Ikhwan, Kashmir, Zakir Musa, India, Pakistan, Kashmir, HRW, Taliban

In a significant development in the recent history of insurgency in Indian-held Kashmir (IHK), Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zakir Musa released a video on May 12 in which he warned the Hurriyat leadership to not term Kashmiri freedom struggle as a political movement. In the five minutes and 40 seconds video which featured quotes of Abu Bakar Bashir of ISIS and Anwar al-Awlaki of Al-Qaeda, he also threatened to chop of the heads of Hurriyat leaders and display them at Lal Chowk in Srinagar if they proved to be obstacles in the way of the guerrilla fighters.

Considered as Burhan Wani’s successor, Commander Zakir’s latest audio message was in continuation to his call of imposing an Islamic caliphate in IHK on May 6. Zakir’s latest message has already caused a flutter among the Kashmiris residing in IHK; with some analysts believing the role of India behind the video in order to divide and weaken the Kashmiri freedom struggle.

Zakir’s message came following the joint statement of Hurriyat leadership in which the organization distanced Kashmiri freedom movement from ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Endorsing Hurriyat leadership, United Jihad Council (UJC) chief Syed Salahuddin said that there is no role of Al-Qaeda, ISIS and TTP in Kashmir freedom struggle. The UJC is a conglomerate of over a dozen guerilla outfits fighting Indian rule in IHK.

In addition to Zakir’s threats to Hurriyat leadership, the Kashmiri insurgency has recently witnessed significant ideological shift. The new ideological shift is trying to portray the Kashmiri freedom struggle as an Islamic struggle for the imposition of Shariat (Islamic Law) and the Islamic caliphate. Contrarily, the insurgency, since 1989, had primarily focused on getting freedom from Indian rule.

On April 7, a group of masked guerilla fighters arrived at the grave of Naseer Pandith, a cop-turned guerrilla fighter in south Kashmir’s Karimabad village. A guerilla commander, part of the six-member group of masked guerilla fighters, said to the villagers not to wave Pakistani flags during the funerals of guerrilla fighters. In addition, the commander also asked the crowd to shout slogans in favour of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an Afghanistan-based terror group responsible for numerous deadly terror attacks in Pakistan. In nearly a three-decade long insurgency, it was the first reported incident in which a group of guerilla fighters spoke against Pakistan and also instructed the people not to wave the Pakistani flag. In response to the Karimabad incident, UJC spokesperson Syed Sadaqat Hussain said that the pro-TTP gunmen, who were not associated with any popular outfit, were creating confusion between guerilla fighters and people.

Days before the appearance of unidentified guerrilla fighters in Karimabad, Commander Zakir Musa, in a 12-minute video released on 15 March, claimed that they were fighting for the imposition of Shariat. His address was conspicuously devoid of the words ‘azadi’ (freedom) and Pakistan.

The above incidents, along with Zakir’s latest message, point towards the rise of a new group of guerrilla fighters who aim to portray Kashmir armed struggle as a way to impose Shariat and Islamic caliphate in IHK. In addition, these fighters have adopted deviant ideologies by supporting Takfiri terror groups (the terror groups that declare other Muslims of committing apostasy) like TTP, ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Various theories are floating behind the rise of guerrilla fighters with deviant ideology. One theory is that it is believed that the new group of fighters is infact a breakaway faction. However, observers believe that there will be little political space for a breakaway faction to exist independently in IHK.

Apart from the theory of breakaway faction, it is also believed that the rise of the new group of fighters is infact the revival of Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon (Muslim Brotherhood), an India-supported counter-guerilla group, consisting of captured and surrendered guerrilla fighters, established in the mid-1990s to fight guerrilla groups that aim to secede Kashmir from Indian control. According to Human Rights Watch, Ikhwan was responsible for grave human rights abuses including summary executions, disappearances, torture and illegal dentitions. In addition, Ikhwans have been responsible for rape and loot during counter-guerilla operations in IHK.

Meanwhile, ISIS has been trying to increase its influence in IHK. With the argument of failure of ‘secular’ institutions like United Nations in resolving Kashmir dispute, ISIS flags debuted in valley in July 2014. In recent months, ISIS flags have been waved in various protests taking place in the valley and slogans were up on the walls in support of the terror outfits. ISIS-inclined individuals were suspected behind the killing of Moulvi Showkat Shah last month.

Karimabad incident and Zakir’s video message clearly indicate that ISIS ideology has successfully made its inroads in the valley. India’s role in creating an atmosphere in the valley through which ISIS has been able to grow its presence in the region cannot be ruled out. In the past, India has employed, captured and surrendered guerrilla fighters to fight guerrilla groups by forming Ikhwan group.

The growing presence of ISIS in IHK is a troubling issue for Pakistan also. The ISIS-inclined individuals could be utilized to spread the Takfiri ideology in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and could also create havoc in AJK like Takfiri terror groups did in Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan should pursue the Kashmir issue aggressively on both politically and diplomatic fronts so that the dispute could be resolved as per the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Pakistan should also analyze the reasons behind the growing influence of ISIS in IHK and how it can impact Pakistan’s support to people of IHK.

At a time when anti-India antagonism is at its peak in the Kashmir valley, the rise of the second wave of Kashmir Ihwans will serve as a blow to the Kashmiri freedom struggle. The aim of Kashmir Ikhwans is to create divisions among Kashmiris so that the Kashmiri armed struggle should be weakened. The weakening of the armed struggle will ultimately benefit India to strengthen its grip over the valley.

Fahad Nabeel

Fahad Nabeel is an independent researcher, and he tweets @fahadnabeelfn

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