New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Pakistan-based militant group blamed by India for attacks late last year on parliament buildings in Kashmir and New Delhi, has in an unexpected move ordered its fighters to stop all activities outside the Indian-ruled portion of disputed Kashmir.
The major policy shift was announced in a statement by a JeM spokesman, Shamsuddin Haider, in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, considered headquarters of the organization.
Top-level commanders "decided to direct the mujahideen of our organization in other states of India to stop their activities and report back to headquarters," Haider said.
From now on their activities would be confined to the parts of Kashmir ruled by India, he said, without giving any reasons.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, and claimed in its entirety by both. Part of the Himalayan territory is also controlled by China.
Haider made it clear that JeM fighters would "continue to target [Indian] army installations in Kashmir."
JeM was established by Pakistani cleric Masood Azhar shortly after he was freed from an Indian prison in exchange for hostages aboard an Indian Airlines aircraft, hijacked by Islamist militants in December 1999.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. the group has been declared a terrorist group by the State Department, and banned by both India and Pakistan. Masood Azhar is currently in detention in Pakistan.
Haider also announced changes to the make-up of JeM fighters.
Whereas foreign militants had in the past comprised 75 percent of the fighting force with the remainder Kashmiri locals, the group would from now on aim to have Kashmiris form the majority of the fighters, with around one-quarter being foreigners.
Most of the foreigners have been from Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, and relocated to Afghanistan when the U.S.-led campaign there began last October.
Indian intelligence officials dismissed the change in strategy as a ploy by Pakistan - which New Delhi accuses of controlling Jaish - to attribute a "local flavor" to its terrorist activities.
With Indian troops positioned along the border with Pakistan after a Dec. 13 attack on the Indian Parliament, Islamabad has been under increasing pressure from India, the U.S. and other members of the international community to curb cross-border terrorism.
Pakistan has denied sponsoring the militant groups, but says its backs what it calls their fight for self-determination in Kashmir.
Pakistan military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in a televised address last month, vowed to eliminate terrorism, including violence related to Kashmir, from his country. He then banned several groups active in Kashmir and cut off financial support to them.
A former high-ranking official of the Border Security Force, A. Ramakrishnan, said organizations like JeM could not afford to stop its activities as it receives millions of dollars from supporters in the name of the Kashmir cause.
Indian intelligence officials estimate that more than 100 committed Arab al Qaeda operatives are now in Indian territory, mostly in Kashmir, since the end of the Afghan conflict.
An official in the Indian Army's intelligence branch said JeM's announcement could mark the beginning of a new, violent phase of terrorism in Kashmir.
He said it was possible JeM would provide ammunition and logistical support, while al Qaeda-trained men would carry out the attacks against Indian targets.
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