Muslim recruits join `Foreign Legion'

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The Independent Online
DOWN A dirty alley in the Pakistani city of Lahore is a small metal door half off its hinges. Next to the bell is a colourful sticker with pictures of grenade launchers and heavy machine-guns and a strident call to arms: "Muslim brothers unite to destroy the Indian Invader".

The house is the headquarters of Harkat-al- Mujahideen, one of the groups that recruits, trains and arms the fighters for Kashmir. Volunteers sleep, eat and pray in its unfurnished rooms while waiting for transport to the Line of Control - the de facto border that has split Kashmir between India and Pakistan since 1949.

When I was there two months ago a man called Abu Bakr - the group's local organiser - said I had missed meeting a group of German recruits by only a few hours. He said six British nationals of Pakistani origin were also fighting the Indians with his organisation.

The militants artillery are a mixed bunch. Many are Kashmiri Muslims fighting what they see as a war to free their homeland. For others, home is far away. The Indians refer to the militants as Pakistan's Foreign Legion.

The reference is not only to their varied origins but also to the fact that many are paid to fight. The going rate for a three-month tour of duty in Kashmir is between pounds 1,000 and 3,000. There are recruits from almost every country with a substantial Muslim population, from Canada to Chechnya.

There are 13 main militant groups and most of those engaged in the battle near Kargil in Kashmir are from the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (War Party of the Prophet) - based in Muridke, near Lahore.

Lashkar-e-Tayyaba is known to have strong links with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) - the powerful and secretive agency widely believed to be masterminding the militants' operations.

Indian officials say they have intercepted radio messages in Pashto proving that many of the militants are Taliban militiamen from Afghanistan, where the language is widely spoken. What is most likely, however, is that the Pashto-speakers have come to Kashmir to provide a core of battle-hardened troops.