Militant Leader Rejects Peace Overtures Between India, Pakistan

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - Amid recent peace initiatives between India and Pakistan, an Islamic militant leader said that jihad (holy war) is the only way to end Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, told a public meeting late on Wednesday that the recent thaw in relations between India and Pakistan was aimed at weakening the Muslim insurgency in Indian-ruled Kashmir.

"Kashmir cannot be settled on the negotiating table," he said in Muzaffarabad, adding that, "The solution lies in jihad, not in dialogue."

Pakistan has banned the entry into Kashmir of all leaders of outlawed jihadi groups, including Hafiz Mohammad Saeed as well as Maulana Masoud Azhar, who founded Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of Mohammad) in early 2000, shortly after his release from an Indian prison. However, Maulana Azhar reportedly refused to obey the ban.

India holds jaish-e-Mohammad responsible for the terrorist attack on its parliament in December 2001, when the two countries were on the brink of war - deploying large number of troops on their common border.

Open conflict was averted due to diplomatic efforts by the United States, but the two countries ended up breaking off diplomatic and transportation links.

The core issue between mostly Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan is the longstanding dispute over Kashmir, a Muslim-majority territory divided between them and claimed by both.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting radicals who are fighting to end Indian rule in Kashmir. Islamabad denies the charge.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali has said there is no change in Pakistan's stand on the Kashmir issue: It will continue to extend moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris' struggle for self-determination.

Media reports said that Jamali told a visiting Muslim delegation that Pakistan will make a sincere effort to resolve the contentious issue during the talks with India.

India, on the other hand, insists that Pakistan crack down on militants in Kashmir to help the neighbors build on the recent thaw in their relationship.

Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha this week told US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Moscow that attacks by militants fighting Indian occupation of Kashmir could disrupt New Delhi's bid to make peace with Islamabad, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said here.

"The foreign minister stressed the fundamental importance of ensuring that the process of re-engagement is not disrupted by terrorist attacks in India," spokesman Navtej Sarna told reporters in New Delhi after Sinha's talks with Powell.

"Secretary Powell mentioned that the United States would continue to stress upon Pakistan the need to take action on cross-border terrorist activities," Sarna said.

Indian security expert Ajai Sahni said Friday that Saeed's statement and Maulana Azhar's refusal to stay out of Pakistan-controlled areas of Kashmir demonstrates that the Islamist extremists have no intension of abandoning their long-term goal; and that the Mushaaraf dictatorship is not serious about cracking down on those extremists.

"It is almost nonsensical to suggest, given the dictatorship in Pakistan, that such things could continue to happen if the Pakistan army was really determined to suppress these groups, which exit virtually at its pleasure," Sahni said.

"The fact remains that Pakistan will continue to play the double game that has characterized the state's response to Islamist extremist terrorism for some time now," he said. He said that means doing the minimum that is necessary to appease the US, but keeping the extremists viable at the same time.

"Against the backdrop of new peace initiatives between India and Pakistan moreover, the continued activities of these groups would be calculated to afford a measure of leverage to the Pakistani side. In the absence of violence, Pakistan's demands for intervention to resolve the 'core issue o Kashmir' would loose much of their edge," he added.

After a tense standoff of about 17 months, the new initiative between India and Pakistan began with an offer of dialogue by the Indian prime minister on April 18. Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali phoned him 10 days later, offering an exchange of visits.

Both India and Pakistan have since announced their intention to restore full diplomatic relations and reopen severed transportation links.