Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sheeda Tulli in Trouble

The Newsflash
On 13 June at an HRCP function in Islamabad the visiting JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik blurted out that the current Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had once been actively involved the training of Kashmiri guerillas.

Daily Times of 14 June reported:

“ISLAMABAD: When the armed struggle in held Kashmir was at its zenith, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed set up a camp where around 3,500 Jihadis were trained in guerrilla warfare, revealed Yasin Malik, the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chairman…
…The JKLF leader praised Rashid for his contribution to the armed struggle, but the minister refused to comment when journalists approached him.”

A Sudden Denial
The very next day (Wednesday, 15 June) Sheikh Rashid Ahmed denied running ‘terrorist camps’. This time Daily Times, quoting the Associated Press, reported:

“I never ran any training camp for terrorists. It has never been my policy to
train militants. I am a politician and support the peace process between
Pakistan and India,” AP quoted Rashid as saying.
Then the Foreign Office also weighed in, as the newspaper added:

The Foreign Office on Tuesday denied a story that Sheikh Rashid had been running terrorist training camps. “The news item is based on reported remarks by Yasin Malik,” an FO spokesman said. “The Government of Pakistan strongly refutes the story which is obviously based on lack of comprehension by the reporter. In fact, Yasin Malik had commended the moral support to the Kashmiri cause by the minister,” he added.


Swift Rebuttals
Several People unexpectedly entered the fray by robustly corroborating Yasin Malik’s version, these included:

- General Mirza Aslam Baig, the former Army Chief,
- Maj Gen Naseerullah Babar, Interior Minister (1993-1996) during Benazir’s 2nd government
- Ch.Nisar Khan, ex- Federal Minister & colleague of Sheikh Rashid during Nawaz Sharif governments
- Khawaja Khalid, former officer in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)
- Hamid Mir, of the Geo Television Network

They all confirmed that Rashid Ahmed used to run a militant camp in Rawalpindi which allegedly functioned under the name of ‘Freedom House’.

Hamid Mir went on record and said:
Sheikh Rashid's Rawalpindi farmhouse was dubbed Freedom House and used to be a hub of Kashmiri activists belonging to the JKLF. The camp was operational from 1988-90 to train JKLF cadres and Sheikh Rashid accompanied JKLF leaders, including Yasin, to the LoC several times. The camp's existence was known to high officials in Islamabad
Amir Mir writing in Outlook stated that:
A retired [Pakistani] intelligence official told {Amir Mir} that late Ashfaq Majeed Wani was in charge of Freedom House, the Sheikh's 20-acre farmhouse in Fateh Jang, Rawalpindi; and it was the ISI, then under Lt Gen Hamid Gul, which established the facility. But the former official claims the "liberation of Kashmir" may not have been the Sheikh's sole motive. "There were those in the intelligence who believed that he had actually rented out his farmhouse to the ISI for a hefty sum of money
In the same Outlook article, Amir Mir quotes Farhatullah Babar, a Pakistan People's Party spokesperson with a decided anti-Rashid standpoint:
Since only 20 acres of land was used to train militants, Babar has alleged that hundreds of acres of land were given to the Sheikh for some "collateral purposes". Claiming that the "training camp story was anything more than a decoy to divert state funds to favoured political leaders to overthrow democracy", the PPP has now demanded an inquiry into the Sheikh's role in training militants.
The most damaging allegation came from the former ISI officer Khawaja Khalid who asserted:
Then Nawaz Sharif introduced me to Sheikh Rashid, and he took me to his Freedom House camp near Fateh Jang Road near Rawalpindi. He asked me to get support from Arabs. I took several of my Arab friends to his training camp, and they provided him with some money, though they were not satisfied with the environment. The youths were mostly trained to fire AK-47 rifles, but there was no arrangement for the ideological training of youths. That was the point on which the Arabs objected, that it is ideological training that makes a difference between a mercenary and a mujahid. Rashid was the least bothered about ideological training, he was interested in money - Rs50,000 per person. Some money was provided to Rashid, and he claimed that he procured AK-47 guns with that money. How many, I do not remember.

A Retraction
Yasin Malik then spoke to BBC with a clarification which was refuted by the former Army Chief Mirza Aslam Baig:
"We got refuge in his farmhouse... Sheikh Rashid helped us a lot and loved us" like a brother, Mr Malik told the BBC. However he denied having alleged in Pakistan's Daily Times newspaper that the minister had set up a training camp. "I have never mentioned the word training," Mr Malik said.
But Gen Beg has taken the allegations further, saying that Mr Rashid did run such a camp. "It came to my knowledge in 1990 that there was a militant training camp on Fateh Jang Road some 20km from Islamabad. I passed the information to the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who ordered the closure of the camp in 1991," he told the BBC.

Indian Reaction
On 24th the Press reported that Indian government turned down a visa application from Sheikh Rashid Ahmed to visit Indian-administered Kashmir.


A Blog Comment
Your blogger vividly recalls Sheikh Rashid Ahmed bragging in the Pakistani press about the camp and his heroic support for the Kashmiri cause.

Can anyone, who has the patience and the urge to sift through newspapers of around 1989-1991, track down this report and find out what exactly Sheeda Tulli said? He certainly wasn't handing out Havana cigars to his guests, so what was he actually providing them with?

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