The Biggest Threat To Kashmir

By Sanjay Kulkarni

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Ayman Mohd Rabie al-Zawahiri, born 1951, is the current leader of Al Qaeda and has pledged his support to Mullah Mansoor, the Taliban chief killed last year in Pakistan by a US drone strike. Al-Zawahiri is a wealthy Egyptian who at the age of 14 was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He is supposedly involved in the siege of Lal Masjid in Pakistan, and also reportedly implicated in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He was also Osama bin Laden’s personal advisor and surgeon since 1986. On Osama’s death in 2011, he took over as Chief of the Al Qaeda.

The breakaway faction of Al Qaeda is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which in 2014 took the world by storm when nearly 50,000 Iraqi soldiers trained by USA surrendered to these marauding rogues who numbered less than a thousand, and lost Mosul with their complete weaponry and equipment. The recapture of Mosul in 2017 has broken the backbone of ISIS / ISIL / IS / DAISH. It is not uncommon to see many a militant organizations changing their Identities and name to remain intractable and continue to operate when one outfit is banned by the international community. ISIS was headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – nicknamed ‘The Invisible Sheikh’ – who was interned by the USA in Camp Bucca in 2004. The ‘Caliph Ibrahim’ has reportedly succumbed to his injuries and died.

Al Qaeda in J&K has now been entrusted to ex-Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) militant Zakir Musa, who was a close friend of Burhan Wani, the militant killed in Kashmir last year. Musa will head Al Qaeda’s Ansar Ghawat-ul-Hind in J&K. The Global Islamic Media Front, which nominated Musa to head the Al Qaeda, expects that he will be able to repel the aggression of ‘tyrant’ Indian invaders and, through Jihad and with the aid of Allah, be able to liberate Kashmir. Musa has been able to muster less than a dozen people to his outfit. This is the second attempt after 2014 to establish a global Jihadi network in India.

Musa’s declaration that the Kashmir struggle is for Islamic cause and has nothing to do with nationalism has brought in a major shift in the ideology between the local militant organisations HM, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) under Hurriyat’s umbrella which are fighting for Azadi. This is why all killed militants in J&K were wrapped in a Pakistani Flag to show its allegiance to its handlers. Musa has instead passed instructions that militants hereafter killed will be given a funeral wrapped in the ISIS flag. This has led to an acrimony between the HM and Al Qaeda.

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Funeral for slain militant Burhan Wani

Hizbul Mujahideen – meaning ‘Holy Warriors’ – was founded by Muhammad Ahsan Dar in 1989 as a Kashmiri separatist terrorist organisation. Earlier this month, the US has designated HM as a “Foreign Terrorist Organisation”, and an MEA spokesperson said it is an obligation for everyone to end moral, diplomatic and material support to such internationally designated terror outfits and individuals. The US had also declared the Pakistan-based HM Chief Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist in June this year. Pakistan’s ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and their Chief of Army Staff General Bajwa have repeatedly praised the slain militant Burhan Wani of HM. Even Omar Abdullah praised the separatist activities of HM as being non Islamist. HM openly advocates the accession of Kashmir to Pakistan.

Na gaali, na goli – sirf boli” has its own value, and the value of dialogue can never be underestimated when two countries – namely India and Pakistan – hold dialogues to resolve the Kashmir problem, which in my view is extremely difficult since Pakistan wants resolution of the problem by occupying the Vale of Kashmir, which is a part of India. Punitive deterrence against Pakistan is the only answer. Pakistan has always believed that the basis of its strategic relationship with China is its occupation of the northern areas of PoK, which includes Gilgit-Baltistan because of its common border with its all weather friend China. Pakistan’s perception of Kashmir is Azad Kashmir (held by them) plus the Vale of Kashmir (part of J&K). Our perception of Kashmir is the whole of J&K, which includes PoK (Azad Kashmir plus northern areas).

