Militants vow jihad against Indian rule

MUZAFFARABAD: Pakistani militant leaders vowed Thursday to press holy war to "liberate" the divided Himalayan state of Kashmir from Indian control and called for moral support from Pakistan.

They addressed a rally attended by thousands as India proposed foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan, signalling a breakthrough in relations frozen since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which were blamed on Pakistani militants.

"The Kashmir issue cannot be resolved through dialogue. Jihad (holy war) is the only solution to free Kashmir from the Indian yoke," said Syed Salahuddin, chairman of the 16-party United Jihad Council.

"I want to tell my brothers across the border that we will remain with you until India quits Kashmir," said Salahuddin, who is also supreme commander of the hardline Hizbul Mujahedin group.

Organisers said more than 5,000 people participated in the meeting held on the eve of Kashmir Solidarity Day, which Pakistan will observe Friday.

The public holiday supports the region's right to self-determination under UN resolutions that call for a plebiscite in Kashmir on whether it should be ruled by Hindu-majority India or Muslim Pakistan.

The Kashmir conference in Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistan-administered zone of the divided state, was attended by more than a dozen political and militant groups.

Among them were senior leaders of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a charity widely viewed as a front for banned Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that India and the United States blamed for the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.

In December 2008, Pakistan placed the leader of the charity, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, and eight other JuD members under house arrest.

Salahuddin demanded lifting of restrictions on JuD and immediate release of its leaders because "Indian propaganda against JuD had flopped".

A statement issued after the meeting said: "Jihad will continue until India ends its occupation of Kashmir.

"If Pakistan cannot offer material support, it should extend its political and moral support to the Kashmir movement," it said.

Kashmir split between the nuclear armed South Asian rivals and claimed by both in full has triggered two of their three wars since independence in 1947.