The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fear of backlash in Kashmir

New Delhi, March 12: The Centre feels that a war in Iraq could trigger a fresh spurt in militant violence in Kashmir and major cities across the country and has asked security agencies to be prepared.

The Indian establishment believes that when the US focus shifts from the region to Iraq, the jihadis in Pakistan are likely to take the opportunity to shake up things for the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government that has managed to establish some credibility in Kashmir.

“This would suit both Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and pro-Kashmiri jihadi groups,” a senior official said.

The mood across the Islamic world is anti-American and this would swell as the war progresses in Iraq and civilian casualties mount, sources said.

Extremists in Pakistan, they added, will exploit this situation by linking the war against militants in Kashmir to the overall war against Islam triggered by America and its allies.

According to the sources, taking on the “kafirs” in India who are suppressing Muslims could give some respite to the feeling of helplessness at the air power the US will display in Iraq. Fundamentalists in Pakistan regard India as an ally of America and Israel.

As anti-Musharraf forces gain ground in Pakistan, especially after the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by the FBI with the help of the Pakistani establishment, the President would want these forces to take out their frustration and anger elsewhere, a senior official said.

“The interests of President Musharraf and the jihadis coincide over Kashmir. It would suit Musharraf to let these forces release their pent-up anger in Kashmir rather than in Pakistan. We would be surprised if this does not occur,” the officer added.

Mufti has succeeded in taking much of the wind out of the Hurriyat’s sails. Neither Musharraf nor the jihadis can allow him to wean Kashmiris away from militancy, the officer said, adding that the situation in Kashmir, despite Mufti’s emphasis on a healing touch, is still fragile and thus can be easily upset.

“Public mood in Kashmir can change dramatically within a short time. If terrorists appear to be gaining an upper hand, the pro-Mufti feelings could well turn hostile. The state government needs a period of stability to establish itself,” a senior BSF officer who served in Kashmir explained.

Officials in Delhi tend to agree with this view and believe a war in Iraq could give Pakistan and the jihadis the opportunity to destabilise Kashmir.

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