One of the main factors contributing to the rise of militancy in Pakistan and India is the mushrooming of Madrasas in both countries. Since there is no check on the growing Muslim population, the respective governments have not been able to invest in education, health and employment, resulting in poor Muslim parents sending their children to these madrasas where they are provided free boarding and lodging and three R’s. It is here that their minds are radicalized and militants are born. These Madrasas are adequately funded by organisations inimical to India and by countries from the Middle East. They support Jihadi militancy, and some of them have excellent infrastructure, providing weapon training and brainwashing children, which has led to radicalisation and violence, strengthening the “Ideological War”. The aim of Jihadi militants trained and funded by Pakistan is to annex Kashmir. Despite numerous groups and their agendas, the overall trend is towards greater cohesion and an endeavour to achieve synergy between the operations of various factions. Al Qaeda shares training facilities with LeT in PoK, while ISI continues to exert influence over terror groups operating in the Af-Pak region and J&K. Turbulence in the Af-Pak region – the so called strategic depth of Pakistan – affects J&K when they push these foreign militants into India.

It is generally believed that South Asian Muslims, referred to by the Arabs as Hind Muslims, have a distinctive history of their own. A large number belong to the Deobandi school of thought, as also Ahl al-Hadith and Ahl-e-Tashee (Shiahs). Shah Waliullah’s (1703 – 1762) teachings inspired the Deobandi tradition, which in recent years influenced political Islamism in Pakistan, and Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda are inspired by Syed Ahmed Barelvi (1786 – 1831), and followers of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab of Arabia, who are attributed to the spread of the puritanical fundamentalist movement called Wahhabism since the 18th century. ISIS and Al Qaeda are more fundamentalist and believe in the Caliphate. They are not an affiliate since 2014. Haqqani Network (HQN) is an operating partner of Al Qaeda, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is supporting and promoting terrorist organisations by diverting aid provided by the US for eradicating militancy.

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Separatist Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on August 18th, 2017, when released after a six week house arrest, justified the violence in the state and said at the Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid that if security forces kill one militant, ten more will stand up. Syed Ali Geelani – the anti-national that he is – has stated, “The politics of socialism and secularism is totally unsound. I do not like any Muslim to adopt socialism and secularism as his political ideal.”

ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha in May 2011 had gone to the US to convince them of their ignorance of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden – residing for years adjoining the Pak Military Academy. He later resigned, unable to defend himself or the ISI, but it convinced the US of Pakistan’s deep involvement in harbouring terrorism. Geelani later led a funeral prayer for Osama bin Laden in Srinagar. The symbiotic interplay between the various Tanzeems is quite evident.

Al Qaeda remains in its infancy in the valley today, even though it has a world wide footprint. All these militant organisations, however, share a common ideology and organisational ties. These local militants have yet to get under effective control of the IS or Al Qaeda, but the trend is to establish an Islamist regime in Kashmir irrespective of the affiliation of the militant outfit. HQN, which collects its funds in Pakistan and from the Arab World, have close links with the Al Qaeda.

Pakistan will keep the pot boiling in Kashmir by supporting ISI sponsored militant organisations like LeT, JeM and HM, and the Pakistan Army will dictate its Government when it comes to Kashmir. The instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan is likely to cause more turbulence in J&K, and the influence of IS and Al Qaeda will cause ripples in the ranks of local militant organizations and give some disgruntled local militants an option to switch their loyalty for fun and money. The need, therefore, is to kill militants being pushed by Pakistan in North Kashmir, and at the same time neutralize homegrown militants operating in South Kashmir. Infiltration by elements like Kasab must be detected by security agencies and neutralized even before they know which side is North. To security forces operating on the ground, it does not matter to which Tanzeem the militants belong; if militants fire at them, they will be killed, irrespective of how many more spring up. The human shield provided by local supporters to militants may also suffer when caught in the crossfire. To security forces, the only good militant is a dead militant.


The author, Lt. Gen. Sanjay Kulkarni, is a retired officer of the Indian Army.
He served as the Commanding Officer in Leh, Laddakh, and planted the first Indian flag on Siachen in 1984.

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