The longest jihad
India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad by
Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia
Non-specialist writings on modern jihad as a form of
organized political violence usually commence with the
Iranian revolution of 1979 and the anti-Soviet resistance in
Afghanistan in the 1980s. However, decades before those two
events, a secret jihad in the Indian state of Jammu and
Kashmir (J&K) had been kick-started by Pakistan that rages
on to this day. For sheer longevity, it is second to none in
the contemporary annals of Islamism.
In India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad, a
revisionist history based on classified Indian intelligence
data, Praveen Swami, senior journalist of Frontline
magazine, highlights the ignored narrative thread of covert
warfare in J&K. The author's
counterintuitive proposition is that the sub-conventional
war in J&K after 1989 was not the first but the fifth phase
of a jihad of attrition that began as soon as Pakistan was
created in 1947.
Phase 1: The informal war
At the dawn of independence, despite its ostensible military
superiority, India's intelligence apparatus was in ruins.
Qurban Ali, the senior-most officer, chose Pakistani
citizenship and transferred every file of importance to his
new home. In 1948, Gul Hasan Khan, the commander-in-chief of
the Pakistani armed forces, candidly admitted that an "elder
statesman" of his country arranged covert supplies of
weapons to Islamist gangs battling the accession of
Hyderabad to India.
In 1951, the first major low-grade terrorist initiative by
Pakistan was calibrated destruction of telephone lines,
bridges and guesthouses in J&K. The goal was to disrupt
elections to the Constituent Assembly that was steering the
state toward full-scale integration into India.
In the late 1950s, Pakistan's police intelligence trained
covert operatives in guerrilla combat skills under the
banner of "Mujahid Force". There were striking resemblances
between the fundamentalist Islamist beliefs of these
pioneers and those of a successor generation of jihadis.
Besides sabotage, the early brigades bombed temples and
mosques in 1957 to incite Hindu-Muslim violence in J&K.
Success was hard to come by and the Pakistan Intelligence
Bureau's essentialist myths of Indian "submission and
servility" were mercilessly exposed. Indian authorities
charged a popular Kashmiri politician, Sheikh Abdullah, with
colluding with the covert Pakistani agenda in 1958, but the
evidence was inconclusive in what was known as the "Kashmir
Phase 2: The master cell
India's humiliating defeat by China in 1962 opened the door
of opportunity for a new round of clandestine war. Several
in Pakistan's policy establishment were convinced that
conditions in J&K were ripe for a mass uprising against
India. Orders went out to "intensify the firecracker type of
activity that was already current" and to "arm the locals
against the Indian army of occupation" (p 55).
A central organization named "Master Cell" was set up in
Srinagar to supervise several subsidiary groups assigned to
conduct strikes and demonstrations in colleges, issue
incendiary posters, train cadres in the use of weapons, and
guide Pakistani irregular forces to government depots during
the 1965 war with India.
In the event of Pakistan's defeat in the war, these cells
were to facilitate the work of "stay-back agents" who would
remain in J&K to carry out missions. One key cell member,
Fazl-ul Haq Qureshi, stated that his group was "a nodal
agency for freedom fighters who had come from Pakistan" (p
Although India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire in September
1965, the undercover war went on. A terror campaign of
lobbing grenades in commercial hubs and burning prominent
buildings in Srinagar was kept up. Assassination threats
were issued to pro-India politicians and rumors were spread
about the presence an "execution list".
To whip up public emotions, religious propaganda continued
apace in important shrines and mosques, and repeated
allegations were made that the police harassed members of
Muslim congregations. Swami notes that "the Master Cell was
mired in communal politics and a right-wing vision of Islam"
(p 71). Police raids eventually broke the cell up, and many
of its members went on to reconcile with India, joining the
government in high-ranking posts.
Phase 3: Al-Fatah
In the late 1960s, Pakistan's covert agencies turned to
Algeria and Palestine for inspiration. The growing interest
of Pakistan's officer corps in doctrines of non-conventional
war led a new bunch of jihadis to derive tactical
inspiration from left-wing anti-imperialist struggles. Swami
comments that "the means of praxis of left [wing]
insurgencies were dyed with the deep-green color of Islam"
in a new outfit, al-Fatah (p 87).
