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Taliban image tarnished in Indian Kashmir

Taliban image tarnished in Indian Kashmir

Author: Izhar Wani
Publication: AFP
Date: December 11, 2001

The swift rout of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has left Kashmiri supporters of the radical Islamic militia angry and disillusioned.

The launch of US-led air strikes against Afghanistan following the Setember 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, triggered demonstrations and strikes in Indian-administered Kashmir where a Muslim separatist insurgency has claimed at least 35,000 lives since 1989.

The protests had condemned the US military action and backed the Taliban's decision not to hand over suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

"The Taliban's refusal to hand over bin Laden to the United States had created a heroic image of the militia in Kashmir," said radical student Idress Ahmed.

"We appreciated the decision as the United States did not produce evidence linking bin  Laden to the September 11 attacks."

But Ahmed said the Taliban's image had taken a nosedive after the fall of the strategic northern Afghan town of Mazar-i-Sharif which prompted the spectacular collapse of Taliban forces elsewhere in the country.

"We were expecting the Taliban to give a tough time to their opponents, but that didn't happen," said fellow student Nasir Dar.

"It has been a meek surrender after a lot of Taliban rhetoric that they would fight until the last man."

Ahmed and Dar both took part in pro-Taliban protests in Kashmir, but now admit they may have done better to heed the call of the All Party Hurriyat Conference -- Kashmir's main separatist alliance --not to agitate in favour of the militia and bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

"The issue of Osama bin Laden is irrelevant to us," Hurriyat chief Abdul Ghani Bhat said at the time.

Hardline Kashmiri Muslims had expected Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and his men to provide sterner resistance to the anti-Taliban forces and their US backers.

Disappointment was especially acute after the Taliban surrendered Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, their last remaining stronghold.

"Sympathy for Mullah Omar is over in Kashmir with the surrendering of Kandahar," said an activist with a pan- Islamic political group.

However, he sympathised with foreign Islamic fighters under fire in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains where bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

"They had come to (the Taliban's) help, and now they have been left alone to defend themselves," said the activist, who declined to be identified.

Kashmiri mosques, which have been filled to capacity during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, have in recent days witnessed heated debates, with moderates taunting hardliners over the Taliban's rapid collapse.

"No one expected the Taliban to surrender," said former militant Abid Ali. "Afghans are very tough fighters. I have seen Afghan volunteers engaging Indian troops in fierce gun battles."

India says a substantial number of Afghans have fought alongside Kashmiri Muslims in their 12-year insurgency.

Local Kashmiri newspapers are no longer carrying the large photographs of bin Laden and Taliban fighters which had been popular at the start of the US military offensive in Afghanistan.

"Such pictures did boost sales in September and October," said newspaper vendor Ansar Ahmed. "But now, I don't think anyone is interested in that stuff."
 


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