On March 23, 2010, Pakistan-based jihadist organizations organized a conference in the town of Kotli in Pakistani Kashmir. The conference was addressed by, among others, two prominent jihadist commanders - Syed Salahuddin and Abdul Wahid Kashmiri. Salahuddin is the Supreme Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, one of the militant organizations fighting against Indian security forces in the Jammu & Kashmir state, and also heads the Muttahida Jihad Council, a network of nearly two dozen Pakistan-based militant organizations.
The Kotli meeting, which was billed as the "Defence of Pakistan Conference" and held on the Pakistan Day of March 23, was attended by hundreds of people and addressed by leaders of various jihadist organizations. Among the militant leaders who addressed the public meeting were Shaikh Jamilur Rehman of the militant organization Tehreekul Mujahideen, Bakht Zameen of Al-Badar Mujahideen, Maulana Farooq Kashmiri of Harkatul Mujahideen, Masood Sarfraz of Hizb-e-Islami (Jammu & Kashmir), General Abdullah of Jamiatul Mujahideen, Mufti Mohammad Asghar of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Mohammad Usman of Muslim Janbaz Force, Chaudhry Kamran of Al-Jihad Force, Ghulam Mohammad Safi, Mahmood Ahmed Saghar and Rana Iftikhar Ahmed, and others.
It should be noted that Pakistani Kashmir, formally called Azad (free) Jammu & Kashmir, is an area heavily fortified by the Pakistani military. Most of the mainstream Pakistani newspapers did not publish reports about the conference, as they normally refrain from doing so due to fears of the displeasure of the military-led establishment in Pakistan. The conference took place while Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a;ong with a number of Pakistani officials, were in the U.S. for the March 24 Pakistan-U.S. Strategic Dialogue.
The highlight of the Kotli conference was the presence of Abdul Wahid Kashmiri, who made his first public appearance in nearly a decade. Kashmiri, an obscure militant leader who took over as the military commander, de facto chief, of the jihadist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba after it was outlawed by Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf in January 2002, has mostly been underground over the last decade. It should also be noted that soon after it was banned by General Musharraf, Lashkar-e-Taiba started functioning under the banner of its charity arm Jamaatud Dawa, which is led by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed.
Saeed, who works from his base in Muridke, on the outskirts of Lahore in the Punjab province, is Lashkar-e-Taiba's original founder. Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaatud Dawa, along with a number of organizations connected to them, were outlawed by the UN Security Council following the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is widely believed to be connected to the Pakistani military, is also known to have provided bodyguards to Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
At the Kotli conference, Abdul Wahid Kashmiri vowed to wage jihad against India, saying: "Lashkar-e-Taiba will continue supporting the Kashmiri people until they achieve freedom from India."
According to a report on the Kashmiri website risingkashmir.com, Abdul Wahid Kashmiri also said, "It is the right of mujahideen to fight the invaders and oppressors across the world. The mujahideen fighting the occupation forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Kashmir are fully justified in doing so under religious obligations... The secret of success and freedom from the oppressor lies in jihad and not at the negotiating tables..."
Addressing the Pakistani government, the Lashkar-e-Taiba commander, said, "You beg water from India, whereas we are battling to levy and recover Jizya [tax] from India." The reference was to Pakistani criticisms of Indian water projects on rivers in India's Jammu & Kashmir state that flow into Pakistan.
Jihadist Commander Syed Salahuddin Tells the Conference: "We Strongly Believe that the Kashmir Dispute can Be Settled Only through Jihad"
Image courtesy: hindu.com, Syed Salahuddin (in center) arrives to attend the Kotli conference
The most important speaker of the conference was Syed Salahuddin, the Hizbul Mujahideen chief. Like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen believes in global jihad. In September 2009, he articulated his visions of global jihad, telling a religious meeting organized by the Jamaat-e-Islami in the Swabi district of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) by telephone, "Jihad in the way of Allah will continue across the entire world till the Day of Judgment. No power in the world can stop the way of jihad in the world."