In 1969, its recruits received clear instructions during a
visit to Pakistan to launch intense attacks on government
offices, banks and treasuries in J&K. Records indicate that
al-Fatah succeeded in gathering 20 discrete sets of
intelligence, including restricted Indian army documents,
and passed them on to the Pakistan High Commission in New
A daring heist opened the trail of the organization to
Indian police, and it was shut down in 1971 well before much
damage could be caused. In 1975, the bulk of its cadres went
"mainstream" to endorse the agreement between Sheikh
Abdullah and Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi on limited
autonomy for J&K.
Phase 4: The war of many fronts
The creation of Bangladesh clogged the military pipeline of
the secret jihad because Pakistan was racked by internal
turmoil. Only in the early 1980s did the contours of a map
for reviving the jihad become apparent.
This coincided with the elevation of Islam in Pakistan's
military strategy and fresh confidence that "it could do to
India what it had done to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan"
(p 145). The assuring factor for Islamabad was that it
energetically pursued a nuclear-weapons program as a "shield
behind which the jihad could be pursued without inviting
Indian retaliation" (p 141).
While J&K was still quiescent, Pakistan opened a new front
by abetting terrorism in Indian Punjab. Swami furnishes
considerable evidence of the direct involvement of
Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence in training and
sheltering leaders of the Khalistan movement. The decision
to arm and infiltrate massive numbers of mujahideen to fight
in J&K was made "because of the success of Pakistan's
low-cost, low-risk, high-return investment in Punjab" (p
In 1987, the superficially secular Jammu Kashmir Liberation
Front (JKLF) and the chauvinist Jamaat-e-Islami received
wholehearted authorization from Pakistan for a joint
offensive in J&K. The dividing lines between Kashmiri
nationalism and religious fundamentalism were, as always,
exceedingly thin. Independence and Islam were
interchangeable slogans in the minds of Pakistani planners.
The gruesome killings, deportations and moral policing that
ensued in J&K were "the outcome of the organic ideology of
jihad, not the aberrant actions of marginal groups" (p 168).
Phase 5: The nuclear jihad
By 1992-93, Pakistan had thrown its weight behind the
Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and decimated the JKLF. To manage the
covert war more thoroughly, from 1994 Islamabad pumped in
more of its own nationals and those from the Middle East
into J&K. Newer Pakistani terror groups saw Kashmir as "one
battlefield in a larger war between Islam and kufr",
or unbelief (p 180).
The Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, for instance, called upon its cadres
to "capture Hindu temples, destroy the idols and then hoist
the flag of Islam on them" (p 181). Such ideological venom
was not a discontinuity but a natural advancement built on
the views of jihadis of previous decades.
As India once again began to wear the jihad down, Pakistan
planned the Kargil invasion to revitalize it in 1999. Even
when this move boomeranged because of US fears of nuclear
escalation, jihadis mounted serious pressure on India
through a wave of terrorist attacks on civilians. Delhi
faced "better armed and trained terrorist cadre than prior
to the Kargil war, and in greater numbers" (p 193). The
scale, frequency and geographical dispersion of fedayeen
(daredevil but non-suicidal) attacks rose steadily, with
regular bomb explosions in Indian cities, and jihadis vowed
that "all of India's states will become Kashmir" (p 199).
As the set pattern would predict, by 2005, another ebb tide
set in for the jihad, which lost its bite because of
centrifugal tendencies. Violence in Kashmir reached its
lowest levels since the late 1980s and infiltration across
the Line of Control fell. Swami speculates that US pressure
on President General Pervez Musharraf's regime and
realization in Islamabad that the proxy war was bleeding
Pakistan's economy may explain the lull. What is certain,
though, is that jihadis' capabilities are untrammeled even
if their intentions have been somewhat "worked on by
Pakistan's covert services" (p 216).
The unmistakable lesson from Swami's account is that peace
in Kashmir is chimerical unless the jihad is permanently
interred. Too often in the past, it would lie low for a few
years and then resurrect with greater firepower and
viciousness. The late Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali
Bhutto's promise of waging a "thousand-year war on India",
if unbroken, forecasts Phases 6, 7, 8 and so on of this
longest jihad, well into the future.
India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The Covert War in
Kashmir, 1947-2004 by Praveen Swami. Routledge, New
York, 2007. ISBN: 9780415404594. Price: US$96, 258 pages.
(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved.
Please contact us about
sales, syndication and
All material on
this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form
without written permission.
© Copyright 1999 -
2007 Asia Times Online (Holdings), Ltd.
Head Office: Unit B, 16/F, Li Dong Building, No. 9 Li
Yuen Street East, Central, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab
Kirikhan, Thailand 77110