Thursday, 16 May 2019

The bogey of the Islamic State in Kashmir

The resurfacing of Al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (IS), when he took credit for the worst terror attacks in South Asia, the Easter Day attacks in Sri Lanka, is indicative that though United States’ (US) President Donald Trump declared victory over the IS in end-February, the terror entity is not quite history as yet.
It is unlikely to be defeated with finality any time soon since it finds conflict zones are fertile grounds for thriving in and such zones are aplenty in the region ever since the US chose to deploy the extremist philosophy of Saudi origin, Wahabbism, as a mobilization tool to entrap the Soviet Bear in Afghanistan. Current day, Afghanistan is site for pockets of IS presence, confined by the Taliban’s ethnic-nationalist, rather than pan-Islamist, insurgency in Afghanistan.
Even as close-at-hand Kashmir continues as a conflict zone, this does not amount to IS being at India’s doorstep. As a conflict zone, Kashmir can be expected to attract the IS’ sympathetic and self-serving attention and in turn its once-ascendant star may have attracted disaffected Kashmiris youth surfing social media, its recruiting ground. But that is as far as the IS has gotten to yet.
Over the past five years there have been over-blown reports of IS activity in Kashmir. Black flags made an appearance in some street demonstrations. Terror mastermind, Zakir Musa, currently with an Al-Qaeda inspired outfit, once advocated the caliphate. For his pains, he was roundly criticized for weakening the political dimensions of the Kashmir problem and expelled from his position as leader of the local group, the Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen.
Over the turn of the year, masked youth appeared Srinagar’s historic Jamia Masjid after the Friday prayers waving IS flags, prompting a rally the following Friday by the separatist conglomerate, the Hurriyet, against what they claimed was an attempt by unspecified forces to way-lay their ‘indigenous’ movement for ‘self-determination’. For its part, the Pakistan-sponsored Lashkar-e-Toiba pointed to ‘Indian agents’ being behind the incident.
The latest instance of IS rising its head is in its designating Kashmir as Wilaya-e-Hind, a province of a to-be caliphate. Earlier, Kashmir was on the radar of the IS-affiliate overseeing its supposed Khorasan province that includes Afghanistan.
The claim was made in immediate wake of the killing by security forces of the last known surviving member of the group, IS in Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK). The ISJK had only a handful of self-proclaimed cadre to begin with and no links with West Asia. It was wiped out in successive operations over the past two year, while two alleged associates were caught in the mainland.
The police has thus rightly characterized the IS announcement as propaganda, since there are no IS remnants in Kashmir. The claim is transparent as a bid to break out of its current status as a virtual threat confined to cyber space.
Not having made inroads in Kashmir even when at its height and when the post-Burhan Wani phase was at its peak, a return of the IS under improved conditions of today is unlikely.
Besides, the last IS-affiliated terrorist was also known for tanzeem hopping, having signed up to terrorism after reportedly being tortured by security forces. Another fighter was reportedly disgruntled at losing a cousin in police firing. This indicates motives other than radicalism, pointing to a magnification of radicalization as threat.
The Kashmir police was apt in rejecting the allegation by the Sri Lankan army chief that the Easter Day terrorists had visited Kashmir, there being no record of the visit. The image of Kashmir as a hot-bed of radicalism does not square with the politics of Kashmir rooted as they are in an inter-state territorial dispute
Hyping of any IS mention in the media appears in Kashmir as motivated attempts to tarnish the ‘movement’. Likewise, strategic commentary taking IS’ claims at face-value betrays a confirmation bias, useful as it is for points-scoring against Pakistan. Electoral dividend is also sought by motivated political forces feeding into an anti-Muslim discourse as part of a rightwing project of Othering Muslims. There is danger of reports of IS being manipulated to continue with a militarized status quo. Placing it in perspective is necessary. 
Even so, it takes merely a handful of terrorists to perpetrate horrendous outrages such as the Easter Day attacks and Mumbai 26/11. Vigilance is inescapable. It would be denial to believe that the politics and insurgencies in India provide no opportunity for attention of nefarious forces. Alongside, therefore, ‘root causes’ must be addressed.
The United Nations plan of action for prevention of violent extremism provides a comprehensive framework of response. The report says, ‘Urgent measures must be taken to resolve protracted conflicts.’
This underscores the necessity to bring back a political track to complement the military prong of strategy in Kashmir. Ending the status of Kashmir as a conflict zone can best preserve it from the proverbial evil eye.