Pakistan-based Militants Killed In Afghanistan Strike

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - Indian observers Wednesday welcomed reports that 35 members of a Pakistan-based group designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. had been killed in Afghanistan, expressing the hope that the blow would lower the level of terrorism in disputed Kashmir.

The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen militants were reportedly holding a meeting at a house in a military compound in the capital, Kabul, when a precision-guided U.S. missile hit the venue late Tuesday night.

Sources close to the group said those killed include a senior leader, named Ustad Farooq. The men were reportedly based in Lahore, Pakistan.

The militants had been active in terrorist operations against Indian targets in Kashmir before the U.S.-led campaign against the Taliban and terrorist bases began, P. Mukherjee, an expert on regional terrorism, said in New Delhi on Wednesday.

"This will break the backbone of terrorism in Kashmir," he predicted.

An analyst specializing in Afghan affairs, Rajeev Sharma, argued that the presence of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan proved India's contention that Kashmiri terrorists were joining the war against the U.S.

"This should make the U.S. sit up and rethink its strategy on fighting terrorism," he said. "They cannot afford to discriminate between the terrorists in Afghanistan and Kashmir. They are all anti-U.S."

It remains unclear whether the militants were in Afghanistan for training or to fight alongside the Taliban. But reports from the region say members of various militant and religious groups have joined the Taliban's "jihad" against U.S.-led forces. The groups are said to include Kashmiri separatists Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and others.

Meanwhile, India's Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani described America's military campaign against the Taliban as the first phase in a drive against global terrorism. During phase two, he said, "they have promised support to India's fight against terrorism in Kashmir."

Harkat-ul-Mujahideen is one of the 27 entities listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. The U.S. believes it has links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network.

It is one of more than a dozen Islamic organizations fighting to end Indian rule in a portion of the disputed Kashmir region. India has accused the Pakistan government of sponsoring the militants - a charge Islamabad denies while saying it morally backs the "freedom struggle" for self-determination.

On Sept. 24, the State Bank of Pakistan froze the accounts of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.

India accused the group of being responsible for the hijacking of an Indian airliner diverted to Afghanistan in December 1999. In return for the hostages' safety, New Delhi agreed to free imprisoned Harkat-ul-Mujahideen leader and cleric Maulana Masood Azhar.

Azhar later left the organization to form another pro-Taliban group fighting in Kashmir, Jaish Mohammed, according to the State Department.

In Kashmir, a leading separatist leader Aasiya Andrabi was quoted Wednesday as condemning the deaths of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen members in Kabul.

"America does not want to end terrorism, it wants to eliminate pious Muslims," she charged.

In other U.S. action over Afghanistan, warplanes bombed Taliban forces north of Kabul and around the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. It was the third day in a row U.S. planes had targeted Taliban forces fighting the opposition Northern Alliance.