In October 2009, the jihadist commander had also called for a joint jihad against the United States, saying that the mujahideen of Afghanistan and Kashmir are fighting for the defense of Pakistan, and noting: "In the prevailing situation [faced by Pakistan], jihad has become mandatory for every Muslim. Political and religious parties of Pakistan should jointly launch jihad against the U.S.... The youth fighting against imperialist forces in Afghanistan and Kashmir are fighting for the security of Pakistan."
At the Kotli conference of March 23, 2010, Salahuddin described recent India-Pakistan talks as a "hoax," telling the audience: "We reject the talks between India and Pakistan, which are a hoax. Dialogue can never facilitate freedom of Kashmir... We will fight at all fronts, defeat India and clinch freedom."
Noting that jihad is the "only way" to liberate Kashmir, the militant commander Salahuddin said, "Therefore, we strongly believe that the Kashmir dispute can be settled only through jihad."
The conference also adopted a declaration, excerpts of which were published by different websites. Some excerpts from the declaration stated:
"This conference firmly believes that liberation of Kashmir can counter India's water terrorism. Pakistan must stick to its principled stand on Kashmir and adopt a concrete strategy for its freedom...
"We are afraid that Pakistan may subject itself to another debacle bigger than that of its dismemberment in 1971 by considering India and U.S. as its friends..."
"[Calls upon the government of Pakistani Kashmir] to play the role of a real base camp (launch pad) of freedom struggle instead of blindly following the rapidly changing regimes in Islamabad."
"Jihad will continue until India ends its occupation of Kashmir."
Jamaatud Dawa's Muzaffarabad Conference Calls for Jihad Against Norway And Denmark; At Rally, Attendees Chant: "The Only Punishment for Norway, Al-Jihad; the Only Punishment for Denmark, Al-Jihad"
On March 25, two days after the Kotli conference, the Jamaatud Dawa (the Lashkar-e-Taiba's charity arm), organized a protest rally, followed by a seminar, in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir.
Hundreds of people participated in the rally, which was organized as a protest against the re-publication of Prophet Muhammad's controversial cartoons by newspapers in Norway and Denmark.
According to a report in the Kashmiri website risingkashmir.com, the protesters chanted, "The only punishment for Norway, Al-Jihad; the only punishment for Denmark, Al-Jihad... Death on those who insult our Prophet... Death on those who insult our religion" At the end of the rally, the protesters burned the flags of Norway and Denmark.
The rally followed a seminar at the Press Club, organized by Jamaatud Dawa. Amir Hamza, a leading Jamaatud Dawa leader, called upon Islamic countries to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on all countries that commit or encourage blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad, stating that defense of the prophet's honor is possible only through jihad.
Amir Hamza told the seminar: "Muslims should rise to the occasion and prepare themselves for jihad… It's the deviation from jhad which has encouraged India to plan stoppage of waters flowing toward Pakistan... India is desperately trying to convert Pakistan into [deserts like] Ethiopia and Somalia but we will not let it realize its nefarious designs. We'll settle scores with India."
Among those who spoke at the seminar were militant clerics Sahabuddin Madni of Jamiat Ahle Hadith, Shaikh Aqeelur Rehman of Jamaat-e-Islami, Maulana Mahmoodul Hassan Ashraf and Qari Abdul Malik of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Qari Yaqoob Shaikh and Uzair Ahmed Ghizali.
* Tufail Ahmad is Director of MEMRI's Urdu-Pashtu Media Project
 Pakistan Day is marked to commemorate the adoption of a resolution on March 23, 1940 by the Muslim League party in Lahore which became the basis for the formation of Pakistan.
 Asharq Alawsat (www.asharq-e.com), UK, December 6, 2008.
 Roznama Jasarat, Pakistan, March 28, 2009.
 Haftroza Jarrar, Issue No. 43, Pakistan, October 23, 2009.