(op-ed), The Wall Street Journal. May 12, 2003.
By ALYSSA AYRES
India’s prime minister recently announced the restoration of diplomatic ties and air links with Pakistan, part of an ambitious effort to end the dangerous state of enmity between the nuclear-armed neighbors. A month ago relations had sunk so low that India’s foreign minister called Pakistan “a fitter case” than Iraq for pre-emptive action. So there could not be better news than a thaw between India and Pakistan. The only hitch is that India wants a stop to what it calls “cross-border terrorism” in Kashmir, meaning militant activity by people trained in Pakistan, before agreeing to talks.
Some observers question the extent to which Pakistan can control the Islamic militias active in Kashmir. The argument — and we should take it seriously — runs like this: After decades of free-agent warmongering in Afghanistan and now Kashmir, these groups simply don’t follow orders. This might be partially true. But mujahedeen intransigence should not relieve the government of Pakistan from policing activities within its borders. The continued operation and open production of jihad-recruitment media reveals a less than thorough effort to curtail jihadis. One militia that aggressively publishes jihadi literature, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, claimed responsibility for a recent attempt to kill the finance minister of the Kashmir state government. India blames the Lashkar for the massacre in March of 25 Kashmiri Hindus, the December 2001 suicide attack on India’s parliament, and several assassinations of politicians in the Kashmir elections in October.
Theoretically, the Lashkar does not exist: Pakistan’s President Musharraf banned it in January last year and jailed its founder for six months. It enjoys the distinction of a place on the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations roster, which puts it in the company of al Qaeda, the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas. But for a banned militia, one whose assets should have been frozen 16 months ago, their media production continues apace. Two weeks ago they gave their family of Web sites a muscular relaunch, suggesting a new infusion of cash or smarts.
“Are you ready for the final journey?” Colorful calligraphy on the April 2003 online magazine, Zarb-e-Taiba, (“Strike/Blow of the Pure”) invites the curious to click on in. For those who may be considering taking the “final journey,” this helpful Web site provides details: ticket, free; seat, reserved; nationality, Muslim. The journey? One bestowing great benefit. What can you take with you? Five meters of white cloth and a small amount of cotton — the ritual materials for an Islamic burial. In other words, a holy warrior’s suicide mission.
Other provocative offerings in recent days include downloadable, jihad-themed audio files, and downloadable computer wallpapers. One collage depicts “evil” with a broken cross, a Star of David, a broken chakra (an Indian emblem), Israeli and Indian flags, the White House, and the Eiffel Tower. An enormous sword exhorts young men to offer themselves up onto the battleground of truth and falsehood. Another vivid image depicts two red raised fists, shackled and chained — producing a shape nearly identical to the map of undivided Kashmir — and captioned “Mix your blood with ours.” (The symbolic map of undivided Kashmir, an important image, recurs periodically throughout jihadi material, including an appearance in perhaps the most horrifying moment of the video made by Daniel Pearl’s executioners). Another set of links launches a sister Web site, entirely in Arabic, with explicit calls to join the Kashmir jihad.
These Web sites offer an important lesson, one that lies not only in the fact that a complete demi-monde dedicated to a violent vision of jihad in Kashmir exists within Pakistan, but as well as in the not-so-fine print about the conditions of their production. The publications online, including Zarb-e-Taiba, openly provide an official registration number, a telephone number, and an address of publication: 4 Lake Road, Chauburji, Lahore. The address in question lies about seven minutes’ drive from the Punjab Secretariat and the Lahore police headquarters. For a banned militia to be printing up magazines in hard copy and virtual form, material obviously designed to recruit militants for a “final journey” into Kashmir, right under the nose of the Pakistani authorities, can only mean one of two things. Someone either can’t, or won’t, connect the dots.
The armed conflict in Kashmir has claimed tens of thousands of lives and destroyed the spirits of those who have survived unspeakable miseries. No one’s hands are clean in Kashmir, particularly not the Indian security forces. Kashmiris have suffered terribly, and deserve a shot at peace. So do ordinary citizens of India and Pakistan alike, who have spent the last four years on a nuclear-threat rollercoaster. Resumption of diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan and the possibility of wide-ranging talks between the two countries offer a glimmer of hope for peace.
But that peace will remain a fantasy as long as spoilers like the Lashkar-e-Taiba receive free rein to propagate their vision and recruit new soldiers to the task. Marshall McLuhan was right: The medium is the message. This one should be switched off.
Ms. Ayres, co-editor of “India Briefing: Quickening the Pace of Change” (M.E. Sharpe, 2002), was named a 2002-03 Fulbright-Hays scholar for Pakistan, but the program was suspended for security reasons.