Muslim Radicals Threaten Top Kashmir Separatist over US Stance

Published September 22nd, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Muslim radicals Saturday threatened violence against the head of Kashmir's top separatist body after he backed Pakistan's cooperation with the US war on terrorism. 

In a statement faxed to the Kashmir Monitor newspaper, the Islamic Front told Abdul Ghani Bhat, the chairman of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), that his opposition to an anti-US general strike Friday "has caused enough damage to the Kashmir cause". 

The group, active in Kashmir for the past five years, told Bhat "to get ready to pay a heavy price", the Monitor said. 

Bhat said Thursday that only the APHC, an amalgam of more than two dozen separatist parties, could call strikes and said its members "unanimously support the realistic, bold and forthright stand taken by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf".  

But Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar nonetheless came to a near halt Friday as five Muslim radical groups called for a strike in solidarity with Pakistani militants opposed to Musharraf's support for the US. 

Musharraf has agreed to assist the United States in the wake of terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that left more than 6,000 people dead. US officials have pinned the attack on Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden, believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. 

Demonstrators in Srinagar Friday burned US flags and chanted slogans in support of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia. Protesters also pelted police with stones, prompting them to fire above the heads of the crowd. 

Bhat, regarded as a moderate among the APHC leaders, was provided security by the government last year to prevent any attempts on his life. 

He had a narrow escape early this year in northern Kashmir when a bodyguard detected a hand grenade tied to his jeep. 

More than 35,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since the start of a Muslim separatist insurgency in 1989.  

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training militants, but Islamabad says it only provides moral and diplomatic support to an indigenous "freedom struggle". 

New Delhi also says that thousands of Afghan war veterans have swept into Kashmir to fight in the "holy war" against Indian rule.  

Some have begun returning to Afghanistan in preparation for possible US military strikes, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said this week -- SRINAGAR, India (AFP)

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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