Malla, a teenager, becomes first J&K resident to die fighting with Taliban against U.S. forces
He went missing from his north Kashmir home in 2001Seven months later, he called to say he was at a Harkat camp
NEW DELHI: A teenager, who vanished from his north Kashmir home six years ago, has been reported killed in a firefight with United States troops in Afghanistan.
Aijaz Ahmad Malla, a resident of Patushahi village in Jammu and Kashmir's Bandipora area, who joined the Pakistan-based Harkat ul-Mujahideen, is believed to have died in a skirmish in southern Afghanistan on May 29. He is the first Indian known to have participated in the Taliban-led jihad in Afghanistan.
Malla was reported missing on July 12, 2001. His parents told the local police that their son had been kidnapped by "unidentified gunmen." According to the missing persons report filed with the police, Malla was just 11 years old at the time.
Seven months after his disappearance, Malla called home to say that he was at a Harkat training camp near Mansehra in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. In subsequent years, he called home every few months to reassure his family that he was safe.
Last phone call
In the last two years, Malla called thrice to report that he was participating in forays across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. According to one of his brothers, Asiq Ahmad, the last of these calls was made two months ago. "I am again going to fight the infidels in Afghanistan," Malla told his ageing father, Ghulam Mohammad Malla, "and do not know if I will come back alive. Pray for me."
It is unclear just what motivated Malla, who apprenticed as a carpet-weaver under his father, to join the Harkat. None of his seven siblings, interestingly, appears to have been drawn to Islamist causes. Mr. Asiq Ahmad serves in the Jammu and Kashmir Police's 11 Security Battalion, while Pervez Ahmad is a constable in the Central Reserve Police Force. Arshid Ahmad runs a pharmacy, Manzoor Ahmad has just completed his undergraduate studies, and the youngest children, Khalid Ahmad and Irshada Bano, are still in school.
Islamists in Jammu and Kashmir have moved to capitalise on Malla's death, advertising it as a sacrifice for their global campaign. Soon after the Urdu-language Kashmir Uzma and Alsafa carried obituary notices on Tuesday, hardline leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani held a "gaibana janaaza" ritual last rites for those presumed dead. At the "gaibana janaaza," Mr. Geelani accused Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf of being "an agent of George Bush."
Like many other Islamist terror organisations, the Harkat ul-Mujahideen was a child of the U.S.-funded jihad against the Soviet Union. By 1991, it had a substantial presence in both Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir.
In June 1993, a committee of clerics arranged for the Harkat to merge itself into a new organisation, the Harkat ul-Ansar. Maulana Azhar Masood Alvi, the terrorist released from jail in return for the safety of the hostages on board Indian Airlines flight 814 in 1999, was one of the key figures in this new group.
The Harkat ul-Ansar gained international attention when it kidnapped European and U.S. hostages in 1994 and 1995 in murderous efforts to secure Azhar Masood's release. In 1997, the U.S. declared it a terrorist organisation, which led the group to resume calling itself the Harkat ul-Mujahideen. A year later, the U.S. fired missiles at two Harkat-run camps in Afghanistan.
Support to Taliban
Matters came to a head in 2001, when the Harkat provided support to the Taliban against the U.S. While Pakistan responded by proscribing the group, it continued to operate using the cover of a new charitable organisation, the al-Asar trust. One faction, the Harkat ul-Mujahideen Alami, carried out a series of strikes against French and U.S. interests, as well as an attempt on the life of General Musharraf.
Harkat operatives have also been increasingly active in India. In March last, police in Ahmedabad shot dead Pakistani nationals Imran Shehzad Bhatti and Mohammad Iqbal, who are alleged to have been preparing to execute major strikes in western India. Days earlier, police in Lucknow killed Mohammad Salim bin-Aziz, a Harkat terrorist who had served with the organisation in southern Kashmir.