Lashkar-e-Zil behind Azad Kashmir suicide bombings


LAHORE: Investigations carried out by the Pakistani authorities into the rising incidents of suicide bombings in the Pakistani-administered Azad Kashmir (AK) indicate the involvement of the Lashkar-e-Zil (LeZ) or the Shadow Army, which is a loose alliance of the al-Qaeda-and Taliban-linked anti-US militant groups active in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pakistani-administered Azad Kashmir borders the present-day Indian-administered state of Jammu & Kashmir to the east (separated from it by the Line of Control), the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan to the west, the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA) to the north, and the Punjab Province of Pakistan to the south. With its capital at Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir covers an area of 13,297 square kilometres (5,134 sq mi) and has an estimated population of about four million.

According to those investigating the recent suicide bombings in Azad Kashmir, there are clear indications that the January 6, 2010 attack targeting a military installation in the Sudhnoti district of Azad Kashmir, which killed four Pakistani soldiers and the December 31, 2009 suicide attack on the Forward Operating Base of the American Central Intelligence Agency in Khost, Afghanistan, killing seven CIA officers, were masterminded by the Lashkar-e-Zil. Instead of indulging in traditional warfare, the Lashkar has distinguished itself by carrying out unusual guerilla operations, like the one targeting the CIA base in Khost. While the LeZ is mainly active in Pakistani tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, Peshawar, Khyber, and Swat in the NWFP, it has already carried out several deadly bombings against the US-led Allied Forces in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Kabul, Kandahar, Nuristan, Nangahar, Wardak, Paktika, Ghazni and Kunar, killing dozens.

The sources say the Lashkar-e-Zil mainly consists of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) led by Commander Hakeemullah Mehsud, the Azad Kashmir chapter of the Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI) led by Commander Ilyas Kashmiri, and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) led by its jailed leader Akram Lahori, the Afghan Taliban militia led by its ameer Mullah Omar, the Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HeI) led by Commander Gulbaddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani militant network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani. While the LeZ seeks guidance from Dr Ayman Zawahiri, the second-in-command of Osama bin Laden, the chief of the HUJI (Azad Kashmir chapter) Ilyas Kashmiri happens to be its chief operational commander, currently based in North Waziristan, which borders Khost.

Despite the ongoing spate of terrorist activities by the Taliban militants across Pakistan, there was hardly any such activity in Azad Kashmir till June 2009. But the last six months have seen four incidents of suicide attacks in Azad Kashmir between June 26, 2009 and January 6, 2010, killing 20 people, ten of them security forces personnel and ten civilians. In the first ever incident of suicide bombing in Azad Kashmir on June 26, 2009, four soldiers were killed and three wounded as the bomber blew himself up near an army vehicle in Muzaffarabad. While ruling out the possibility of Indian involvement in these attacks, the investigators say the bombing close to the 5-AK Brigade headquarters in Azad Kashmir on June 26, 2009 was carried out by one Abid, who actually belonged to the TTP, which is a component of the Lashkar-e-Zil. The 5-AK Brigade of Azad Kashmir Regiment is taking part in the ongoing military operation against the militants in the Swat and its adjoining areas.

In the second incident of suicide bombing on November 21, 2009, three suspected militants blew themselves up after the police gave a chase and surrounded them in a mountainous area of Muzaffarabad. All three seemed to be Pushtuns. In third such incident on December 28, 2009, a suicide bomber blew himself up amid a Muharram procession, killing ten people, including three policemen. The investigators say the Shia procession was targeted by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a component of the Lashkar-e-Zil. In the fourth such incident on January 6, 2010, a bomber blew himself up outside a military installation in the Tararkhel town of the Sudhnoti district of Azad Kashmir, killing four soldiers of the Pakistan Army. The investigators say the bomber was a member of the Harkatul Jehadul Islami (Azad Kashmir chapter), a component of the Lashkar-e-Zil.

The Pakistani investigators say the Lashkar-e-Zil has not only been instrumental in the Tehrik-e-Taliban’s consolidation of power in the Pakistani tribal areas and in the North West Frontier Province, it is also believed to be behind the Taliban’s recent successes in eastern and southern Afghanistan. The effectiveness of the LeZ has placed this terrorist alliance in the crosshairs of the ongoing American drone attacks in Pakistani tribal areas, focusing the North and South Waziristan. The Lashkar has distinguished itself by carrying out unusual guerilla operations, like the one targeting the CIA base in Khost, instead of indulging in traditional warfare.

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