May 25, 2020
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In Search Of New Jehadi Heavens

Kashmir’s jehadi militancy was in the service of the ISI, with Hurriyat in a supporting role. Now, a ruthless band cares only for an Islamic, Sharia-ruled state

In Search Of New Jehadi Heavens
Zakir Musa, the former Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief
In Search Of New Jehadi Heavens

There has been an extraordinary war of words among the leaders backing the secession of Jammu and Kashmir from India, ref­lecting the ideological, political and tactical differences among the various secessionist groups and the challenge the mentors of jehad face from the next generation of militants.

On April 2, a masked militant said at the grave of his slain comrade: “We want Islamic system in Kashmir. We have stood up not for any organisation or Pakistan but for Islam.” He then asked the people not to wave the “un-Islamic” Pakistani flag.

War of words

In response, the leaders of the three organisations spearheading the secessionist movement, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muh­ammad Yasin Malik, issued a joint statement on May 9. They said that the Kashmir issue is political and that the ongoing agitation is indigenous and not associated with organisations like IS and Al-Qaeda. They blamed “Indian agencies for maligning the movement under a well-thought-out plan”.

As the ISI loses control and the Hurriyat becomes irrelevant, there will be no credible interlocutors left to pursue the peace process.

This statement led Zakir Musa, head of the Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen, to launch a fierce attack on the sec­essionist leaders. He said: “Our struggle is for implementation of Sharia. It is an Islamic struggle.” He then warned the Hurriyat leaders: “If they again try to become thorns in our path, the first thing we will do is behead you and hang you in Lal Chowk.”

Musa raised some pertinent questions about Hurriyat’s tactics when he asked: “If this is a political struggle, then why you people have been using mosques for politics, why have you been using the pulpits of the mosques for a political struggle?”

The Pakistan-based United Jehad Council, which includes the Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen, then strongly rejected Musa’s remarks and the negative references to Pakistan. This further inflamed Musa, who said: “If we are fighting for azadi to establish a secular state, then we are not martyrs; then my blood will not be spilled for it.” With this, he resigned from the leadership of Hizb and gave the clarion call: “Sharia ya shahadat” (Sharia or martyrdom).

While the Hurriyat leaders have regretted this break in the ranks of the militants and called for unity against Indian machinations, two Pakistan-based jehadi organisations have applauded Musa’s position. The Al-Qaeda in South Asia (AQIS) pra­ised him for distancing the Kashmir struggle from Pakistan and emphasising the centrality of jehad to establish Islamic rule. The AQIS mouth-piece added: “This fight is for establishing Sharia, it is not the fight of any terrorist group or Pakistan, which itself is a non-Islamic state.”

The other source of support for Musa is the Teh­­r­eek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Its commander, Haji Man­soor Mehsood, praised Musa for freeing the Kashmir jehad from the shackles of Pakistan-inf­luenced agencies and its “central perfidious leadership”.

Zakir Musa’s outburst has exposed two deep fault-lines in the Kashmir secessionist movement: one, bet­­ween the Pakistan-sponsored jehadi militants and their Hurriyat associates in the Kashmir valley, and the other between a new generation of jehadis and the Pakistani institutions that spawned them.

The Hurriyat

Till 1987, almost all political groups in Jammu and Kashmir, while divided ideologically and politically, acted within the framework of the Indian Con­stitution and sought power and influence through the ballot box. Believing that the 1987 elections were rigged to their disadvantage, they now backed secessionist movements organised from Pakistan.

While the Pakistan-sponsored agitation in Kashmir was initially spearheaded by the ‘secular’ Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the latter was soon sidelined with the emergence of Islamic extremist groups on the Kashmir stage, so that the secessionist militancy sponsored by Pakistan now became stridently Islamic and pro-Pakistan in character.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the Jamaat-e-Islami headed by him played a major role in providing ideological support to the Kashmir jehad, shaping the ideological orientation of two outfits, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and the Hizb-e-Islami. By early 1990, Islamic militancy had become the central force in the state, aggravating the communal div­ide by targeting Hindu and Sikh communities, as also Muslim supporters of the accession to India.

The All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which brought together 26 political, religious and social organisations, was set up in March 1993 (widely suspected to have been sponsored by US thinktanks, with possible US diplomatic support) as a united political front to promote the secession of Jammu and Kashmir from India. Its constitution calls for: a peaceful struggle of the people of the state to exercise the right of self-determination; a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute between India, Pakistan and the people of the state, and the need to publicise the struggle globally to expose India’s “illegal occupation” of the state.

Musa and the Hurriyat

Both Musa and the Hurriyat leaders give a central place to Islam in defining the Kashmir struggle. Where they disagree is regarding the commitment to a ‘secular’ Kashmir on the part of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the commitment to affiliation with Pakistan on Geelani’s part.

Geelani is the self-avowed hardliner in the Hurriyat pantheon. Ideologically, he has hardly any differences with Zakir Musa, having mentored his organisation, Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen, in its formative stages. Where he parts company from Musa is regarding Kashmir’s ties with Pakistan. In 2008, Geelani said Pakistan had been created as the home of Islam, and “just as Pakistan belonged to Kashmir, Kashmir belonged to Pakistan”.

Mirwaiz Omar Farooq is considered a moderate because he has kept aloof from militant groups, though he has not condemned their violence. While committed to the fulfilment of Kashmiri aspirations, he continues to give lip-service to the state’s eclectic traditions. His belief-system is simply set out thus: “The State has to have secular credentials where minorities are protected and rights of the dispossessed assured.”

New generation of jehadis

But, Zakir Musa reflects a deeper problem regarding militancy in Kashmir. Since 1989, jehad has been assiduously promoted by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which indoctrinated, armed and trained the militants, and sent them into India to keep the Kashmir issue alive before the international community, even as the domestic resolution of the conflict became increasingly difficult, and over time India’s national values of moderation and accommodation got corroded.

The principal role in this regard has been played by jehadi outfits organised in Pakistan and given appropriate doctrinal and operational support. These outfits have thus far been creatures of ISI diktat.

Not anymore. Today, a new generation of jehadis has emerged in Pakistan, which is made up of younger members who are doctrinally more rigid, operationally more ruthless, and politically more independent of their sponsors. They are inspired by the ‘Islamic State’, though not linked with it organisationally, and have ties with various local groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

They are making themselves felt in Kashmir, where they are inspiring a new generation of militants as well as street demonstrators. Thus, the spokesman of the Kashmiri Taliban has said that Zakir Musa is on the “right track” and it will target “anti-freedom struggle forces” in India, a dire warning to Hurriyat leaders.

These developments cannot bring any comfort to India. As ISI loses control and the Hurriyat bec­omes irrelevant, there will be no credible inter­locutors left to pursue the peace process.

(The author is a former diplomat)

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