By: Tufail Ahmad*
On March 23, 2010, Pakistan-based jihadist organizations organized a conference in the town of Kotli in Pakistani Kashmir. The conference was addressed by, among others, two prominent jihadist commanders - Syed Salahuddin and Abdul Wahid Kashmiri. Salahuddin is the Supreme Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, one of the militant organizations fighting against Indian security forces in the Jammu & Kashmir state, and also heads the Muttahida Jihad Council, a network of nearly two dozen Pakistan-based militant organizations.
The Kotli meeting, which was billed as the "Defence of Pakistan Conference" and held on the Pakistan Day of March 23, was attended by hundreds of people and addressed by leaders of various jihadist organizations. Among the militant leaders who addressed the public meeting were Shaikh Jamilur Rehman of the militant organization Tehreekul Mujahideen, Bakht Zameen of Al-Badar Mujahideen, Maulana Farooq Kashmiri of Harkatul Mujahideen, Masood Sarfraz of Hizb-e-Islami (Jammu & Kashmir), General Abdullah of Jamiatul Mujahideen, Mufti Mohammad Asghar of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Mohammad Usman of Muslim Janbaz Force, Chaudhry Kamran of Al-Jihad Force, Ghulam Mohammad Safi, Mahmood Ahmed Saghar and Rana Iftikhar Ahmed, and others.
It should be noted that Pakistani Kashmir, formally called Azad (free) Jammu & Kashmir, is an area heavily fortified by the Pakistani military. Most of the mainstream Pakistani newspapers did not publish reports about the conference, as they normally refrain from doing so due to fears of the displeasure of the military-led establishment in Pakistan. The conference took place while Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a;ong with a number of Pakistani officials, were in the U.S. for the March 24 Pakistan-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.
The highlight of the Kotli conference was the presence of Abdul Wahid Kashmiri, who made his first public appearance in nearly a decade. Kashmiri, an obscure militant leader who took over as the military commander, de facto chief, of the jihadist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba after it was outlawed by Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf in January 2002, has mostly been underground over the last decade. It should also be noted that soon after it was banned by General Musharraf, Lashkar-e-Taiba started functioning under the banner of its charity arm Jamaatud Dawa, which is led by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed.
Saeed, who works from his base in Muridke, on the outskirts of Lahore in the Punjab province, is Lashkar-e-Taiba's original founder. Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaatud Dawa, along with a number of organizations connected to them, were outlawed by the UN Security Council following the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is widely believed to be connected to the Pakistani military, is also known to have provided bodyguards to Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
At the Kotli conference, Abdul Wahid Kashmiri vowed to wage jihad against India, saying: "Lashkar-e-Taiba will continue supporting the Kashmiri people until they achieve freedom from India."