Jammu, July 28: Kashmiri and Pakistani militants held in Kot Bhalwal prison on the outskirts of Jammu clashed today after an argument that revealed a deep division between the two sides.
Jail sources said that during the verbal exchange the Pakistanis were shocked at being asked what they were doing in Kashmir.
But what triggered the violence was the epithet “cowards” the Pakistanis hurled at the other side for apparently taking the path of talks and casting away guns. The Kashmiris, greater in number, set upon the Pakistani group with canes and stones. Several were injured.
The clash lasted a mere 15 minutes but the Kashmiris were happy to have taught the “Pakistanis a lesson”, the sources said.
Prison guards had initially ignored the noisy argument, taking it as one of the debates the two sides often engage in and jumped to action only after a Kashmiri militant picked up a stone and hurled it towards the Pakistanis, drawing retaliation.
The guards overpowered the warring sides soon enough and snatched away the makeshift missiles but not before a Pakistani militant, identified as Mohammad Niaz, had begun to bleed profusely. He had to be moved to the jail hospital.
Kot Bhalwal prison gained fame after Maulana Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammad leader, was released from there in a dramatic exchange for the freedom of the passengers of an Indian Airlines plane hijacked to Kandahar in December 1999.
During his stay there, the militant leader was believed to have cast an influence on the inmates. His release was said to have consolidated the pro-Pakistan feeling and militants from across the border were viewed with awe because of their exploits.
In today’s clash, optimists will see signs of that influence waning in reflection of the changing mood after 9/11 and the mild peace wind blowing across the subcontinent.
During the argument, the Pakistanis claimed that they were the real warriors and chided the Kashmiris for talking peace when the struggle was still nowhere close to its objective: the so-called liberation of Kashmir.
The Kashmiris hit back, accusing the rival side of being mercenaries who had outraged the modesty of Kashmiri women. The jail sources said they also told the Pakistanis that they would not accept Islamabad’s agenda.
Recent conciliatory statements of visiting Pakistani leaders like Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman have emboldened the Kashmiri inmates in the jail that is spread over more than 10 acres with walls as high as 15 feet fitted with flash lights and barbed wire fence.
Militancy in Kashmir is dominated by the Pakistan-based groups Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al-Badr and Harkat-ul-Jehad-I-Islami.
Hizb-ul Mujahideen is the only purely Kashmiri group that still has the military means to strike. It was not clear which of the groups were involved in today’s clash.