MUZAFFARABAD: Thousands of people attended a rally organised here on Sunday by an outlawed militant group, the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM).
Apparently held as launching ceremony for a book authored by Kashmiri activist Mohammad Afzal Guru, the rally was described by some analysts as a show of strength by the group headed by Maulana Masood Azhar and blamed by India for the 2001 attack on its parliament.
Mr Guru — a resident of India-held Kashmir — was convicted for the 2001 attack and sentenced to death by a special Indian court in 2002. He was executed on Feb 9 last year.
The rally coincided with India’s Republic Day, which is observed as ‘black day’ on both sides of the Line of Control.
The organisers of the rally did not allow media personnel to take their cameras and mobile phones to the venue where walk-through gates were installed by police.
Leaders of the group claimed that more than 20,000 people attended the rally, but according to police and independent observers the number was closer to 10,000. Addressing the rally by phone, Maulana Azhar strongly criticised India for “killing Kashmiri Muslims” and accused the country of carrying out terror activities in Pakistan.
Maulana Azhar came under international spotlight in December 1999, when India was forced to free him from jail along with two other militants in exchange for the release of crew and passengers of an Indian Airlines plane that had been hijacked from Kathmandu in Nepal and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
He formed Jaish-e-Mohammad in 2000 after returning to Pakistan.
The group was among several others, including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which were banned in 2002 by the government of retired Gen Pervez Musharraf as part of a campaign to stem militancy.
Maulana Azhar criticised Gen Musharraf for “making Pakistan a stooge of the United States and offering its resources for the massacre of innocent people of Afghanistan”.
“Kashmir is part of Pakistan and unless Kashmiri Muslims get their rights, there cannot be any friendship with India,” he declared.
He warned India against a “dreaded revenge” for the execution of Mr Guru.
He called upon Islamabad to “keep itself away from slaughter of Muslims in Afghanistan and lift restrictions on jihad”.
The rally was also addressed by United Jihad Council (UJC) chairman Syed Salahuddin and Maulana Azhar’s younger brother Mufti Abdul Rauf Asghar.
Mr Salahuddin recalled repressive measures by Indian military and paramilitary forces in held Kashmir and said jihad was the only way to liberate the occupied territory.