration takes place in this sector,” a senior government official said. “The message to the villagers is simple: Don’t report us. If you do, neither you nor your children will be spared.”

“There will be no mass brutality against Kashmiri Muslims because the ISI is aware this could turn the entire population against both Pakistan and the terrorists,” he said.

“They will calibrate the brutality in certain areas to ensure villagers don’t squeal to the authorities when infiltration takes place.”

Even before the PDP-Congress coalition took office, people tired of the continuing strife had begun cooperating with intelligence agencies, especially the special forces of the state police. The trend is expected to speed up because people are more in tune with the new administration.

There is a feeling that by holding free and fair polls in Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi has won a decisive first round. Despite Pakistan’s best efforts to disrupt the polls, people voted in a new government.

Not everybody in the government shares this optimism. Many believe much will depend on Delhi’s next move on Kashmir. An announcement by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of talks with people’s representatives in the state is being seriously considered.

“Now that the Gujarat elections are through, the Prime Minister is giving serious consideration to Kashmir. Something is expected in Vajpayee’s January 26 speech,” a senior government official said.

In the meantime, violence is on. “When terrorists turn guns on children, you know they are losing support. But both the terrorist groups and their mentors in Pakistan are nervous at the change in people’s mood,” a senior home ministry official said.

“They are desperate to halt this slide. The means no longer matter,” he said. The Centre wants this view to gain ground.

“I feel Mufti’s efforts to try and reach out to the people of Kashmir has really shaken Islamabad. They are now bent on stopping this trend and discrediting the state government,” said Kulbir Krishan, a former police officer who was posted in the state. He is now writing a treatise on terrorism.

“Mufti will have to watch his step as the ISI will make certain that the gun dominates,” he said.

Krishan is not surprised that the uncle of the three Poonch children is a policeman. He refers to Punjab, where Khalistani terrorists, reeling from state forces’ counter-attacks, targeted policemen’s children.

Mufti, however, has already indicated that the spate of killings will not change his mind on continuing his healing touch.

Militants snub CM

Two pro-Pakistan militant outfits today rejected Mufti’s appeal to lay arms, saying it will not help in solving the Kashmir issue.

“It is surprising that some people have started pinning hopes with Mufti Sayeed who is a bigger puppet than his predecessor Farooq Abdullah in the hands of the Indian government,” the Hizb-ul Mujahideen and the Jamiat-ul Mujahideen said in separate statements.

Operational Hizb-ul chief Saif-ul-Islam said: “If Mufti Sayeed wants to be the well-wisher of India, he should urge India to read the writing on the wall.”

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