Kashmir Militant Extremists

Kashmir Militant Extremists

A profile of militant extremist groups in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Last updated July 9, 2009 8:00 am (EST)

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Militancy in the disputed region of Kashmir has been major fuel for discord between India and Pakistan since the 1980s. Attacks in the region began to increase in scale and intensity following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when foreign insurgents flooded the region to join the Afghan Mujahadeen. The majority Muslim region has its own local militant groups, but experts believe most of the recent Kashmir and Kashmir-based terrorism has been the work of foreign Islamists who seek to claim the region for Pakistan. A spate of Islamist cross-border attacks into Indian-held territory, the December 2001 storming of the Indian parliament in New Delhi, and the 2008 Mumbai attacks have all reinforced Kashmir’s standing as the significant bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Both states have nuclear weapons, making Kashmir one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints.

Origins of the Conflict

Kashmir has been a constant source of tension since 1947, when the British partitioned their imperial holdings in South Asia into two new states, India and Pakistan. For Pakistan, incorporating the majority Muslim province of Kashmir is a basic national aspiration bound up in its identity as an Islamic state. Islamabad’s official line on Kashmir, which the United States echoed as recently as June 2009, is that incorporation into either India or Pakistan must be determined by Kashmiris. Meanwhile, India sees the province as vital to its identity as a secular, multiethnic state. Movements for an independent Kashmiri state, such as the Kashmir Freedom Movement and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, also exist and have many supporters. India now holds about two-thirds of the disputed territory, which it calls Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan controls about one-third, which it calls Azad (meaning "free") Kashmir. China also controls two small sections of northern Kashmir. India and Pakistan fought two wars over the region in 1947 and 1965, and a limited conflict in 1999. At least fifty thousand people have died in political violence in Kashmir since 1989.

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Though flare-ups have occurred on both sides of the line, violence in Kashmir has decreased dramatically. According to the Indian Home Ministry, the number of violent incidents in 2008 was the lowest in twenty years (AFP) at seven hundred, a 40 percent drop compared to the number of incidents reported in 2007. The South Asia Terrorism Portal reports that 2008 also marks the first time civilian casualties have been under one hundred since 1990.

Terrorist Groups

The U.S. State Department lists three Islamist groups active in Kashmir as foreign terrorist organizations: Harakat ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The first group has been listed for years, and the other two were added after the December 2001 Indian parliament attack. All three groups have attracted Pakistani members as well as Afghan and Arab veterans who fought the 1980s Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

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  • Harakat ul-Mujahideen (HUM) was established in the mid-1980s. Based first in Pakistan and then in Afghanistan, it has several hundred armed supporters in Pakistan and Kashmir. The group is responsible for the December 1999 hijacking of an Indian airliner and numerous attacks on Indian troops and civilians in Kashmir. Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front Harakat members have participated in insurgent and terrorist operations in Myanmar, Tajikistan, and Bosnia.
  • Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) was founded in 2000 by Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistani cleric. The group seeks to incorporate Kashmir into the state of Pakistan and has openly declared war on the United States. JEM has carried out attacks on Indian targets, the Pakistani government, and various sectarian minority groups within Pakistan. Acts of terrorism attributed to the group include the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament and a series of assaults in 2002 on Christian sites in Pakistan. The Pakistani government has also implicated JEM for the two assassination attempts on former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. According to the U.S. State Department, the group has at least several hundred armed supporters as well as tens of thousands of followers.
  • Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), active since 1993, was formed as the military wing of the well-funded Pakistani Islamist organization Markaz-ad- Dawa-wal-Irshad. The group, one of the largest and most proficient of the Kashmir-based terrorist groups, has claimed responsibility for a number of high-profile attacks on Indian targets in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as within India. India says that over the last several years the group has split into two factions, al-Mansurin and al-Nasirin. There is wide speculation that LeT was responsible for the July 11, 2006 string of bombings on Mumbai’s commuter railroad, though a spokesman for the group denied any involvement. The Indian government alleges that LeT was responsible for coordinating the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Since Pakistan outlawed these groups, attacks in Kashmir and Pakistan have been carried out under other guises as a tactic to avoid detection while still maintaining the same leadership and ideology. Often times these groups pose as charitable organizations to avoid government sanctions. One group calling itself al-Qanoon or Lashkar-e-Omar is thought to be a coalition of members of Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other Pakistan-based Islamist groups, including the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi organization.

Links to the Pakistani State

India has long accused Pakistan’s premier intelligence service, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of arming, training, and providing logistical support to militants in Kashmir. Pakistan denies any ongoing collaboration between the ISI and militants, stressing a change of course after September 11, 2001. After the December 2001 attack on India’s parliament, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf promised to crack down on terrorist groups active in Kashmir and purge ISI officials with ties to these groups. However, the Indian government implied the ISI’s involvement in a July 2008 attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, and again in the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

But as this Backgrounder points out, some experts believe the relationship between the Pakistani military and some Kashmiri groups has turned with the rise of militancy within Pakistan. Shuja Nawaz, author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within, says the ISI "has certainly lost control" of Kashmiri militant groups. According to Nawaz, some of the groups trained by the ISI to fuel insurgency in Kashmir have been implicated in bombings and attacks within Pakistan, therefore making them army targets.

The al-Qaeda Connection

Many terrorists active in Kashmir received training in the same madrasas, or Muslim seminaries, where Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters studied, and some received military training at camps in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Leaders of some of these terror groups also have al-Qaeda connections. The long-time leader of the Harakat ul-Mujahideen group, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, signed al-Qaeda’s 1998 declaration of holy war, which called on Muslims to attack all Americans and their allies. Maulana Masood Azhar, who founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed organization, traveled to Afghanistan several times to meet Osama bin Laden. Azhar’s group is suspected of receiving funding from al-Qaeda, U.S. and Indian officials say. In 2006, al-Qaeda claimed to have established a wing in Kashmir.

Obstacle to Peace

Despite a resumption of formal peace talks between India and Pakistan in 2004, militant attacks continue to hinder progress towards a sustainable deal on Kashmir. After New Delhi and Islamabad agreed to launch a landmark bus service in February 2005 across the cease-fire line, militants vowed to target the service. In April of the same year, one bus survived a grenade attack. In March 2008, seventeen were wounded when a bomb exploded on a highway overpass in Indian-controlled Kashmir. A week later a gun battle erupted between Indian security forces and militants during a search-and-cordon operation, killing five. Both India and Pakistan have been accused of committing human rights violations in Kashmir, exacerbating the antagonism and mutual distrust both states have for one another. Talks were effectively put on hold in 2008 after India accused the ISI and Pakistani authorities of being complicit in the Mumbai attacks.

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