From Hizb-e-Islami camp to fighting extremism

This news piece appeared in “The Hindu: http://www.hindu.com/2008/03/09/stories/2008030954700700.htm”, and covers the story of a former terrorist who has turned his gun against the terrorists in Kashmi, with help from the Indian Security Forces.

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Mohammad Aslam, a former militant, dons a different mantle

NARKOTE: In these remote hilly hamlets of Jammu and Kashmir, a new tale of battle against militancy and religious extremism is being scripted by a former militant trained by the Hizb-e-Islami (HeI) outfit on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He now leads a frontal assault against his former colleagues.

Trained by HeI, Mohammad Aslam, a former Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) militant, was sent across the Line of Control to fight security forces. HeI was originally formed by Afghan national Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and it had close ties with outfits working in Jammu and Kashmir such as HuM.

The 35-year-old Aslam has employed the same skills in warfare he learnt from militants, to lead a group of 110 men with 11 groups in different areas to fight militancy.

Sets an example

Aslam’s is a classic tale of a person who was smitten by religious extremism in the 1990s but abandoned the path after realisation that his perceptions were wrong.

Aslam told The Hindu that he crossed the LoC in November 1997 through the Manjakot area of Rajouri district to enter Kotli district of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The change of heart, according to him, took place during his training in the HeI camp. Recalling the camp days, he says, “Our training was a mix of religious discourse and military warfare. We were asked to fight out the infidels but as I closely observed the scene there, it changed my whole outlook. I saw youths below the age of 14 undergoing training which I thought was no jihad.”

Aslam came back on October 14, 1998 to work under the commandership of Hyderi, a Pakistan national heading the Pir Panjal regiment of the HuM, which was the most powerful militant group in this belt. “We were trained by Pashto-speaking as well as Punjabi-speaking trainers for a year. Taliban were in the command of the affairs in Afghanistan. I handled automatic weapons and could also explode Improvised Explosive Device,” Aslam recalls. He surrendered before the security forces on May 17, 1999.

“There was no option except to pick up guns against my former colleagues, otherwise they would have killed me,” he says.

Fighting 130 militants

The battle is not easy as he is fighting against 130 militants, including 40 non-locals operating in Reasi district and its adjoining areas.

On Thursday night in a neighbouring hamlet, militants tossed a grenade into the house of Mushtaq Ahmad, killing Ahmad’s 76-year-old father, Habibullah, and his two daughters, Nagina, 13, and Nazia, 9. Aslam himself has been attacked many times but survived.

He says: “We have to fight as otherwise militants would kill us. We can migrate but then we would die of poverty as our means of livelihood are limited.”

Posted in Kashmir, The Other Truth.

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